Orchids forum: Ancient Orchid Pollen

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Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Aug 3, 2017 2:54 PM CST

A Gnat in Amber With an Important Stowaway: Ancient Orchid Pollen
Orchids are much older than we thought.
by Kelsey Kennedy May 04, 2017

This fungus gnat did not have a good day. First, she was duped into laying her eggs in an orchid instead of a mushroom, then she lost a leg, and finally she died, stuck in some tree sap. But between 45 and 55 million years later, her bad day is telling scientists that they need to reconsider the age of the orchid family. That tree sap preserved for the ages a pollen sac attached to the gnat’s leg, and it is the earliest known evidence of the diverse family of flowering plants.

Amber, fossilized tree sap, is really good at preserving things. In it, scientists have found ancient mammal blood inside a tick, a dinosaur feather, and plenty of insects and lizards. Orchid pollen sacs have been found in amber before, also attached to insects. But the previous oldest known specimen was found in Dominican amber that’s 20 to 30 million years old. The new specimen, found in Baltic amber, is about twice as old.

“It wasn’t until a few years ago that we even had evidence of ancient orchids because there wasn’t anything preserved in the fossil record,” said George Poinar Jr., an entomologist at Oregon State University who led the study, in a press release. The sticky pollen sac, known as a pollinia, is a common feature of modern orchids, which use a variety of evolutionary tricks to attract pollinators and get their pollen from one flower to another. But finding such an old example of a pollinia shows that the orchid family was pretty well-evolved when the gnat got stuck, back when palm trees grew in Alaska and India was just butting into Asia. That means the first orchids were probably blooming back during the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs were still at the top of the food chain.

Today there are around 28,000 species of orchid, and some of them are still up to their incredibly old ruses, fooling modern fungus gnats into picking up pollinia

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Name: Ursula
Fair Lawn NJ, zone 6b
Orchids Cactus and Succulents Region: New Jersey Region: Pennsylvania Native Plants and Wildflowers Greenhouse
Ponds Keeper of Koi Forum moderator Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Adeniums Spiders!
Aug 3, 2017 5:36 PM CST


Rj, how wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing this article!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Aug 3, 2017 5:50 PM CST
I want them to grow an orchid from it! I saw that movie (Jurassic Park), they made it look easy enough. Smiling
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: lindsey
wesley chapel, fl
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Orchids
Aug 3, 2017 5:54 PM CST
very cool! Thanks for sharing rj!
Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
Aug 3, 2017 5:55 PM CST
Rolling on the floor laughing Let us know how that works out, Daisy
Great article! Thanks for sharing!
Name: Jim Hawk
Odessa, Florida (Zone 9b)
Charter ATP Member Hibiscus Birds Bromeliad Greenhouse Master Gardener: Florida
Garden Photography Region: United States of America Roses Tropicals Region: Florida Orchids
Aug 3, 2017 6:09 PM CST
I think we were still over at Dave's Garden when this was going on. Hilarious!

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Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
Aug 3, 2017 6:32 PM CST
Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing

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