A fossil flower trapped in Amber had a mistaken identity for 150 years

An undated photo provided by Carola Radke shows the largest-known fossilized flower to be preserved in amber. A study of the Baltic specimen offers new insights into what Europe's climate was like some 35 million years ago. [Carola Radke/Museum für Naturkunde Berlin via The New York Times]

Eva-Maria Sadowski, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in Berlin, didn't have a particular agenda in mind when she decided to borrow the biggest fossil flower preserved in amber ever found.

"I did it without any expectations, I just did it because I was curious," she said.

Her curiosity pulled the thread of a more than 150-year-long case of mistaken identity, resulting in a clearer picture of what the Baltic amber forest of Northern Europe looked like more than 33 million years ago.

The preserved flower bloomed about halfway between the extinction of the last nonbird dinosaurs and the evolution of humans, who found it in the 19th century in territory that is now part of Russia. In 1872, scientists classified it as Stewartia kowalewskii, an extinct flowering evergreen.

The Baltic amber flower's identity hadn't been revised until...

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