Tree resin has already become the fate of many an insect. For if an animal minnow gets into the viscous fluid, it is virtually mummified. Biologists, however, find such coincidences very convenient, especially if they happened millions of years ago. In Amber, that is fossilized resin, some animals have survived the primeval times: mosquitoes, beetles, spiders or ants - but also plants. Such a unique plant has now been found in amber chunks by two biologists, George Poinar of Oregon State University and Lena Struwe of Rutgers University. The lump, between 20 and 30 million years old, contains two intact flowers of asteroids.
The group of asteroids today comprises no less than 10 orders, 98 families and about 80, 000 species, according to Poinar - about one third of all flowering plants worldwide. The almost one centimeter large fossil flowers let the researchers look back far into botanical history. "It turns out that the asteroids that today supply all kinds of food and other products have evolved millions of years ago, " says George Poinar. From this group of plants potatoes, tomatoes and coffee plants were produced.
The copy from the prehistoric times, however, was not very edible. It belongs to the genus of Brechnüsse (Strychnos) and thus to a group of poisonous plants. "Strychnos species are almost all poisonous, " explains Poinar. "Each plant contains its own alkaloids, each with different effects. Some are more toxic than others - and that could be the reason why they survived the times so successfully. Because they could defend themselves against herbivores with their poison. "
Photo: George Poinar, Jr. / with frdl. the Oregon State University© science.de - Karin Schlott