Ice Age Flower Blooms Again

(Image: Yashina et al/PNAS)

Silene Stenophylla last bloomed 30,000 years ago but it is now blossoming again thanks to an ancient squirrel.  Russian scientists found a squirrel’s burrow in the Siberian permafrost that contained fruits and seeds, according to a study published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” 

Radiocarbon dating shows an age of 31,800 years.  This is by far the oldest plant ever to be regenerated.  The second oldest is a lotus that was grown from a 1,200 year old fruit. 

There is a modern version of the flower that still grows in that area of Siberia, but it has larger seeds, fewer buds and faster growing roots.  Studying the ways the two plants differ will give insight into the evolutionary process.

Squirrels dug down into the frozen ground and lined a cavity with hay and fur, making what one of the authors of the study called “a natural cryobank.”  Since there are more burrows of this type in Alaska and Canada as well as Siberia, there are hopes that more viable plant materials will be found, and perhaps even animal tissue.

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