The Rise of Sunflowers

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1605-1606
DOI: 10.1126/science.1195336

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Everyone appreciates the beauty of daisies, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers, and many of us enjoy eating lettuce and artichokes. These cultivated plants, along with 23,000 other wild species, make up the sunflower family, also known as Compositae or Asteraceae. Today, members of the family are found on every continent except Antarctica, especially in temperate or higher elevation areas in the tropics. Where the sunflower family first evolved and how it spread, however, is not well understood, in part because researchers have found relatively few fossils. On page 1621 of this issue, Barreda et al. (1) describe an unusually well-preserved new fossil that sheds light on the history of this successful plant family and adds to evidence that it originated in southern South America about 50 million years ago.