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Flowering plants aren’t just pretty, we rely on them for most of our food, and their great variety helps keep habitats healthy and diverse all over the world. Now scientists have taken a closer look at the evolution of flowers to come up with a what the very first flower might’ve looked like!

Flowers are the reproductive parts of an enormous phylum of plants called angiosperms. Plants from grasses to shrubs to most trees (except conifers like pines and redwoods) are angiosperms. According to recent studies, there are about 369,000 species of flowering plants worldwide!

Plants first got their bloom on during the Cretaceous Period about 140 million years ago. The international team of scientists compiled current models of evolution and studied plant DNA and today’s flower structures to INFER what the first flower looked like.

The research led to a 3D image of a flower that wouldn’t look out of place if you came across it out in the wild. The study was published at the beginning of August in Nature Communications.

Its petal-like structures are white and in sets of three, arranged in layers called whorls. At its center are both male and female reproductive parts, a common trait of many modern flowers.

Grasses, corn, lilies and palms are part of a class of flowering plants called monocots. Their petals grow in groups of three like this first flower.

Fossils of the earliest flowers have yet to be found, adding to the mystery of what the very first flower looked like. And when it comes to the evolution of flowering plants, scientists are still trying to figure out how they became so incredibly diverse.

“These results call into question much of what has been thought and taught previously about floral evolution,” wrote Jürg Schönenberger, study coordinator.

October 2017