Case Studies

Plants: Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’ — The origin of flowering plants

Writing to his friend Joseph Hooker in 1879, Charles Darwin famously referred to the origin of flowering plants — the angiosperms — as an ‘abominable mystery’. Even today, botanists argue about what the first angiosperms must have been like. There are two competing hypotheses. One says that the first flowering plants were woody shrubs with large blooms like modern magnolias; the other says that they were almost the opposite — non-woody plants with small flowers, like modern black pepper plants.

DNA evidence from the chloroplast genome is used by students in this Case Study to try to solve the century-old mystery.

Case study written by: Laura Kelly, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Edited by Dean Madden, NCBE, University of Reading.