Just a few weeks ago (Bechly 2022), I discussed Darwin’s abominable mystery and the consistently failed claims for Jurassic flowering plants (Sokoloff et al. 2019, Bateman 2020). I also showed that experts think a dubious new candidate, Dilcherifructus mexicana from the Middle Jurassic of Mexico (Wang 2021) was misidentified and rather represents a gymnosperm.
In January this year, the same author presented with colleagues a new candidate with Florigerminis jurassica from the Jurassic of China (Cui et al. 2022). It was again published in a somewhat obscure journal and suffers from the very same problems as the Dilcherifructus case. The press release announced the discovery as “world’s earliest fossil record of flower buds” (NIGPAS 2022), and other media reports uncritically agreed (e.g., Baker 2022) and predictably celebrated the find as possible answer to Darwin’s abominable mystery (Cassella 2022).
A Botanist and His Colleagues
Kew Garden botanist Professor Richard Buggs asked colleagues on Twitter what they think about Florigerminis and its affinities. Here is what they said:
- Mario Coiro, an expert on plant evolution, commented on January 17, 2022 (https://twitter.com/Lepidodendron/status/1483047599447945221): “an ephedra-like cone bud. I really cannot see how it can be mistaken for an angiosperm …”
- Julian Kiely responded the same day (https://twitter.com/JulianPalaeoART/status/1483112582361890816): “I’ve just had a read through and yeah, it seems very much like an ephedrale. Could the apical invagination they describe be the remnants of micropylar tube?”
- Mario Coiro answered on January 19, 2022 (https://twitter.com/Lepidodendron/status/1483768385922084866): “hard to tell, could be the pollen chamber”
So, it is not a Jurassic angiosperm at all, but just another gymnosperm of the gnetopsid clade. There is clearly a pattern with these misidentifications, guided by wishful thinking. Some western paleobotanists even unofficially refer to the plethora of alleged Jurassic angiosperms from China as “Wangiosperms,” as in “Oh, it’s another Wangiosperm!”. It may be politically incorrect and a bit unkind perhaps, but expresses something of the frustration they feel. So, you are in good company if you are as skeptical about these claims as I am myself.
- Baker H 2022. 164 million-year-old plant fossil is the oldest example of a flowering bud. Live Science January 19, 2022. https://www.livescience.com/oldest-flower-bud-fossil
- Bechly G 2022. Fossil Friday: Flowering Plants — Darwin’s Abominable Mystery. Evolution News October 21, 2022.
- Bateman RM 2020. Hunting the Snark: the flawed search for mythical Jurassic angiosperms. Journal of Experimental Botany 71(1), 22–35. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erz411
- Cassella C 2022. A Newly Discovered Fossil Could Be The Answer to Darwin’s ‘Abominable’ Mystery. SienceAlert January 16, 2022. https://www.sciencealert.com/researchers-have-found-the-oldest-flower-bud-fossil-yet/amp
- Cui D-F, Hou Y, Yin P & Wang X 2022. A Jurassic flower bud from China. pp. 81–93 in: Chang S-C & Zheng D (eds). Mesozoic Biological Events and Ecosystems in East Asia. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 521. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1144/SP521-2021-122
- NIGPAS 2022. The world’s earliest fossil record of flower buds. Press release January 13, 2022. http://english.nigpas.cas.cn/rh/rp/202201/t20220113_296983.html
- Sokoloff DD, Remizowa MV, El ES, Rudall PJ & Bateman RM 2019. Supposed Jurassic angiosperms lack pentamery, an important angiosperm-specific feature. New Phytologist228(2), 420–426. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15974
- Wang X 2021. The Currently Earliest Angiosperm Fruit from the Jurassic of North America. Biosis: Biological Systems (2(4), 416–422. DOI: https://doi.org/10.37819/biosis.001.04.0160