Forget mammals – flower power may have ruled after the dinosaurs died out. So say researchers who have discovered the first fossil orchid, a 15 to 20-million-year-old pollen specimen encased in amber, in the Dominican Republic.

The Orchidaceae family boasts the largest of all flowering plants, but it is poorly understood, because until now there has been no fossil record of its history. Previous speculations put the plants’ first appearance at about 45 million years ago.

Santiago Ramirez of Harvard University and colleagues compared genetic information from the fossilised Meliorchis caribea with modern-day plants and reconstructed an evolutionary tree. It suggests that the first orchids bloomed about 84 million years ago (Nature, vol 448, p 1042). Those that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago then rapidly proliferated, leading to today’s 28,000 or so species.

Via:  New Scientist.com