Notes on Fossil Flowers

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Fossil material of plants can be difficult to identify as to species, genus, or larger taxonomic unit, as usually what is found is individual parts of plants, such as wood, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds or pollen, and these are often insufficient for identification, particularly for older material which is less closely related to modern material, and may be less well preserved. Consequently, and as fossils of one plant part often cannot be unambigiously associated with those of another plant part, palaeobotanists use form genera to classify parts of plants of uncertain taxonomic position.

The suffix -anthus is also sometimes used in generic names, indicating a similarity with the flowers or inflorescences of the modern genus whose name is combined with the suffix. The suffix -pushpam, which seems to have some connection to the Sanskrit word for flower, has also been used for a number of fossil flowers from India.

Stamens may be found separately from the remainder of the flower. For fossil stamen the suffix -stemon is often used in generic names, indicating a similarity with the fruits of the modern genus whose name is combined with the suffix. It cannot be assumed that the fossil stamens represent a species particularly close to the modern genus.

[A position in Malvaceae ("Sterculiaceae") was considered for the fossil flower Fouldenia staminsia from the early Miocene of New Zealand, but was rejected because of mismatched pollen [1]. A flower, Tilianthus bensoni, which from the name one would infer is similar to Tilia, from the Deccan Intertrappean Beds, was reported at an 1987 conference [2]. There doesn't appear to have been any subsequent publication of this.]


A flower assigned to Bombax sepultiflorum Sap. is recorded from the Oligocene of France [3]. An illustration is available [4], as is a photograph [5].

Bombax asiatica Hazra, Bera et Khan is described from the Pliocene of the Chotanagpur plateau in India [a].


The genus Burretia Mai, with the single species Burretia instructa (Mai) Mai, is based on fossil flowers from the Miocene of Germany. It has been compared with Brownlowioideae, but it is argued that this is incompatible with its possession of parallel anthers, a protruding connective, and a calyx of 4 or 5 thick fused sepals, and that it may represent a Craigia or Tilia. The associated pollen, Intratriporopollentites (Tiliaepollenites) instructus, [6 ] is of the Tilia-type [7], which supports the latter interpretation.


A flower, assigned to the species Eriotheca prima, was found in the Fonseca Formation (Upper Miocene and Pliocene) in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais [8].


unnamed flower

Fossils of a flower with a (5 or) 10-loculate ovary and 5 lanceolate perianth segments (sepals?) of tentative malvalean affinities have been found in the latest Cretaceous of New Zealand [b].


  1. Bannister, Jennifer M., Daphne E. Lee & J. Ian Raine, Morphology and palaeoenvironmental context of Fouldenia staminosa, a fossil flower with associated pollen from the Early Miocene of Otago, New Zealand, New Zealand Journal of Botany 43:2, 515-525 (2005)
  2. Narkede, S.D, M. Bhowal & S.M. Meshram, A Petrified Flower from the Deccan Intertrappean Beds of India, Vidarbha Journal of Science 5(3-4): 1-7 (2010)
  3. Saporta, Gaston, Études sur La Végétation du Sud-Est de la France a l'époque Tertiaire, Ann. Sci. Nat. 4, 17: 345 (1862) (1862)
  4. Saporta, Gaston, Les périodes végétales de l'époque tertiaire, La Nature 5: 405 (1877)
  5. Photograph of fossil specimen MNHN.F.12824.
  6. Steven R. Manchester, Flowers, fruits, and pollen of Florissantia, an extinct Malvalean genus from the Eocene and Oligocene of western North America, Am. J. Bot. 79(9): 996-1008 (1992)
  7. Muller, J., Significance of Fossil Pollen for Angiosperm History, Annals of Missouri Botanic Garden 71(2): 419-443 (1984)
  8. Mello, Sant'anna & Bergquist, The palaeontological site of Fonseca, Minas Gerais state, Brazil (Fossil plants of the Tertiary of Brazil)


  1. Taposhi Hazra, Subir Bera and Mahasin Ali Khan, First Fossil Mallow Flower from Asia, International Journal of Plant Sciences (2023)
  2. Kennedy et al, Discovery of a Cretaceous angiosperm reproductive structure from New Zealand, New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics 46: 519?522 (2003)

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