Scientists have found an extinct plant species trapped in amber that lived 20 to 30 million years ago in the Dominican Republic. Due to the fact that the plants did not match any known species, researchers named it Strychnos electri, from the Greek word for amber.
The flowers were a member of the deadly family of the Strychnos, the source of the poisons strychnine and curare. The extinct species also had toxic compounds, according to researchers.
The scientists were amazed of how well preserved the flowers were. The chances of getting a fossil flower in those conditions are very rare, said George Poinar, Oregon State University entomologist and amber expert.
The just found flowers provided the only evidence of ancient tropical flowers. This is because they have a rapid decay of their delicate objects under unfavourable conditions like high heat and humidity that prevents their preservation in sedimentary deposits, according to Poinar.
“It is pretty amazing that they have survived so long and they look so incredibly perfect,” said Lena Struwe, a member of the team that studied the fossils. “They look like something that fell off one of these lianas yesterday,” she added.
The fossils were discovered among others 500 hundred that held mostly insects. Poinar discovered them during a field trip to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic in 1986. The amber expert found more interesting the insects at the time and it was not until recently that he encountered with the extinct species, according to Phys.org.
Poinar sent a pictured to his colleague and later co-author of his study, Lena Struwe because he felt she was the right person to recognize the flowers. After months of research, they were able to finally identify Strychnos electri as an extinct never-seen-before species.
This kind of discoveries are useful not only for identifying new species but to have further evidence that could help study environmental changes over the years. This study suggests that the tropical forest at the time of the flower was rich in diversity.