Premise of the study: Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data has changed our view on the evolution and systematics of plant taxa. Based on the phylogenetic analysis of several molecular markers, fruit anatomy, and pollen morphology, the genera Altingia and Semiliquidambar were formally transferred to the genus Liquidambar. The new species of Liquidambar from the Eocene of South China significantly extends our knowledge of the variability of the morphological characters of this genus in the geological past. Fossil leaves in conjunction with data on the associated reproductive structures allow us to make inferences about patterns in the evolutionary history of Liquidambar.•
Methods: Fossil leaves and associated reproductive structures preserved as impressions were described and compared with the corresponding organs of extant and fossil relatives. The morphological variation of numerous leaves was examined by stereomicroscopy.•
Key results: Liquidambar maomingensis sp. nov. is characterized by polymorphic leaves including both palmately lobed and unlobed leaves. This study presents the first observations of such dimorphism in the fossil record of Liquidambar leaves. Two distinct leaf groups are interpreted as sun and shade leaves.•
Conclusions: The fossil leaves and associated infructescences from Maoming probably belong to the same plant. The occurrence of fossil leaves similar to those of extant species previously considered within Semiliquidambar and Liquidambar with the associated infructescences close to those of Altingia provide paleobotanical evidence that justifies combining the genera Liquidambar, Altingia, and Semiliquidambar into the single genus Liquidambar as recently proposed based on molecular markers.
Keywords: Altingiaceae; Liquidambar; Maoming; South China; late Eocene; leaves; reproductive structures.
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