I am not a plant person. There is only one plant in our household that I really worry about: a very tall Madagascar Palm, covered with hundreds of very sharp thorns. This is my kind of a plant.
My wife, Carolyn, is the florist in the family. Flowers and other plants are everywhere, inside and outside our home. I do assist in caring for the plants, since Carolyn is handicapped.
Bringing home a bouquet of flowers is a way of getting points. Valentines Day this year coincided with the opening day of the Northwest Flower Show. I eagerly bought tickets, figuring that I could net hundreds of points. However, there was no parking on opening day, so we did not go until Saturday. The people who did get in on opening day were treated to elbow-to-elbow crowding.
I am far more interested in the natural history of flowering plants, than in the actual plants.
Plants have been present on the Earth for over three billion years. Of course, the first plants only lived in the oceans; the land was barren of all life. Mosses and fungi began to colonize the land about 480 million years ago. None of these plants had any kind of fibrous stalks.
More complex plants evolved in the Devonian Period, 416 to 359 million years ago. Fibrous plants, which began to appear during the Middle Devonian, were various ferns that reproduced via spores. By the Late Devonian, seed-bearing gymnosperms, such as ginkgos and conifers, had appeared.
The ancestors of flowering plants may have appeared about 250 million years ago, just before the Age of Dinosaurs began. These ancestral plants may have been seed ferns. This conclusion is based on chemical analysis, but no traces pollen that old have ever been found.
The oldest traces of pollen are only 130 million years old, which dates the first appearance of angiosperms, true flowering plants, to the Middle Cretaceous Period. By the end of the Cretaceous, there had been a major upheaval in the plant world, since nearly all modern plants, except grasses, had evolved and become dominant.
This bothered Charles Darwin, since it presented problems for his theory of evolution. It was as if flowering plants had literally appeared overnight. However, the problem was not with the theory of evolution, but with Darwins assumption that he could analyze forms of life in isolation. The Earths biosphere has always been like a complex, interrelated organism. No species live or evolve in isolation.
The stage for the appearance of flowering plants had been in work for millions of years. Plant-eating dinosaurs kept getting bigger and more plentiful. Giant herds would roam the countryside, devastating the vegetation so badly, that areas might have resembled the aftermath of an H-bomb explosion. Plants were at a severe disadvantage.
Animal evolution was much faster than plant evolution, especially since most animals were mobile and could make some choices that influenced their own evolution.
By the advent of the Cretaceous period, plant-eating dinosaurs had become even more efficient consumers of vegetation. However, changes were coming. Flowering plants evolved, initiating symbiotic relationships with insects. Soon, flowering plants were poised for a take-over.
Once all the elements were in place, flowering plants quickly superseded other species in areas devastated by dinosaurs. Even when the groves of flowering plants came under assault, they recovered much faster than older plant species. Flowering plants even developed toxic variations; dinosaurs soon discovered that, unlike in the past, not every plant was edible.
So, this essay closes with one very obvious conclusion. Though they did not plan for it to happen, dinosaurs gave us flowers.