Written by Staff Writer at CNN London, Jackie Fox
A new fossil discovered in Belgium features the fossil of a plant that was unique in its incredible ability to withstand extremes of heat, cold and acidity.
The Archeum aristaeus plant is thought to have belonged to a group that was common during the Late Jurassic period and became extinct about 120 million years ago. Now, researchers say it is the only known resin-rooted plant related to the so-called Cretaceous-period plant family Arsenicum.
The new fossil has been named Amber — to give it its beauty, and also its abilities. Amber was used to power the leaf’s resin glands, in much the same way that the flower spore drips light. So when it was wet, amber was a liquid that could clear out a droplet.
Researchers say this plant was one of a species known as an Arsenicum temperate, characterized by bitter, minty-tasting flowers and unusual flower heads of tall ribs that flared outward.
This plant is particularly interesting because in cold climates, its leaves could be hit by harmful high-temperature irritants like stinging nettles and beanskins. But its sweet resin content gave it a “luxury of survival,” said Simon Howell, curator of ornithology at the Natural History Museum in London and senior author of the study.
Howell said amber could only grow in areas covered by mineral sand, which can still be found in the north-east of Germany and Belgium today. “Even with the best preservation these places can’t preserve more than 2 millimeters of amber and can only survive for just one or two years,” he said.
Many cave fossil trees in Austria and Germany have been identified as present species of Arsenicum, but this is the first known amber of one.
“The finds of amber trees in some parts of Belgium probably go back at least 1 million years — still over half a million years older than the rest of the Arsenicum,” Howell said.
“This means that before we knew of amber, the Arsenicum might have been one of the world’s earliest plant genera, and evolved around 100 million years earlier than we previously thought,” he added.