A flower trapped in ancient amber for millions of years belongs to a completely new species.
Lena Struwe, professor of botany in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, discovered that two flowers found encased in amber for at least 15 million years belong to none of the known 200 species of the genus Strychnos.
Therefore, they represent a newly discovered species, Strychnos electri. Struwe coined the species name in honor of its amber origin, since elektron is the Greek word for amber.
“THESE FLOWERS LOOKED LIKE THEY HAD JUST FALLEN FROM A TREE.”
Struwe and the entomologist George Poinar, renowned for his studies of insect fossils trapped in amber, are publishing their findings in the journal Nature Plants. Poinar is professor emeritus of integrative biology at Oregon State University.
Amber is fossilized tree resin. Although scientists often find plant fossils in amber, they’re usually just fragments—a petal here, a stamen there. Intact specimens are rare.
These flowers were among 500 fossils, mostly insects, Poinar brought back to his lab from a field trip to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic in 1986. The insects kept Poinar busy for years. But this specimen eventually caught Poinar’s eye.
“These flowers looked like they had just fallen from a tree,” Poinar says. “I thought they might be Strychnos, and I sent them to Lena because I knew she was an expert in that genus.”
Continue reading to learn how Struwe studied the samples and finally confirmed that it was a new species…