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Dr. Hongqi Li - Biography

My research interests include:

Paleobotanic Research Interests

My research interests are mainly focused on the "origin of angiosperms" that has been an "abominable mystery" since Darwin. Currently, we still do not know when, where, and from which plants the flowering plants originated, while the confirmed, earliest angiosperm megafossils are 125 million years old, found from the Yixian Formation, Lower Cretaceous, Liaoning, northeastern China.

I have published three papers on three different fossil flowering plants found from the Yixian Formation, including Archaefructus eoflora (Ji et al., 2004), Archaeamphora longicervia (Li, 2005) and Hyrcantha decussata (Dlicher et al., 2007). Considering that angiosperms had highly diversified during the Early Cretaceous, the origin of angiosperms must be much earlier.

To trace the possible PreCretaceous angiosperms, I am applying two approaches, studying the plant morphology and anatomy and analyzing fossil molecules from 1) angiosperms collected form the Yixian Formation of the Early Cretaceous, northeastern China; 2) possible angiosperm fossil plants collected form the Middle-Late Jurassic, northeastern China; 3) fossil plants that have some angiosperm characteristics, collected form the Late Triassic- Early Jurassic, northern and southern China; and 4) Permian gigantopterids (250-290 million years ago) from China and USA.

I have been studying Chinese gigantopterids since 1983 and found their morphology (e.g., broad leaves, complex reticulate venation) and anatomy (e.g., paracytic stomata, vessels. 1996 Science) make them resemble angiosperms the most among all living and fossil seed plants, and their Permian age well matches the origin time of angiosperms suggested by molecular clock studies (see my gigantopterid-related-papers published in 1990, 1994, 1996, 1998, and 1999). However, because the confirmed earliest angiosperms are only about 125 million years old, I have been hesitating to further correlate gigantopterids with angiosperms, unless I obtain some more convincing evidence.

Because there is no DNA or RNA preserved in PreCretaceous fossil plants, we have to use other stable fossil molecules to trace lineage of angiosperms. Oleanane appears to be an ideal angiosperm biomarker because it has been found in most angiosperm families, and its increase matches well with the diversification of flowering plants during Cretaceous.

From the Yixian Formation, I have reported a species flowering plant, Archaefructus eoflora (Ji et al., 2004). More excitingly, I also have found fossil pitcher plants from the same place in the same fossil flora (Li, 2005). The fossil pitcher plants of Archaeamphora longicervia share many characteristics with modern sarraceniacean pitcher plants of America. Since Sarraceniaceae are placed within the crown group of angiosperms, the discovery of the sarraceniacean-like fossil pitcher plants suggests the basal angiosperms should have originated much earlier, possibly as 280 million years ago as recent molecular clock studies suggested. I have found oleanane from the Chinese gigantopterids of Permian (Taylor et al., 2006, Paleobiology 32(2): 179-190). Nature editor Dr. Henry Gee pointed out that, "If they (gigantopterids) are found to be closer to the flowering plants, the lineage leading to flowering plants will be put securely back into the Permian period" (

  • 2007 Dilcher, David L., Ge Sun, Qiang Ji, and Hongqi Li. An early infructescence Hyrcantha decussata (comb. nov.) from the Yixian Formation in northeastern China. PNAS 104(22): 9370-9374 (May 22, 2007).
  • 2006 Taylor, David Winship, Hongqi Li, Jeremy Dahl, Fred J. Fago, David Zinniker, and J. Michael Moldowan. Biogeochemical Evidence for Late Paleozoic origin and deep phylogenetic root of Angiosperms. Paleobiology 32(2): 179-190.
  • 2004 Ji, Qiang, Hongqi Li, L. Michelle Bowe, Yusheng Liu, and David W. Taylor. Early Cretaceous Archaefructus eoflora sp. nov. with bisexual flowers from Beipiao, western Liaoning, China. Acta Geologica Sinica 78, 883-896.
  • 1999 Li, Hongqi and David W. Taylor. Vessel-Bearing Stems, Vasovinea tianii gen. et sp. nov. (Gigantopteridales), from the Upper Permian of Guizhou Province, China. American Journal of Botany 86(11): 1563-1575.
  • 1998 Li, Hongqi and David W. Taylor. Aculeovinea yunguiensis gen. et sp. nov. (Gigantopteridales), a new taxon of gigantopterid axis from the Upper Permian of Guizhou Province, China. International Journal of Plant Sciences 159: 1023-1033.
  • 1996 Li, Hongqi, Edith. L. Taylor, and Thomas. N. Taylor. Permian vessel elements. Science 271: 188-189.
  • 1996 Tian, Baolin, Shijun Wang, Yingting Guo, Hongqi Li, Guiren Chen, and Hong Zhao. Flora of Paleozoic Coalballs of China. The Palaeobotanists, 45: 247-254.
  • 1994 Li, Hongqi, Baolin Tian, Edith L. Taylor, and Thomas N. Taylor. Foliar Anatomy of Gigantonoclea guizhouensis (Gigantopteridales) from the Upper Permian of Guizhou Province, China. American Journal of Botany 81(6): 678-689.
  • 1992 Tian, Baolin and Hongqi Li. A New special Petrified Stem, Guizhouoxylon dahebianense gen. et sp. nov., from Upper Permian in Shuicheng District, Guizhou, China. Acta Palaeontologica Sinica, 31(3): 336-345 (in Chinese and English).
  • 1990 Li, Hongqi and Baolin Tian. Anatomic Study of the Foliage leaf of Gigantonoclea guizhouensis Gu et Zhi. Acta Palaeontologica Sinica, 29(2): 216-227, 3 Plates. (In Chinese with English summary).

