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Am J Bot. 2001 May;88(5):753-66.

The earliest fossil evidence of the Hamamelidaceae: Late Cretaceous (Turonian) inflorescences and fruits of Altingioideae.

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  • 1Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650204, China; and.


Fossilized pistillate inflorescences, fruits, and pollen grains from the Turonian (∼90 million years before present) of New Jersey are described as a new genus, Microaltingia, in the family Hamamelidaceae. The fossils are remarkably preserved in exceptional detail. Several morphological and anatomical characters suggest affinities with Hamamelidaceae. These include capitate inflorescences, florets with a hypanthium, two-carpellate gynoecia, perigynous flowers, tricolpate reticulate pollen, a three-layered carpel wall, scalariform perforation plates with oblique end walls, and scalariform and opposite/alternate intervascular pitting. The gross morphology of pistillate inflorescences, unisexual flowers, phyllome structure, numerous ovules per carpel, and mode of carpel dehiscence indicate affinities with subfamily Altingioideae, which includes the modern genera Liquidambar and Altingia. Cladistic analysis using a previously published morphological matrix and scoring the fossil for available characters supports the position of the fossil as a sister taxon of modern Altingioideae. Although the fossil exhibits a mosaic of characters found within modern Hamamelidaceae, it is not identical to any modern taxon. Based on cladistic analysis, the fossil appears to be a basal "altingioid" that lacks the derived pollen found in extant Altingioideae and retains the more plesiomorphic tricolpate pollen found in the rest of Hamamelidaceae. The floral characters of the fossils, including phyllomes with stomata, short and straight styles, and small perprolate pollen grains, also indicate the possibility of insect pollination.

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