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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Feb 12;365(1539):369-82. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0227.

Diversity in obscurity: fossil flowers and the early history of angiosperms.

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  • 1Department of Palaeobotany, Swedish Museum of Natural History, 10405 Stockholm, Sweden.


In the second half of the nineteenth century, pioneering discoveries of rich assemblages of fossil plants from the Cretaceous resulted in considerable interest in the first appearance of angiosperms in the geological record. Darwin's famous comment, which labelled the 'rapid development' of angiosperms an 'abominable mystery', dates from this time. Darwin and his contemporaries were puzzled by the relatively late, seemingly sudden and geographically widespread appearance of modern-looking angiosperms in Late Cretaceous floras. Today, the early diversification of angiosperms seems much less 'rapid'. Angiosperms were clearly present in the Early Cretaceous, 20-30 Myr before they attained the level of ecological dominance reflected in some mid-Cretaceous floras, and angiosperm leaves and pollen show a distinct pattern of steadily increasing diversity and complexity through this interval. Early angiosperm fossil flowers show a similar orderly diversification and also provide detailed insights into the changing reproductive biology and phylogenetic diversity of angiosperms from the Early Cretaceous. In addition, newly discovered fossil flowers indicate considerable, previously unrecognized, cryptic diversity among the earliest angiosperms known from the fossil record. Lineages that today have an herbaceous or shrubby habit were well represented. Monocotyledons, which have previously been difficult to recognize among assemblages of early fossil angiosperms, were also diverse and prominent in many Early Cretaceous ecosystems.

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