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First Flower

Program Overview

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Flower NOVA presents the search for the first flowering plant.

The program:

  • recounts how one scientist discovered what might be the first flowering plant fossil, Archaefructus liaoningensis.

  • follows the search for evidence of the first flowering plants in the Hengdaun Mountains of China, the most biodiverse temperate forest in the world.

  • states that mosses, pines, and firs dominated the Earth for 300 million years until flowering plants became prevalent—but how and when this change occurred is a mystery.

  • shows how flowering plants flower and produce the new generation—fruit—that allows the plant to adapt to a different set of circumstances.

  • shows how Archaefructus' separate pollen-producing organs and female organs may have evolved to be joined.

  • recounts the journey and discoveries of early 1900s botanist Ernest H. Wilson, who collected more than 20,000 plant specimens from China.

  • suggests a hypothesis for how the first flower may have evolved.

  • introduces a botanist who disagrees that Archaefructus is the first flowering plant and describes how her technique of sifting through ancient sediments has revealed a 120-million-year-old flower.

  • explains another botanist's method of analyzing leaf vein patterns and pollen structure to reveal clues to plant evolution, and notes that the first pollen shows up on rocks of the Cretaceous period 134 million years ago.

  • reports on radioactive decay measurements of ash beds surrounding the Archaefructus fossil site that date it to the early Cretaceous rather than the Jurassic Period it was first believed to have evolved in.

  • describes the original method used to organize the plant family tree—by comparing features of plants—and explains how plant DNA analysis has rewritten that record.

  • reports that DNA analysis identifies Amborella trichopoda—a plant only found on New Caledonia—as the oldest living flowering plant.

  • states that Archaefructus appears older than Amborella based on pollen, leaf, and flower analysis.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

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First Flower
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