300 – 200 million years ago

Year forty five

Earth blooms

Earth blooms

A number of different vascular plants had evolved since they first left the protection of the water to live on dry land, and amongst these were ferns, some as tall as trees. They had spores, not seeds.

The ferns evolved into a group of plants called seed ferns, which were the first gymnosperms (seed-bearing plants). This was an important step, because from the seed ferns a large group of plants evolved. These included:

  • conifers (with cones)
  • cycads (which were palm-like)
  • ginkgoes (with strange, fan-like leaves)

All had seeds, but none had flowers.

The first flowers

One of the big questions is, what did the angiosperms (flowering plants) evolve from? Were they woody trees and shrubs or small herbaceous plants? Nobody knows exactly when the first flowering plants evolved, but the earliest known fossilised flower grew just just before Earth's last birthday (in real time, about 130 million years ago). The earliest fossil bloom is related to magnolia, a small tree that still grows today.

But where did they come from?

Non-flowering flowers?

The oldest fossil angiosperm Archaefructus liaoningensis, which lived 140 million years ago, did not have flowers as we know them. Although it lacked petals, its fruit looked like two leaves wrapped around a seed. These leafy seed-pods were 'carpels' and only angiosperms have them.

A flower is just a group of special leaves that surrounds that part of the plant that makes pollen — the tiny grains that start the seeds and fruit forming on the plant. Flowers attracted insects, and they flew from plant to plant, carrying pollen with them, which is a very efficient way to spread pollen. Angiosperms spread like wildfire and quickly became the most common type of plant.

Birds of a feather300 – 200 million years ago - Birds of a feather

The first bird evolved just before Earth's 45th birthday. That is just over one year ago in our pretend person's life, but about 140 million years ago in real time.

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