Palaeontology: Leaves "Furcula granulifer" - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: 200 million year old leaves “Furcula granulifer”

The development of the characteristic appearance of leaves in flowering plants was apparently a process that took several attempts over the course of evolution. A team of researchers led by palaeontologists from Vienna has now discovered the first evidence of the distinctive pattern typical of flowering plant leaves in fossils of a seed fern species that are around 201 million years old. Mario Coiro and Leyla Seyfullah from the Institute of Palaeontology at the University of Vienna and colleagues from the National Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem examined old collections using new scientific methods and found leaves of a plant called Furcula granulifer that are around 200 million years old. However, this innovation from the Triassic period was lost again, as the scientists explain in the journal New Phytologist.

Failed “natural experiment”

These finds were previously categorised as flowering plants, or rather angiosperms. These are the dominant plant group on earth today. The problem with this is that the appearance of this group is actually only proven in the Cretaceous period. The key to the success of these plants lay in their leaf structure, as their net-like vein structure enabled them to bind carbon dioxide more efficiently.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding the classification of Furcula granulifer, the fossilised remains found in Greenland were not re-examined for around 100 years, according to the University of Vienna. The team has now made up for this. Seyfullah explained that the ancient fossilised leaves of Furcula granulifer, which are 201 million years old, actually belong to the now extinct group of seed ferns. Despite the innovation, the seed ferns apparently did not enjoy the same evolutionary success as the flowering plants. One could therefore speak here of a failed “natural experiment”.

Furcula granulifer was not alone, as the researchers found evidence of an even earlier example with similar attributes: Similar leaf structures were also found among the plant group called Gigantopteridales, which is also extinct today. Their age is between 250 and 300 million years.

Sladjan Lazic

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