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Nature & Environment

Looking back at Darwin's 'abominable mystery'

By T.K. Randall
January 24, 2021 · Comment icon 4 comments

The evolution of flowers weighed heavily on Darwin's mind. Image Credit: PD - Elliott and Fry
The famed naturalist was haunted by one evolutionary mystery that proved too difficult for even him to solve.
Darwin, whose work on the science of evolution would go on to make him a household name, was so concerned with one particular mystery - that of why flowering plants appeared so rapidly, geologically speaking - that he thought it could undermine his entire theory of evolution.

"The rapid development as far as we can judge of all the higher plants within recent geological times is an abominable mystery," he wrote to his friend and explorer Dr Joseph Hooker back in 1879.

The term 'abominable mystery' would end up being quoted time and again in relation to the enigma.

Darwin's intrigue and confusion over the sudden appearance of flowering plants, or angiosperms, was certainly not unfounded. He toyed with several theories, including the idea that flower evolution had taken place over a long period of time on some undiscovered island at the South Pole.
At least one of his peers had even resorted to divine intervention as a potential explanation.

"In the fossil record they appear very suddenly in the Cretaceous, dated at about 100 million years ago, and there's nothing that looks like an angiosperm before them and then they suddenly appear and in considerable diversity," said Prof Richard Buggs.

"Why isn't there a gradual evolution of the angiosperms? Why can't we see intermediate forms between the gymnosperms - things like conifers - and the flowering plants? And why, when they appear, are they already so diverse?"

So what is the answer to this long-running mystery ?

Even today, we still don't know for sure - Darwin's 'abominable' mystery is abominable indeed.

Source: BBC News | Comments (4)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by S I N 3 years ago
panspermia would explain it
Comment icon #2 Posted by psyche101 3 years ago
I thought this had been resolved by the realisation of a pre-Cretaceous origin of stem angiosperms?
Comment icon #3 Posted by qxcontinuum 3 years ago
Terraforming by The Godfather who wanted to make the Earth hospitable and enjoyable for his beloved sons and daughters. Consequently within the same time dinosaurs have disappeared after the impact with the celestial object. It was all part of his plan. Otherwise we wouldn't have had a chance
Comment icon #4 Posted by Rolci 3 years ago
I thought the sudden doubling of the human brain 200,000 years ago was a bigger mystery. Definitely no intervention needed for that one. It just happens to all the species all the time. It's cosmic rays.

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