50 mn-year-old sunflower evokes memories of Van Gogh painting

September 24th, 2010 - 4:51 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 24 (IANS) The bold strokes and colours vividly remind one of Vincent van Gogh’s renowned sunflower paintings.
The similarity is no accident, for this ancient masterpiece, going back 50 million years, is believed to be the father of modern daisies and sunflowers.

Scientists found the beautifully preserved fossil in ancient rocks from the dry, wind-swept steppes of north-west Patagonia in South America.

It is believed to belong to the Asteracaea family, which includes daisies, sunflowers and dandelions and is the most diverse group of flowering plants on Earth, reports the Daily Mail.

Other less obvious Asteracaea plants include chrysanthemums, lettuce and artichokes, reports the journal Science.

Most ancient Asteracaea fossils found previously have consisted of nothing more than pollen grains.

The newly discovered specimen shows several Asteracaea hallmarks including leaf-like structures called phyllaries.

Its most prominent feature is a dense capitulum - the large and tightly packed flower head which creates the “sun” in a sunflower. This would have provided a good target for pollinating insects.

Researchers, led by Viviana Barreda from the Argentinian Museum of National Sciences in Buenos Aires, wrote: “An ancestral stock of Asteraceae may have formed part of a geoflora widespread across southern Gondwana before the establishment of effective dispersal barriers within this landmass.”

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