Nature 450, 1184-1189 (20 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06393; Received 2 May 2007; Accepted 18 October 2007

After a dozen years of progress the origin of angiosperms is still a great mystery

Michael W. Frohlich1 & Mark W. Chase1

Here we discuss recent advances surrounding the origin of angiosperms. Putatively primitive characters are now much better understood because of a vastly improved understanding of angiosperm phylogenetics, and recent discoveries of fossil flowers have provided an increasingly detailed picture of early diversity in the angiosperms. The 'anthophyte theory', the dominant concept of the 1980s and 1990s, has been eclipsed; Gnetales, previously thought to be closest to the angiosperms, are related instead to other extant gymnosperms, probably most closely to conifers. Finally, new theories of flower origins have been proposed based on gene function, duplication and loss, as well as on morphology. Further studies of genetic mechanisms that control reproductive development in seed plants provide a most promising avenue for further research, including tests of these recent theories. Identification of fossils with morphologies that convincingly place them close to angiosperms could still revolutionize understanding of angiosperm origins.

  1. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3DS, UK

Correspondence to: Michael W. Frohlich1 Correspondence should be addressed to M.W.F. (Email:


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