The first flowering plant fossils occur as rare, undiverse pollen grains in the Early Cretaceous (Valanginian-Hauterivian). Angiosperms diversified slowly during the Barremian-Aptian but rapidly during the Albian-Cenomanian. By the end of the Cretaceous, at least half of the living angiosperm orders were present, and angiosperms were greater than 70% of terrestrial plant species globally. The rapid diversification of the group, and its dominance in modern vegetation, has led to the idea that the Cretaceous radiation of angiosperms also represents their rise to vegetational dominance.

Paleoecological data cast a different light on the Cretaceous radiation of angiosperms. Analyses of sedimentary environments indicate that angiosperms not only originated in unstable habitats but remained centered there through most of the Cretaceous. Morphology of leaves, seeds, and wood is consistent with the status of most Cretaceous angiosperms as herbs to small trees with early successional strategy. The diversification of flowering plants in the Cretaceous represents the evolution of a highly speciose clade of weeds but not necessarily a major change in global vegetation.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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