(CNN) – The first fossil evidence of a pine cone sprouting seeds has been preserved in 40-million-year-old amber.
Seed germination typically occurs in the soil after a seed has fallen, but several embryonic stems were captured that emerged from the old pine cone in a rare botanical holding known as early germination or viviparity, where seeds germinate before leaving the fruit.
“It’s part of what makes this discovery so exciting, even beyond being the first fossil record of plant viability involving seed germination,” he said. George Poinar Jr., a paleobiologist at Oregon State College of Science and author of a study on the discovery, in a press release.
“I find it fascinating that the seeds in this little pine cone could begin to sprout inside the cone, and the sprouts could grow so far out before they perished in the resin.”
Premature germination in pine cones is so rare that only one naturally occurring example of this condition, from 1965, has been described in the scientific literature, Poinar said in the statement.
When seed germination occurs inside plants, it tends to be in things like fruit – think of the baby pepper you sometimes see when cutting up a pepper – but it’s rare in gymnosperms such as conifers that produce “naked” or non-encapsulated seeds.
The fossilized pine cone is from an extinct pine species called Pinus cembrifolia. Preserved in Baltic amber, clusters of needles are visible, some in bundles of five.
Some of paleontology’s most extraordinary discoveries in recent years have come from amber: a dinosaur tail, parts of primitive birds, insects, lizards and flowers have all been found buried in spheres of wood resin dating back millions of years. The living creatures and plants look as if they had just died yesterday and are often exquisitely preserved with details that would otherwise be lost in the crushing of fossils formed in stone.
Based on their position, some of the stems grew, if not most, after the pine cone came in contact with the sticky wood resin, Poinar said. The research was published in the journal Historical Biology last week.
Poinar has been working on amber fossils for decades, and first discovered in a 1982 study that amber could preserve intracellular structures in an organism trapped inside. His work inspired the fictional science of the “Jurassic Park” book and film franchise, where DNA is extracted from dinosaur blood inside a mosquito trapped in amber to recreate the prehistoric creatures.
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