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What Earth’s First Flower Might Have Looked Like

Scientists are beginning to understand more about floral evolution.

Around 140 million years ago, the things that we call flowers today were just beginning to emerge from the process of evolution. No one knows how, exactly, but thanks to scientists and computer simulations, we now have an idea of what it might have looked like. And it’s (surprisingly?) recognizable, just like what we see today in forests, florists, and gardens:

A new study simulated floral evolution to come up with an idea of what the first flower might have looked like.
A new study simulated floral evolution to come up with an idea of what the first flower might have looked like. Hervé Sauquet/Jürg Schönenberger

The international group of scientists pulled together everything they could about the evolution of flowers, including DNA, and walked it back to come up with a theoretical common ancestor. The unnamed flower is thought to have contained both male and female parts, as well as trimerous whorls, or sections of petals that occur in groups of three. “These results call into question much of what has been thought and taught previously about floral evolution,” Juerg Schoenenberger, a coordinator of the study, said in a release. The study was published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

There’s still a lot that is not known about flower evolution, such as how, exactly, they came to be so wildly diverse. Fossil examples from these early years, which have yet to be found, might clear up some of these lingering mysteries. Still, scientists are pleased with the progress.

“When we finally got the full results,” said Hervé Sauquet, a professor at the University of Paris-Sud and leader of the study. “I was quite startled until I realized that they actually made good sense.”