A new species of ancient flower, preserved in amber has been unveiled in a paper published online in Nature Plants.
The fossils were found in the Dominican Republic and are the earliest representative of the asterids found in New World, the authors say.
The diverse group of plants includes sunflowers, coffee, peppers, potatoes and mint.
Amber, the fossilised resin of ancient trees, is well-known for its preservative properties. Insects and and other organisms that become trapped before the resin solidifies can remain unchanged,for millions of years.
These specimens were found in a mine in the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range of the Dominican Republic.
The study says the encased flowers, which are less than a centimetre in length, are part of the genus Strychnos – which also includes the tree from which the poison strychnine is extracted.
The authors, George Poinar and Lena Struwe, named the new species Strychnos electri, after the Greek word for amber, elektron.
But dating the specimen remains a puzzle. The amber could have formed as recently as 15–20 million years ago or as far back as 30–45 million years ago, the researchers say.