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The Oldest Flowering Plant on Earth

Updated: Aug 30, 2018

Flora in the Daintree: just another seedling shot - or is it? These are germinating seed of the Ribbonwood (Idiospermum australiense), believed to be the oldest flowering plant on earth - unchanged for around 120 million years. Now only found in a few locations in the Daintree from Noah Creek to the Daintree River, and south from Bellenden Ker to Mt Bartle Frere, this large tree grows to 25 metres (75 feet) and has an interesting history. First recognised by timber cutters in the 1800s, it was described by botanist, Ludwig Diels in 1902. It was later believed to be extinct due to large-scale clearing to grow sugar. In 1971, it was re-discovered by a Daintree farmer after the large cricket ball sized fruit was discovered in the stomachs of dying cattle. Also called Idiot Fruit, the toxic seed now only spreads by gravity, but it has been suggested the seeds were formerly dispersed by the now-extinct Diprotodon, on the basis that many Australian marsupials are adapted to cope with the toxins in Australian plants. These seedlings were photographed at Benella Rainforest Reserve - proudly grown by Adrian (Golly) Watson.

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Ribbonwood (Idiospermum australiense)

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