A First in Fossil Research: Seeds Sprouting From 40-Million-Year-Old Pine Cone Encased in Amber

The first fossil evidence of a rare botanical condition known as precocious germination in which seeds sprout before leaving the fruit. Credit: George Poinar Jr., OSU

Oregon State University research has uncovered the first fossil evidence of a rare botanical condition known as precocious germination in which seeds sprout before leaving the fruit.

In a paper published in Historical Biology, George Poinar Jr. of the Oregon State College of Science describes a pine cone, approximately 40 million years old, encased in Baltic amber from which several embryonic stems are emerging.

“Crucial to the development of all plants, seed germination typically occurs in the ground after a seed has fallen,” said Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn about the biology and ecology of the distant past. “We tend to associate viviparity – embryonic development while still inside the parent – with animals and forget that it does sometimes occur in plants.”

Most typically, by far, those occurrences involve angiosperms, Poinar said. Angiosperms, which directly or indirectly provide most of the food people eat, have flowers and produce seeds enclosed in fruit.

“Seed germination in fruits is fairly common in plants that lack seed dormancy, like tomatoes, peppers and grapefruit, and it happens for a variety of reasons,” he said. “But it’s rare in gymnosperms.”

Gymnosperms such as conifers produce “naked,” or non-enclosed, seeds. Precocious germination in pine cones is so rare that only one naturally occurring example of this condition, from 1965, has been described in the scientific literature, Poinar said.

“That’s part of what makes this discovery so intriguing, even beyond that it’s the first fossil record of plant viviparity involving seed germination,” he said. “I find it fascinating that the seeds in this small pine cone could start to germinate inside the cone and the sprouts could grow out so far before they perished in the resin.”

At the sprouts’ tips are needle clusters, some in bundles of five, associating the fossil with the extinct pine species Pinus cembrifolia, which was previously described from Baltic amber, Poinar said.

Pine cones in Baltic amber are not commonly found, he added. The ones that do appear are prized by collectors and because the cones’ scales are hard, they’re usually very well preserved and appear lifelike.

Viviparity in plants typically shows up in one of two ways, Poinar said. Precocious germination is the more common of the two, the other being vegetative viviparity, such as when a bulbil emerges directly from the flower head of a parent plant.

“In the case of seed viviparity in this fossil, the seeds produced embryonic stems that are quite evident in the amber,” he said. “Whether those stems, known as hypocotyls, appeared before the cone became encased in amber is unclear. However, based on their position, it appears that some growth, if not most, occurred after the pine cone fell into the resin.

“Often some activity occurs after creatures are entombed in resin, such as entrapped insects depositing eggs,” Poinar said. “Also, insect parasites sometimes flee their hosts into the resin after the latter become trapped. In the case of the pine cone, the cuticle covering the exposed portions of the shoots could have protected them from rapid entrance of the resin’s natural fixatives.”

Research on viviparity in extant gymnosperms suggests the condition could be linked to winter frosts. Light frosts would have been possible if the Baltic amber forest had a humid, warm-temperate environment as has been posited, Poinar said.

“This is the first fossil record of seed viviparity in plants but this condition probably occurred quite a bit earlier than this Eocene record,” he said. “There’s no reason why vegetative viviparity couldn’t have occurred hundreds of millions of years ago in ancient spore-bearing plants like ferns and lycopods.”

Reference: “Precocious germination of a pine cone in Eocene Baltic amber” by George Poinar Jr, 8 November 2021, Historical Biology.
DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2021.2001808

FossilsOregon State UniversityPlant SciencePopular
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  • Babu G. Ranganathan

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    NOT MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD! Evolutionary dating (including radiometric dating) is not infallible science, is based on certain built-in assumptions, and has often been proven to be contradictory and inconsistent. Please read my popular Internet article, ARE FOSSILS REALLY MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD? Just google the title followed by my name.

