A Living Fossil
by Emma Reid
If you are kayaking with us you may pull up some long stringy water weeds on your paddle that is commonly called coontail, since it oddly resembles a racoon’s tail. Well, believe it or not that aquatic plant is most closely related to the world’s oldest flowering plant to be discovered, at around 130 million years old! A team of paleontologists from the United States, France, Germany and Spain studied Montsechia vidalii, the ancient plant that lived underwater alongside the dinosaurs in the Lower Cretaceous Period.
Fossils of Montsechia vidalii were discovered over 100 years ago in limestone deposits of central Spain, but were poorly understood. The reinterpretation of these fossils provided a fascinating new perspective on a major mystery in plant biology.When describing the significance of early flowering plants, David Dilcher, a paleobotanist at Indiana University said, “Well flowers, you must realize, are all about sex… They were the first advertisers in the world saying ‘Hey, I’m beautiful. Come and visit me.’ They used animals or insects that were evolving during the Jurassic and lower Cretaceous as carriers for their genetic material.” What is even more interesting is that this first flowering plant developed underwater pollination by using water currents to disperse pollen before flowers on land. So next time you flick some coontail into your boat don’t just think of it as a weed, but as a living fossil.