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10 Plants Lost to History


10
Strychnos electri
It's probably prettier encased in amber, anyway. George Poinar/Rutgers
It's probably prettier encased in amber, anyway. George Poinar/Rutgers

Scientists know about a lot of really old, extinct plants thanks to fossil imprints, but they discovered Strychnos electri in an even cooler way. It all started in 1986 when Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar took a field trip to the Dominican Republic and collected about 500 specimens encased in amber, or hardened tree resin. A few of the organisms trapped in the hardened chunks of yellowy-clear amber were flowers, but, being a bug guy, Poinar focused on the insects. It wasn't until 2015 that he decided somebody might also want to look at the flowers, and he knew just the person for the task — Dr. Lena Struwe, a botanist at Rutgers University.

Struwe specialized in the type of plants from which the flower came: Strychnos, a group of toxic flora from which the rat poison strychnine is derived. The botanist compared it to hundreds of specimens before concluding it was an extinct variety that lived some 15 to 45 million years ago. And the name "electri?" It comes from the Greek word "elektron," meaning "amber" [source: BBC].