ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION

Balls of String

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Science  03 Dec 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5702, pp. 1651
DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5702.1651c

The two great lineages of flowering plants—the monocots and dicots—diverged early in flowering plant evolutionary history more than 100 million years ago (Ma). Fossils from the Early Cretaceous have provided evidence of the range of form in early dicots, but the relationships and appearance of the early monocots have remained more mysterious.

Friis et al. have unearthed a new fossil monocot from deposits in Portugal, dating to approximately 120 Ma. The fossil, named Mayoa, mostly consists of pollen and associated structural fragments and is clearly allied to the family Araceae, whose modern representatives include arum lilies and cheeseplants. Mayoa pollen shows highly distinctive narrow ribs separated by grooves, giving the pollen grains the appearance of neat balls of string—a morphology that is most similar to that of the modern aroid genus Holochlamys, which occurs in tropical Southeast Asia. Mayoa provides the best fossil evidence to date of a recognizable monocot family soon after the dawn of the angiosperms. — AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101, 16565 (2004).

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