    There’s a lot of evidence that the fossil layers were not deposited by gradual floods, which would have required millions of years. Rather, the evidence strongly points to a one world-wide flood, just as the Bible teaches. This one world-wide flood fossilized species and unleashed tremendous forces that changed the geology and topography of the earth.

    The fossil layers in the real world are not even found in the sequence taught in evolutionary textbooks. There are many places where fossils of complex creatures are found beneath simpler ones, and there are fossils of mixed species existing in the same stratum which classic evolutionary textbooks teach should have been separated by millions of years. Of course a biblical world-wide flood would generally have buried and fossilized marine animals first with amphibians, reptiles and mammals to follow. Evolutionists have interpreted all of this into an evolutionary scenario spanning millions of years.

    There is absolutely no proof of macro-evolution in the fossil record. The fossils of all species are found complete (not partially-evolved) with no evidence of actual transition from one kind to another. There are no fossils of fish, for example, with part fins, part feet to show that transition occurred from fins to feet. Besides this, partially-evolved species would be unfit for survival while waiting to be completed over millions of years.

    ONLY LIMITED EVOLUTION (micro-evolution or evolution within biological “kinds”) is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological “kinds,” (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution or adaptation, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

    NEW SPECIES: Although new species can come into existence, they don’t carry any new genes. They’ve become new species only because they can’t be crossed back with the original parent stock for various biological reasons. A biological “kind” allows for new species but not new genes. Nature has no ability to invent new genes for new traits. Only limited variations and adaptations are possible in nature, and all strictly within a biological “kind” (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.).

    THE FEW “INTERMEDIATE” (SO-CALLED TRANSITIONAL LINKS) IN FOSSILS claimed by evolutionists are highly disputed, even among the evolutionists. If macro-evolution really occurred there should be billions of indisputable intermediate fossils, not a few disputable ones. There’s not one example of a so-called transitional link that all evolutionists can agree on, not one.

    What about the duck-billed platypus? It has traits belonging to both birds and mammals, but even evolutionists don’t argue that it’s a transitional link between birds and mammals.

    Some evolutionists use similarities of traits between species as an argument for transitional forms. This is not a good argument because the traits they cite are complete, fully-formed, and fully functional, not in any true process of transition from one type of structure into another.

    Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot arise by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn’t mean all forms of life are biologically related!

    What about natural selection? Natural selection can only “select” from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. It doesn’t produce genes or biological traits. That’s why it’s called natural “selection.”

    Many people have wrong ideas of how evolution is supposed to work. Physical traits and characteristics are determined and passed on by genes — not by what happens to our body parts. For example, if a woman were to lose her finger this wouldn’t affect how many fingers her baby will have. Changing the color and texture of your hair will not affect the color and texture of your children’s hair. So, even if an ape’s muscles and bones changed so that it could walk upright it still would not be able to pass on this trait to its offspring. Only changes or mutations that occur in the genetic code of reproductive cells (i.e. sperm and egg) can be passed on to offspring.

    What about the new science of epigenetics? Epigenetics involves inheritable factors which can turn genes on, but epigenetics doesn’t alter the DNA code itself.

    Modern evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly, millions of years, random mutations in the genetic code of reproductive cells caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes for natural selection to use. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. It’s much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That’s the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

    Mutations are accidents in the genetic code, are mostly harmful, and have no capability of producing greater complexity in the code. Even if a good accident occurred, for every good one there would be hundreds of harmful ones with the net result, over time, being harmful, even lethal, to the species. At best, mutations only produce further variations within a natural species. Even so, mutations are not the best explanation for variations within a natural species.

    How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist) Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented macro-evolution (evolution across biological kinds!)

    All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not non-human and human.

    The fossils show that all life came into existence as complete and fully-formed from the beginning, which is only possible by creation.

    Visit the author’s latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION (This site answers many arguments, both old and new, that have been used by evolutionists to support their theory).

    Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East.”

  • Jesus Christ

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    BA in Biology from Bob Jones University (unaccredited)