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The Old Flower

Researchers have reconstructed what they think the first flowering plant looked like, the Guardian reports. It describes the flower as "[d]elicate and upturned, with curving petals arranged in threes."

An international team of researchers traced angiosperm phylogeny using data from nearly 800 species, representing 98 percent of angiosperm orders and 86 percent of angiosperm families, as it reports in Nature Communications.

"We almost know nothing about how flowers evolved since their origin and yet this is extremely important for their ecological role and the role that plants play today on Earth," first author Hervé Sauquet from Paris-Sud University tells the Guardian. Angiosperms are thought to have arisen between 140 million to 250 million years ago.

Used three approaches, Sauquet and his colleagues inferred the ancestral states of 27 floral traits to develop a picture of what that first flower was like. In particular, they report that it was likely bisexual and had its stamens, sepals, and petals arranged in whorls. Sauquet notes that most people have thought that spirals, rather than whorls, would have been the ancestral state, adding that "many people are not going to believe us at first."

The University of Cambridge's Beverley Glover, who was not involved in the study, tells the Guardian that the findings are exciting, but notes that it's only a prediction of what the first flower might've been.