Flower Power | the Evolution of Flowering Plants

Eighty-six years ago today, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. As the battle between Darwinists and creationists continues, so does Darwin’s main question about the evolution of flowering plants

[For the month of May, 13.7 Billion Years takes a look at what April showers bring. Through the process of photosynthesis, flowers create simple sugars, which feed ants, bees, butterflies, beetles and a whole range of other insects essential to the food chain. Without flowers, many plants that are crucial to the Earth’s food supply would become extinct. They are also critical to the changing of seasons and provide critical habitat for a host of microorganisms.]

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Though the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial was considered a defeat for fundamentalists who championed the Bible over human knowledge, the battle between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists still rages on. In December, a Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans believe in “strict creationism.”

But among scientists, there is still a lingering question about why flowers evolved the way they did, a question over which Darwin himself puzzled.

In “Darwin and the evolution of flowers,” a 2010 Discussion Meeting Issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society , editors Peter R. Crane from Yale University, Else Marie Friis from the Swedish Museum of Natural History and William G. Chaloner from the University of London noted that in regard to flowering plants, “Darwin was striving to answer a single key question — what evolutionary advantages do different kinds of flowers confer in the struggle for existence?”

“This question is still at the heart of our thinking about the origins of floral diversity, and Darwin’s three major books, which tackled this question from different perspectives, are the foundation for our modern understanding of evolutionary reproductive biology in plants.”

The editors assert that, “with the ubiquity of flowers in our everyday lives, it is sometimes easy to overlook their central importance in the production of food and other materials on which human survival depends. The origin of flowering plant (angiosperm) diversity, which is intimately connected to the diversification of floral form and floral biology, is also of great interest because as the dominant autotrophs of terrestrial environments, angiosperms provide the energy on which most of the rest of biological diversity depends. The evolution of flowers and flowering plants is therefore both of fundamental significance and of contemporary relevance.”

“The field of evolutionary plant reproductive biology, which Darwin created more than a century and half ago, remains a vital one. New discoveries are still being made and new perspectives continue to emerge.”

It is also true that, while 4 out of 10 Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, this number is “slightly fewer today than in years past,” according to Gallup. Apparently some new perspectives, like flowering plants, take a long time to evolve.