Eocene lantern fruits from Gondwanan Patagonia and the early origins of Solanaceae

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Science  06 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6320, pp. 71-75
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2737

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Shedding light on fossil lantern fruit

The Solanaceae (or nightshades) are one of the best-studied plant families, yet their evolutionary origins have thus far been relatively obscure. Corroborative fossil evidence of molecular phylogenetic divergence dates has been lacking. Wilf et al. present 52-million-year-old fossils of lantern fruits from Argentina, which they ascribe to the modern genus Physalis. These fossil finds suggest a much earlier origin of the lantern fruit lineage and indicate that the Solanaceae may have diversified before the final breakup of the Gondwanan supercontinent.

Science, this issue p. 71


The nightshade family Solanaceae holds exceptional economic and cultural importance. The early diversification of Solanaceae is thought to have occurred in South America during its separation from Gondwana, but the family’s sparse fossil record provides few insights. We report 52.2-million-year-old lantern fruits from terminal-Gondwanan Patagonia, featuring highly inflated, five-lobed calyces, as a newly identified species of the derived, diverse New World genus Physalis (e.g., groundcherries and tomatillos). The fossils are considerably older than corresponding molecular divergence dates and demonstrate an ancient history for the inflated calyx syndrome. The derived position of these early Eocene fossils shows that Solanaceae were well diversified long before final Gondwanan breakup.

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