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The Abominable Mystery

Flowering plants range from tiny floating plants like duckweed to towering oak. They live in climates from the arctic to the tropics and grow on anything from rocks to water. Most flowering plants get their nutrients from soil, but some eat insects and spiders!

floral diversity

Paleobotanists (scientists that study fossilized plant remains) have found fossilized flowering plant pollen from the Jurassic Period. Leaves begin to appear in the Cretaceous Period. Then suddenly flowering plants flood the fossil record of the Mid-Cretaceous. We have few clues to explain the massive leap in floral diversity.

Darwin referred to this sudden appearance of flowering plants in the fossil record as the “abominable mystery.” Scientists today are still looking for clues to solve this mystery and are piecing together the big picture of flowering plant relationships.

Photos: (a) Duckweed, Landoltia punctata, taken by Vic Ramey, University of Florida. (b) Tropical tree, courtesy of Forest Department Sarawak www.forestry.sarawak.gov, November 2005. (c) Amorphophallus titanum , courtesy of B.A. Rice www.sarracenia.com, November 2005. (d) Eritricum aretioides - Alpine Forget-me-nots, taken by Tom Ranker, University of Kansas. (e) Drosera rotundifolia and fly, courtesy of B.A. Rice, www.sarracenia.com, November 2005.

University of FloridaPenn StateCornell UniversitySupported by NSF