Intelligent Design Plants

Why did Darwin consider flowers an “abominable mystery”?

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He was was referring to their abrupt and unaccounted for appearance:

The phrase “Darwin’s abominable mystery” is frequently used with reference to a range of outstanding questions about the evolution of the plant group today known as the angiosperms. Here, I seek to more fully understand what prompted Darwin to coin the phrase in 1879, and the meaning he attached to it, by surveying the systematics, paleobotanical records, and phylogenetic hypotheses of his time. In the light of this historical research, I argue that Darwin was referring to the origin only of a subset of what are today called angiosperms: a (now obsolete) group equivalent to the “dicotyledons” of the Hooker and Bentham system. To Darwin and his contemporaries, the dicotyledons’ fossil record began abruptly and with great diversity in the Cretaceous, whereas the gymnosperms and monocotyledons were thought to have fossil records dating back to the Carboniferous or beyond. Based on their morphology, the dicotyledons were widely seen by botanists in Darwin’s time (unlike today) as more similar to the gymnosperms than to the monocotyledons. Thus, morphology seemed to point to gymnosperm progenitors of dicotyledons, but this hypothesis made the monocotyledons, given their (at the time) apparently longer fossil record, difficult to place. Darwin had friendly disagreements about the mystery of the dicotyledons’ abrupt appearance in the fossil record with others who thought that their evolution must have been more rapid than his own gradualism would allow. But the mystery may have been made “abominable” to him because it was seen by some contemporary paleobotanists, most notably William Carruthers, the Keeper of Botany at the British Museum, as evidence for divine intervention in the history of life. Subsequent developments in plant systematics and paleobotany after 1879 meant that Darwin’s letter was widely understood to be referring to the abrupt appearance of all angiosperms when it was published in 1903, a meaning that has been attached to it ever since.

Richard J. A. Buggs, “The origin of Darwin’s “abominable mystery”” at [publication]

Unfortunately, the article is paywalled.

2 Replies to “Why did Darwin consider flowers an “abominable mystery”?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Suddenness itself isn’t really the main problem. The problem is that flowers require bees and bees require flowers. Every aspect of flowers is designed to attract the attention of insects and birds.

    What’s more, flowers have various ways to STOP attracting insects when the pollen has been taken. A rose turns off its electrostatic field after the bee has grabbed the bait. Clovers drop each floret downward after a bee has used it. These start and stop signals depend on specific behavioral characteristics of specific insects; and in turn the insects wouldn’t need those particular sensors and neural paths if plants didn’t provide the specific start and stop signals. The entire two-way system of codes had to develop all at once.

  2. 2
    asauber says:

    Jesus, on Flowers:

    “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

    Can’t wait for Spring. 🙂

    Andrew

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