According to experts, the small aquatic plants known as Hydatellaceae are more closely linked to waterlilies (Nymphaeales) than to the flowering plant order of bromeliads and grasses where they were previously categorized.
“It’s a typical example of mistaken identification,” said Sean Graham, an associate professor and researcher at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research, where the study was done. “It needed DNA sequence data combined with a thorough reexamination of morphology to put these plants in their correct position in the plant evolutionary family tree.”
The researchers discovered that the Hydatellaceae family is not a monocot, but rather belongs to an ancient line of flowering plants that split off from the main flowering plant lineage during the dinosaur era.
“For botanists, this is like discovering a reptile is really a living dinosaur,” Graham said. “This adds a significant component to the jigsaw of flowering-plant beginnings, which Charles Darwin famously called a ‘abominable riddle,’ demonstrating that some of the first evolutionary branches were more diversified than previously assumed.”
Even when fully grown, these plants, which are endemic to Australia, New Zealand, and India, measure barely 1 to 2 cm.
The study also included researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, the University of Zurich, Harvard University, and the University of California, Davis.