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The compounds behind the perfumes and colognes you enjoy have been eliciting olfactory excitement since dinosaurs walked the Earth amid the first appearance of flowering plants, new research reveals.
Entomologist George Poinar Jr. and his son Greg, a fragrance collector, found evidence that floral scents originated in primitive flowers as far back as 100 million years ago as pollinator attractants – a role they still play even though today’s flowers also have colorful petals for luring pollinators.
“I bet some of the dinosaurs could have detected the scents of these early flowers,” George Poinar said. “In fact, floral essences from these early flowers could even have attracted these giant reptiles.”
The Poinars examined amber flowers from Burma, including the now extinct glandular laurel flower (Cascolaurus burmensis) and veined star flower (Tropidogyne pentaptera).
The research revealed that the flower-based chemical compounds that are the basis for the perfumes and colognes we use today have been providing olfactory excitement to pollinating insects and other animals since the mid-Cretaceous Period.
Without colorful petals, flowers from that period had to rely solely on scents to attract pollinators.
“You can’t detect scents or analyze the chemical components of fossil flowers, but you can find the tissues responsible for the scents,” said George Poinar, professor emeritus in the Department of Biology.