Notes on Fossil Flowers

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Fossil material of plants can be difficult to identify as to species, genus, or larger taxonomic unit, as usually what is found is individual parts of plants, such as wood, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds or pollen, and these are often insufficient for identification, particularly for older material which is less closely related to modern material, and may be less well preserved. Consequently, and as fossils of one plant part often cannot be unambigiously associated with those of another plant part, palaeobotanists use form genera to classify parts of plants of uncertain taxonomic position.

Stamens may be found separately from the remainder of the flower. For fossil stamen the suffix -stemon is often used in generic names, indicating a similarity with the fruits of the modern genus whose name is combined with the suffix. It cannot be assumed that the fossil stamens represent a species particularly close to the modern genus.


A flower assigned to Bombax sepultiflorum Sap. is recorded from the Oligocene of France [2]. An illustration is available [3].


The genus Burretia Mai, with the single species Burretia instructa (Mai) Mai, is based on fossil flowers from the Miocene of Germany. It has been compared with Brownlowioideae, but it is argued that this is incompatible with its possession of parallel anthers, a protruding connective, and a calyx of 4 or 5 thick fused sepals, and that it may represent a Craigia or Tilia. The associated pollen, Intratriporopollentites (Tiliaepollenites) instructus, [5] is of the Tilia-type [4], which supports the latter interpretation.


A flower, assigned to the species Eriotheca prima, was found in the Fonseca Formation (Upper Miocene and Pliocene) in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais [1].

unnamed flower

Fossils of a flower with a (5 or) 10-loculate ovary and 5 lanceolate perianth segments (sepals?) have been found in the latest Cretaceous of New Zealand [6].


  1. Mello, Sant'anna & Bergquist, The palaeontological site of Fonseca, Minas Gerais state, Brazil (Fossil plants of the Tertiary of Brazil)
  2. Saporta, Études sur La Végétation du Sud-Est de la France a l'Êpoque Tertiaire, Ann. Sci. Nat. 4, 17: 272 (1862)
  3. Les Périodes Végétales de l'Époque Tertiare, La Nature 5: 405 (1877)
  4. Muller, J., Significance of Fossil Pollen for Angiosperm History, Annals of Missouri Botanic Garden 71(2): 419-443 (1984)
  5. Manchester, S., Flowers, fruits, and pollen of Florissantia, an extinct Malvalean genus from the Eocene and Oligocene of western North America, Am. J. Bot. 79(9): 996-1008 (1992)
  6. Kennedy et al, Discovery of a Cretaceous angiosperm reproductive structure from New Zealand, New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics 46: 519–522 (2003)

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© 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 Stewart R. Hinsley