A fossil of a new species of flower has been identified in the FCT-supported CretaCarbo project, coordinated by Luís Duarte, from the Universidade de Coimbra. The fossil dates from the Cretacieous period, between 146 and 100 million years ago, and is very similar to a flower which until now was thought to exist only in China.
Collaborating with Else Marie Friis, from the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, paleobotanists Mário Mendes and João Miguel Pais from the Centro de Investigação em Ciência e Engenharia Geológica (CICEGe) da Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCT-UNL), have thus identified the first ever fossil of an angiosperm flower in Europe – a group of plants whose main characteristic is the presence of fruit and flower.
The flower belongs to the Larizabalaceae Family and Ranunculales Order. Dating from the Early Cretaceous period, the fossil was found in the Leiria region and is very similar to a plant that is currently endemic to China, Sinofranchetia chinensis. The finding was classified as a new genus and species, and is described in a paper published in the journal Grana.
According to Luis Duarte the finding is “an outstanding contribution to the advancement of Paleobotany in Portugal, as well as to the understanding of the evolution of angiosperms in the world.”
The fossil plant’s name – Kajanthus lusitanicus– honours the Danish palaeobotanist Raunsgaard Kaj Pedersen, from the University of Aarhus, and identifies the region of the globe where it was discovered – lusithanicus (Portugal).
Some of the oldest and best preserved early angiosperms have been identified in the Middle Cretaceous sites of western Portugal. The CretaCarbo project aims to study the deposits from this period, to contribute to the understanding of the rapid and intense global environmental and oceanographic changes that deeply affected ecosystems of the time, including terrestrial plants, and in particular the early evolution and expansion of angiosperms.