First Flower

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Every night before I go to bed, I stop by my two trays of seedlings and look closely to see how everything is doing. Tuesday night's tuck-in-the-plants-for-the-night ritual led me to discover this first open lobelia flower, grown from those fascinatingly tiny seeds I planted back in February.

I said to may husband, "Wow! This tiny little flower sure took a long, long evolutionary journey to get here. All the way from China!"

China, you ask?

Well, the reason I made that comment was because I had just finished watching a special on PBS called "First Flower," which documented how paleobotanists have been searching for the first flower on Earth -- in China. Today, something like 95 percent of all plants on Earth are flowering plants, but that wasn't always the case. There was a time, ages and ages ago, when plants didn't have flowers. (Can you imagine? NO FLOWERS?!)

So for the first 15 minutes of the show I wondered: Why China? Why are scientists looking there for fossil evidence of flowers? Why not in Europe? Or Africa? Or anywhere else?

In the mountains of southwestern China, there is an area where several different types of climates and ecosystems converge. The weather is so variable there that it is said one can experience "all four seasons in a single day." Imagine dry deserts bumping up against rainy cloud forests, and there you have this cauldron of mixed plant life. When glaciers completely obliterated plants elsewhere on Earth, the unique conditions in this remote area of China kept plants alive. It was like a "safe deposit box" for plant diversity. And it is believed that many of the common plants we know in our gardens today -- lilies, for example -- originated there.

If you missed "First Flower," check your local PBS listings for repeats, or go to the companion Web site: Nova: First Flower.

It was utterly fascinating to think about the first flower on Earth, and the long evolutionary journey my first flower of this year's garden made to get here. I sure am glad I live in an age with flowers.


Blogger Danielles Garden said...

I caught the same show. I thought it was pretty cool.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Carol Michel said...

I haven't seen this show yet, but a co-worker saw it and taped it for me, knowing I would want to see it!

6:14 PM  
Blogger Ottawa Gardener said...

I must start lobelia next year from seed. Lovely!

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I serve every few years on a biodiversity review panel - which reviews grant proposal that survey unique and potentially threatened species. The most interesting botanical proposals are always focused on specific regions of China - for both diversity aspects as well as evolutionary. It's pretty amazing. I haven't seen the PBS special, but I'm guessing they discussed mosses - the largest moss collections are out of China.

3:04 PM  

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