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North America's oldest flowering plant discovered inside a museum

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The oldest flowering plant in North America may have been discovered in a fossil collection at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Nathan Jud, a PhD student at the University of Maryland, was examining ancient plant fossils at the museum when he discovered Potomacapnos apeleutheron, a flowering plant whose fossil is thought to be between 115 and 125 million years old.

While there is nothing unusual about flowering plants today, it was a relatively rare sight during the Early Cretaceous period. At that time, most plants reproduced with spores instead of seeds. Jud's discovery was dated to the Early Cretaceous through analysis of the chemical makeup of pollen in the surrounding rock and other fossils trapped in the same layer, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The plant's distinctive pollen structure marked it as a eudicot, a group that now includes about 70 percent of the world's flowering plants. It is the oldest eudicot found to date, the magazine reported.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the plant is not a fern.