Pine cone trapped in amber reveals rare and “intriguing” type of plant behavior
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Seed germination usually occurs in the soil after a seed has dropped, but several embryonic stems have been captured emerging from the ancient pine cone in a rare botanical feat known as early germination, or viviparity, in which the seeds germinate before leaving the fruit.
“I find it fascinating that the seeds of this little pine cone can start to germinate inside the cone and that the shoots can grow so far before they perish in the resin.”
The early sprouting of pine cones is so rare that only one natural example of this disease, dating from 1965, has been described in the scientific literature, Poinar said in the statement.
When seed germination occurs inside plants, it tends to be in things like fruit – think the baby chili you sometimes see when you cut a pepper – but this is rare in gymnosperms such as conifers that produce “naked” or non-enclosed seeds.
The fossilized pine cone comes from an extinct pine species called Pinus cembrifolia. Preserved in Baltic amber, clusters of needles are visible, some in bundles of five.
Based on their position, some, if not most, of the growth of the stems occurred after the pine cone came into contact with the sticky resin of the tree, Poinar said. The research was published in the journal Historical Biology last week.
Poinar has worked on amber fossils for decades, first discovering in a 1982 study that amber could preserve the intracellular structures of an organism trapped within. His work inspired fictional science in the “Jurassic Park” book and film franchise, where DNA is extracted from dinosaur blood inside a mosquito trapped in amber to recreate prehistoric creatures.
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