Faust And The Dandelion

Romantic poetry and developmental biology have something in common: Goethe. One of botany’s lesser known pioneers, Goethe actually wrote a visionary essay about plants in 1790, which can be summed up in his motto, “All is leaf.” Scientists who are studying the evolution of flowers today hear the echoes of his words. To find out more, check out my lead story in the Science Times section of the New York Times today.

And for more information, check out these recent reviews–

The Evolution of Petal Identity

Reconstructing the ancestral angiosperm flower and its initial specializations

The meaning of Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’
Reconstructing the ancestral female gametophyte of angiosperms: Insights from Amborella and other ancient lineages of flowering plants

0 thoughts on “Faust And The Dandelion

  1. To me it is amazing how observant Charles Darwin wan. Not only did he draw incredible conclusions, he saw things about plants/animals that I don’t think I would ever seen if I was in his shoes.

  2. Something about the article in the Times puzzles me – I love, love, love that you interviewed a paleobotanist for it, but the article makes it seem that there is a huge gap of no information between Goethe and the last 15 years of genetics with regard to petals being leaf homologues. In fact, Walter Zimmermann began fleshing out his telome theory of branch and leaf evolution in the 1930s, with additions of the flower parts by Wilson soon after, Tepfer did developmental studies in the 1950s showing the similarities in ontogeny between floral and shoot apices, and of course Archaeanthus, described by Dilcher and Crane in the early 1980s, demonstrated the leaflike nature of angiosperm reproductive parts. And those are just a few spotty highlights of the story. It reads as yet another example of geneticists finding something they think is fabulously novel, when the paleontologists can say “Yes, thanks for corroborating what we’ve been saying for the last 50 years.”

  3. Was it a conscious decision to use “flower” to mean both flowering plants (as in “It is now clear, for example, that the closest living relatives to flowers are flowerless species that produce seeds, a group that includes pine trees and gingkos.”) and also the structure on the plant (as in “Flowers are also impressive in their sheer diversity of forms and colors, from lush, full-bodied roses to spiderlike orchids to calla lilies shaped like urns.”). I had to reread a few sections and mentally insert “-ing plants” a few times to make sense of some sections. Other than that, an interesting article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *