I grew up around plants. Well, everyone does, more or less, but my parents were dedicated gardeners and naturalists. My dad grew show-quality tea roses and taught me how to recognize the trees of my native Louisiana from the shapes of the leaves and texture of the bark when I was still in elementary school. My mom's flower gardens more than once had people pulling over to take photographs.
Regular readers of Skeptophilia are well aware of my fascination with prehistoric animals -- like many kids I grew up with books on dinosaurs (and posters of dinosaurs and models of dinosaurs...). So it shouldn't have been a surprise that I was thrilled when I found out that just like the animals of prehistory, the plants of prehistory were different than the ones we have today. But I recall that my interest was mixed with shock -- if I went back to the Cretaceous Period, not only would there be T. rexes and triceratopses stomping about, but the plants through which they'd have been stomping wouldn't have been the familiar oaks and ashes and hollies and camellias that were so familiar, but an entirely different flora in which I doubt there'd have been a single species I could have identified.
Well, maybe a couple, if not to species, at least to family. Some of the earliest flowering plants were magnolias, and from the fossilized flowers, they look pretty much like... magnolias. Ferns have been around for a long, long time (far predating the dinosaurs, in fact), and conifers like the common pines, cedars, and cypresses I saw every day were plentiful all the way back in the Triassic Period, 240-odd million years ago.
But that's about it. And although some of the groups were there, the species themselves would have been different ones than what we see around us today. Imagine it: forests of plants with huge and wonderful biodiversity, in which you wouldn't recognize a single one that's familiar.
The reason I'm thinking about all this floral prehistory is a link to some cool research that showed up last week in Geology that a friend and frequent contributor to Skeptophilia sent me, about a discovery of a phenomenally well-preserved flower in hundred-million-year-old amber from Myanmar.
Dubbed Valviloculus pleristaminis (the genus name comes from the Latin valva -- "a folding door" -- and loculus -- "compartment;" the species name means "lots of stamens"), the little flower is only distantly related to any extant species. Botanists think that Valviloculus might be allied to one of two rather obscure families of plants native to the Southern Hemisphere -- Monamiaceae and Atherospermataceae -- but that's only a preliminary analysis.