Seed germination typically occurs in the ground after a seed has fallen, but some embryonic stems are captured emerging from the ancient pine cone in a rare botanical feat known as Pricoas germination, or viviparity, in which seeds sprout before leaving the fruit.
“I find it fascinating that the seeds in this small pine cone may begin to germinate in the cone and the sprouts may grow out so far before they perish in the resin.”
Precocious germination in pine cones is so rare that only one common occurrence example of this condition, from 1965, is described in scientific literature, Poinar said in the statement.
When seed germination occurs in plants, it tends to be in things like fruit – think of the baby pepper you sometimes see when you cut a bell pepper – but it is rare in gym sperms such as conifers that produce “bare” or non-enclosed seeds .
The fossilized pine cone is from an extinct species of pine tree called Pinus cembrifolia. Preserved in Baltic amber, clusters of needles are visible, some in bundles of five.
Based on their position, some of the stems growth, if not most, occurred after the pine cone came in contact with the sticky tree resin, Poinar said. The research was published in the journal Historical Biology last week.
Poinar has been working on amber fossils for decades, first discovered in a 1982 study that amber could preserve intracellular structures in an organism trapped inside. His work inspired the fictional science in the “Jurassic Park” book and movie franchise, where DNA was extracted from dinosaur blood in a mosquito trapped in amber to recreate the prehistoric creatures.