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Plant evolution halted for 250 million years
29 December 2021
It was long assumed that plants evolved gradually over hundreds of millions of years to become the complex flowering plants we see today. Through new quantifying methods the evolution of land plants is now believed to have occurred in 2 distinct phases with a gap of 250 million years after the initial seed plants, restarting again with the diversification of flowering plants about 100 million years ago. Researchers based these findings off a novel method of quantifying evolutionary change by counting the reproductive structures (form and function) in flowers, categorising about 1,300 terrestrial plant species that were in existence between 420 million years ago until the today.
Discovery of Germination in Pine Cone Fossil
23 November 2021
A fossilised pine cone with germinated seeds encased in Baltic amber was discovered. Researchers of Oregon State University explained that precocious germination is very rare in gymnosperms like pine, with only one naturally occuring example described from 1965. However, germination of seeds inside the fruits of angiosperms or flowering plants is not uncommon especially in the absence of seed dormancy. This discovery in amber is the first record of fossil seed viviparity in plants. The research also found that this vegetatitve viviparity may have connections to winter frost, suggesting that it may have happened much earlier than the discovery.
Discovery of New Carnivorous Plant
05 November 2021
For the first time in two decades, researchers in British Columbia identified a new carnivorous plant; Triantha occidentalis! This carnivorous plant grows in nutrient-poor, boggy but brightly lit areas on the west coast of North America, from California to Alaska. The delicate flower stalk of Triantha occidentalis might seem like a nice perch for insects. However, the sticky hairs on the flower stalk means certain death as the plant ensnares passing prey and absorb its nutrients with the help of digestive enzymes it secretes. This plant is unique in that it traps insects near its insect-pollinated flowers, showing a careful balance of carnivory and pollination. Only smaller insects like midges are captured while larger and stronger pollinators like bees and butterflies can escape from its sticky trap. The discovery of the plant in this well-studied eco-system shows that there are more surprises yet to be discovered in nature.
Staghorn ferns work together
25 October 2021
On a remote Australian island, researchers have found the first evidence of division of labour among plants similar to the social organisation of ant or bee colonies. Groups of wild Platycerium bifurcatum (staghorn ferns) on trees displayed differences in structure and reproductive capacity depending on its position in the tree; whether it is higher or lower in the canopy. The ferns at the top have erect antler-like fronds that gathered and channelled water to waxy basal fronds that let water drip down to ferns below. Ferns positioned higher in the tree also have more spore-bearing fronds. Ferns lower in the canopy tended to have antler-like fronds that hung downwards, absorbent basal fronds that efficiently trapped water and were usually sterile. This level of cooperation and division of labour was once thought to be restricted to insects and animals, but now appear to exist among plants!
Tiny forests in big cities
13 August 2021
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, 7 tiny forests of about 200 square meters each were planted to promote urban cooling, water regulation, and boost biodiversity; as a nature-based solution to the environmental challenges brought on by climate change. These forests were planted with native species planted close together for a short rejuvenation period as saplings grow quickly to compete for light, water and nutrients. This idea for close forest planting was pioneered by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki. The Netherlands has since planted 144 forests and aims to plant their 200th forest by the end of 2021. Since 2018, 636 animals such as hummingbirds, frogs and an additional 298 plant species to the original species were observed in these tiny planted forests.