Is a 100-Year Misunderstanding about Plants Solved?
Part of “one of the biggest misunderstandings in botanical history,” a plant has moved from an upper part of the family tree down to the bottom. Trithuria submersa, an underwater flowering plant from India and Australia that was thought to be a monocot is really not a cot at all, says Science Daily reporting on research at University of British Columbia. Indeed, it“s ancient:
By analyzing the plants at the molecular level, Graham’s team has now determined that these moss-size plants are instead part of an older line of flowering plants that includes the water lilies. This ancient line split off the main trunk of the family tree of flowering plants soon after they began to diversify, at least 135 million years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs.
The team used a combination of morphological and molecular evidences to reclassify the species. But will this solve “Darwin’s abominable mystery,” the origin of the flowering plants?
“For more than a century, scientists have been piecing together the details of the rapid rise and early diversification of flowering plants,” says [Sean] Graham [Univ. of British Columbia]. “Discovering this living plant’s ancient heritage makes us re-evaluate our understanding of early flowering-plant evolution. For botanists, this is like finding something you thought was a lizard is actually a living dinosaur.”
So is this plant the key to the mystery? Not likely. Now a complex plant that was thought to be an advanced form must be pushed back to simpler times. Though the team is calling this a “major piece in the puzzle of flowering-plant origins,” it is complicating the picture, not simplifying it. What it reveals is that “some of the earliest evolutionary branches were more diverse then we once thought.”
The article is based on a paper in Nature1 whose authors said, “This indicates that water lilies are part of a larger lineage that evolved more extreme and diverse modifications for life in an aquatic habitat than previously recognized.” These plants, part of a family discovered only within the last 25 years, are not really like water lilies. “It would be misleading to view Hydatellaceae merely as reduced water lilies,” they said, because they have many unique characteristics besides the similar habitat. Commenting on this paper in the same issue, Friis and Crane said,2 “A shake-up of current thinking about the evolution of the angiosperms – the flowering plants – is a consequence of the relocation of a hitherto obscure branch on the angiosperm evolutionary tree.” This relocation could “hardly be more attention-grabbing,” they said. For some of the traits in this plant, “repositioning the Hydatellaceae raises questions that add to an already long list of unresolved issues in early angiosperm evolution.” It could “profound implications for ideas on the early evolution of the classic angiosperm flower” and will take some “time to digest all the implications” of this reclassification. They compared this to the discovery of the living fossil Wollemi Pine from Australia to illustrate our ignorance of plant diversity in the world. In closing they commented,
Hydatella and Trithuria will inevitably be the subject of detailed investigation in the coming years. But whatever the outcomes of these studies, the radical realignment discovered by Saarela et al. remind us not to become too comfortable with the current picture of early angiosperm relationships, and especially with the details of character evolution that they imply. There will be more surprises as new plants are added to the mix. They will come not just from our gradually improving knowledge of living plants, but more especially from our exploration of the riches of the plant fossil record – both for early angiosperms and for their elusive relatives among other seed plants.
1Saareka et al, “Hydatellaceae identified as a new branch near the base of the angiosperm phylogenetic tree,” Nature 446, 312-315 (15 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05612.
2Else Marie Friis and Peter, Crane, “Botany: New home for tiny aquatics,” Nature 446, 269-270 (15 March 2007) | doi:10.1038/446269a.
OK, so what other big misunderstandings have been lingering for over a century, while the world’s greatest evolutionary minds were all working on this in the wrong direction? Evolutionists can’t even figure out the specimens right under their noses, let alone a fictional multi-million-year history. It’s not the mystery that is abominable. It’s the gutless, witless, feckless allegiance to a long-gone bearded buddha and his weird-science beliefs. When you toss out the only explanation that works, big misunderstandings and abominable mysteries come with the territory.