This Slate writer believes she has an important clue in Darwin’s “abominable mystery of flowers” figured out:
The shrub is rare, and grows naturally only in the cloud forests of the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Only a few American conservatories cultivate amborella, which is notoriously difficult to sustain and which flowers unpredictably in captivity. Nonetheless, unprepossessing and persnickety as it is, the plant has attracted a great deal of scrutiny recently. It is likely the closest living relative to the first flowering plant, and according to Harvard professor William Friedman, “a critical missing link between angiosperms and gymnosperms.”
Amborella is in a confused state when it comes to sex, as if transitioning from gymnosperm to angiosperm anatomy. It has separate male and female organs on the same plant, like a conifer. The male flowers have stamens only, but they don’t look like modern stamens—that is, with filaments topped with two pollen-bearing sacs. Instead, the two pollen sacs are carried on the edge of flat and broad petals that look very much like the scales in male conifer cones. But they also have flowers that look like hermaphrodites, with both carpels and stamens. These stamens, however, are sterile, making them staminodes.
Yet they became “instant winners in the survival game.”
Right. Same time. Next year. New theory.
We are obviously missing something. If whole genome duplication performs such wonders, the world would doubtless look very different.
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