Extinct Relative of Tennessee State Wildflower Discovered at Gray Fossil Site | WJHL

GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Incredible discoveries are being made every day at the Gray Fossil Site, but the most recent discovery has unveiled seeds estimated to be 500 million years old and identified as an extinct relative of the present-day wildflower in the wild. State of Tennessee Passionflower. .

According to an ETSU release, passionflowers were officially designated as a state flower of Tennessee in 1919 and just over a century later, paleontologists have found fossil evidence of a species of the extinct Appalachian passion, Passiflora Appalachiana, previously unknown to science.

ETSU professor and director of excavations at the Gray Fossil Site, Dr Steven Wallace, said piecing together what life was like millions of years ago is just that: little pieces of a puzzle. bigger.

He said bone fragments found over time help his team create a bigger picture.

“The misconception is that we can pick up any bone fragment or any seed fragment and say I know what it is, but the reality is that there are a lot of things that we have that are unidentified,” Wallace said.

Seed fragments found at the dig site in recent years were recently scanned and identified by Dr. Elizabeth Hermsen, who resides in New York and specializes in paleobotany; leading them to be connected to the flower that exists today. It’s something that remained as a mystery until the identification was made.

“We recognize them as having characters that someone can probably identify with, but until you get the right person to watch it, it could be a mystery in a drawer for a long time,” Wallace said.

Dr. Hermsen has identified 13 fossil seeds of the extinct passionflower, seeds found right here in Gray. Jarod Duckworth, a lab assistant at the site, told News Channel 11 that every day is a great discovery and this is a perfect example of that.

“I’m not plant literate, I’m much more of an animal guy but it’s very interesting though, I love hearing about the new things we find here,” Duckworth said.

“What makes this passionflower kinda neat is the fact that it’s something we have here today. A lot of the plants and animals in Gray have that kind of flavor from Asia or somewhere distant, while this flower basically looks like something that is here today,” Wallace said.

As Wallace’s team continues to make discoveries, he says people should appreciate how valuable the Gray Fossil Site is to this community.

“It tells us about their past, it’s not just our past, it’s their past,” he said.

The release says more than 100 different plant types have been identified from fossil seeds and pollen at the Gray Fossil Site, although many are still awaiting detailed study. Hermsen is currently engaged in research on several of these plants, and she suspects there are more new species to be discovered.