Carnivous Plants Research Interests

The Archaeamphora longicervia found from the Lower Cretaceous is actually a fossil pitcher plant that shares many morphological and anatomical characteristics with modern sarraceniacean pitcher plants of America (Li, 2005). This conclusion is also supported with the discovery of angiosperm biomark molecule oleanane from Archaeamphora specimens. Since Sarraceniaceae are placed within the crown group of angiosperms, this is the earliest fossil record of carnivorous plants and the earliest fossil record of crown group of angiosperms.

My discovery of fossil pitcher plant Archaeamphora also inspired my interests in study of modern carnivorous plants, including their origin, phytogeography, morphology, ecology, conservation, and molecular as well as medicinal studies. I had one graduate student conpleted his master degree research on a comprehensive investigation of local populations of Sarracenia purpurea. Beside these, I have organized the 6th Conference of International Carnivorous Plant Society, hosted at Frostburg State University, June 1-5, 2006.

  • 2010 Hongqi Li and Michael Gould. Observation of Reproductive Organs of Sarraceniaceae with SEM LV Model. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 39: 56-61.
  • 2010 Adam Hnatkovich and Hongqi Li. Comparative morphological studies of Sarracenia purpurea L. (Sarraceniaceae) populations around western Maryland, USA. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 39: 50-54.
  • 2005 Yuejin Hua and Hongqi Li. Food Web and Fluid in Pitchers of Nepenthes mirabilis in Zhuhai, China. Acta Botanica Gallica 152(2): 165-176.

Other Biological Studies

When I was working on modern pitcher plants and trying to find out some special molecules that could be used as specific biomarkers, I found many of them yield mocule plumbagin that have studied as a potential anticancer agent. That lead me to further expanded my research into examine plumbagin and other molules, with a new technology, T-Hertz Spectrascopy, and ended with several publications.

  • 2010 Weining Wang, Xiang Luo, Xiaoni Zeng, Yingying Zheng, and Hongqi Li. Terahertz and Infrared Spectra of Plumbagin, Juglone, and Menadione. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 39: 82-88.
  • 2009 Weining Wang, Hongqi Li, Yan Zhang, Cun-Lin Zhang. Correlations between Terahertz Spectra and Molecular Structures of 20 Standard -Amino Acids. Acta Phys. -Chim. Sin., 25(10): 2074-2079.
  • 2008 Weining Wang, Hongqi Li, Xiang Luo, and Xiaoni Zeng. THz Spectra of 1,4-Naphthoquinones and its Four Derivatives. Terehertz Photonics, edited by Cunlin Zhang, Xi-Cheng Zhang, Proc. Of SPIE Vol. 6840, 684000 (2007).

Therefore, I study not only fossil plants, but also modern plants. In particular, when I cannot find some morphology/anatomy of a modern plant from literature, I will dissect the plant and use my own observation to clarify some characteristics in related fossil plants. For example, when I study the earliest, anatomically preserved fossil cycad, I dissected living cycad material to obtain a comprehensive understanding of anatomy of cycads. These studies may lead to important discoveries to clarify some evolutionary problems.

  • Hongqi Li, Jianglin Chang, Bao-lin Tian, and David W. Taylor. The oldest cycad stem, a Permian fossil from China. International Journal of Plant Sciences (completing).

Recent Grants

  • 2010 Assigned Time Grant releasing teaching time for organizing the 27th Midcontinent Paleobotany Colloquium, awarded by FSU.
  • 2006 Assigned Time Grant releasing teaching time from Biol 109 in the spring for organizing the 6th Conference of International Carnivorous Plant Society, awarded by FSU.
  • 2005 Undergraduate student research grant for advising undergraduate student research projects, $2,500 (total $4,000) awarded by FSU.
  • 2004 Conference Presentation Grant for Presentation "Morphology and Biogeochemistry of Possible Fossil Pitcher Plants from the Early Cretaceous, China" at The Fifth Conference of International Carnivorous Plants Society, Lyon, France, $1,000 awarded by FSU.
  • 2002, "Tracing the origin of angiosperms through investigating fossil molecule oleanane from fossil plants," $35,000, awarded by Petroleum Research Fund (PRF), American Chemical Society (ACS).
  • 2002, Match-up grant for "Tracing the origin of angiosperms through investigating fossil molecule oleanane from fossil plants in China," ¥100,000 (˜$12,000), awarded by National Petroleum Corporation of China.
  • 2001 Faculty Development Grant for project "Visiting China and follow up working on Campus for both research and teaching," $2,250, awarded by Frostburg State University.
  • 2000 Research grant for cooperative projects on studies of Paleozoic fossil plants, ¥25,000 (˜$3,000), awarded by Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.