Original paper

Revision of putative Alpinia (Zingiberaceae) fossils from the Paleogene and Neogene of western Europe

Smith, Selena Y.; Collinson, Margaret E.; Benedict, John C.; Leong-Škorničková, Jana; Marone, Federica; Parkinson, Dilworth


The fossil floras described by Dieter Mai and Harald Walther are invaluable for understanding the past plant diversity in Europe, and provide important information on the occurrence of taxa in the fossil record that is critical for evolutionary studies. Among the taxa they recognized were seeds assigned to the extant genus Alpinia Roxb. (Zingiberaceae, Zingiberales). We reinvestigated 28 specimens that were assigned to Alpinia arnensis (Chandler) Mai, Alpinia cf. arnensis, and Alpinia bivascularis Mai from the Ypresian (lower Eocene) of the UK, upper Eocene of Germany, and lower Miocene of Germany using non-destructive synchrotron-based X-ray tomography to reveal internal anatomy. None of the samples studied show an anatomy consistent with extant Alpinia or even Zingiberales. The fossils lack the globose shape, often striate external surface, seed coat structure, operculum, and micropylar collar seen in all Alpinia, and lack the chalazal chamber seen in many Alpinia species. Two specimens from the lower Miocene of Germany showed the structure of fruits of Caricoidea Chandler (Cyperaceae) with a single-layered exocarp, thick mesocarp, and sclerified endocarp. The other specimens are recognized as Carpolithes albolutum nom. nov. (incertae sedis) from the Ypresian of the UK, C. phoenixnordensis sp. nov. (incertae sedis) from the upper Eocene of Germany, C. bivascularis comb. nov. (incertae sedis) from the lower Miocene of Germany as well as indeterminate tegmens from the lower Miocene of Germany. This reinvestigation demonstrates that there is, as yet, no confirmed fossil record for the extant genus Alpinia. Furthermore, at least four different taxa are recognized from what had been two extinct species, enhancing our understanding of these important European Cenozoic carpofloras.


Caricoidea; Carpolithes; Cyperaceae; Eocene; Miocene; seeds; synchrotron X-ray tomographic microscopy; Zingiberales