Am in Israel at the moment!

I am away in Israel at the moment and the #ancientplantalphabet will resume on my return! As will a blog about Ephedra a group of weird plants from desert environments that are somewhere between gymnosperms and angiosperms!

O is for…

A family of ferns who’s heritage takes us back nearly 300 million years to the very end of the Carboniferous.
Today there are only four extant genus in this family (Osmundastrum, Osmunda, Todea and Leptopteris) but the fossil record shows it was once a very much larger. Thamnopteris, Zalesskya, Chasmatopteris, Osmundacaulis, Aurealcaulis, Osmundites, Osmundopsis, Todites, Anomopteris, Osmundacidites and Paleosmunda are all fossil genera in the Osmundaceae. Certainly in the Jurasic Osmundaceae made up a large proportion of the understory in forests made up mostly of Araucaria, podocarps and taxodiaceae.
The Osmundaceae are represented in the fossil garden by Osmunda regalis, Osmunda claytoniana, O. japonica, O. banksiifolia, O. bromelifolia, Osmundastrum cinnamomium, O. cinnamomium var. asiaticum and Todea barbara.

N is for….

Neuropteris was a genus of extinct plants that had a unusual combination of characters. Hailing from the coal swamps of the Carboniferous it had the leaves and trunk of a tree fern but reproduced by means of seed! From a group of plants known as Seed ferns or pteridosperms they were actually more closely related to conifers and flowering plants than ferns. Weirdly, although the seed were often born on special branches they were also to be found along the midrib of the fronds. They also produced very large pollen grains which leads paleobotanists to believe they were pollinated by insects. Their nearest relatives were probably Cycads although nothing truly like them exists today.

M is for….

So everyone knows magnolias were around with the dinosaurs right? Well kind of…
Most of the modern 220ish species of magnoliaceae probably didn’t evolve until well after the K-T extinction event that wiped out the dinos!
The fossil record for this group of plants does lead us strongly into the late Cretaceous with most genus of early magnolias now being extinct. There are however two lines that have survived through to this day that were well represented in the fossil record of the Cretaceous.
Liriodendron (the tulip trees) are a genus consisting of 2 species L. chinense and L. tulipifera and Manglietia a genus consisting of 29 species although it was once bigger (many are now lumped together in the genus Magnolia) Their presence in the late Cretaceous is given away by a number of fossils, mostly fossil seeds and leaves.
A number of fossil genera that can be linked to the magnoliaceae take us much further back to about 110 million years in the Albian of the early Cretaceous. This is where we find fossils of Archaeanthus lunnenbergeri and Liriophyllum. Archaeanthus and Liriophyllum are found in association with each other and are thought to have been born by the same plant. Liriophyllum is similar in general morphology to Liriodendron but differing in leaf structure and the fruiting structure Archaeanthus differs from extant Magnolias.
Other Magnoliaceae fossil species of the Cretaceous are Liriodendroidea, Padragkutia and Litocarpon.
The Magnoliaceae are represented in the fossil garden by Magnolia (manglietia) chevalieri, M. Insignis, M. grandiflora, M. kobus var. stellata, M. sieboldii, Lireodendron chinense and L. tulipifera.

L is for…..

The giant scale trees of the Carboniferous (350-290 million years ago) were related to modern day Club mosses and even more closely to Quillworts. Growing to a maximum size of 30m with trunks nearly a meter in diameter they formed the canopy of what is now termed the ‘coal forests’.
They reproduced by spore and probably only lived for 10 to 15 years. Most species were probably monocarpic (reproducing once and then dying).
Growing in a warm, carbon dioxide rich (levels were 3 times that of preindustrial earth) environment was the factor that may have allowed such growth in such a short space of time.
Often dubbed giant club mosses they were eventually out competed by the gymnosperms (cycads and pines) and their kind only persisted in a much smaller form eventually becoming our modern day Quillworts.
We currently have the lake quillwort (Isoetes lacustris), Stags horn clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) and Northern fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago) growing in the fossil garden.

K is for……

The fossil genus Kasicarpa is known from fruit, flowers and leaves from the Chulym-Yeni-Sey depression in western Siberia.
Unusually it shows characteristics of 2 unrelated families of plants, the Platanaceae (Planes) in the Proteales and the Hamamelidaceae (Witchhazels) in the Saxifrageales.
When originally discovered scientist found the fruit easily placed in the Platanaceae and the leaves were originally described as Popullites pseudoplatanoides (a poplar that looked like a plane). This all caused a bit of confusion but has since shown a relationship between the two extant families with members of the sub family Altingioideae (liquidambar family) in the hamamelidaceae being most similar.

J is for…..

Jerseyanthus calicanthoides
Yes you can tell from the name Jerseyanthus is another member of the Calicanthaceae just like Idiospermum.
From fossils described as recently as 2004 and discovered not long before that in the Raritan formation of New Jersey in The USA, Jerseyanthus dates back to the Late Cretaceous (about 90 million years ago).
It has been placed as a sister group to the genus Calycanthus which still inhabits the USA. In fact Jerseyanthus really only has very minor differences from modern day Calycanthus and Chimonanthus (the number of tepals being the main one).
We have both Chimonanthus praecox and Calycanthus floridus as representatives of the Calycanthaceae in the fossil garden.

I is for…..

Idiospermum hales from the Daintree national park in Queensland, Australia. It was discovered in the late 19th century having previously only been known from their fossil record (making them what is known as a Lazarius taxon). Unfortunately the botanist that identified the plant from samples brought to him by loggers misidentified it as a Calycanthus (it is actually a member of the Calycanthaceae) When he visited the area where it had been found he saw it had been clear felled and thus the species was believed to have become extinct again! Then in 1971 it was rediscovered after some cattle grazing in the forest started to die. The poisonous seeds of the ‘Idiot plant’ where discovered in their gut.
Idiospermum actually means unusual fruit pertaining to the fact that its seed is a naked plant embryo. It is also unusual in that it can have between 2 and 5 cotyledons (seed leaves) making it neither a monocot nor dicot!
With fossils resembling Idiospermum (Virginianthus calycanthoides) aged at 120 million years and phylogenetic data placing it as one of the earliest extant (alive today) species of flowering plant. The evidence points to it being a true ‘fossilplant’.
I wish I could grow it here in North Wales but alas the garden just isn’t hot enough!

H is for…..

At a maximum size of about 20 cm Horneophyton was one of the commonest early land plants found in the Rhynie Chirt (a area of rock in Scotland with exquisitely preserved fossils from the early Devonian about 400+ million years ago).
Interestingly it showed an affinity to both bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and the earliest vascular plants. It is considered a missing link by many paleobotanists.
They are the simplest known spore bearing plants and had neither true vascular tissue, true roots or leaves. Horneophyton may have led to the evolution of the modern plants known as Hornworts (Anthocerotophyta).

G is for……. By guest blogger Susannah Lydon

Glossopteris is a fossil plant which helped to change the way we understand the Earth.

When the first fossils of Glossopteris were found in the Nineteenth Century, it was assumed to be a fern (its name means ‘tongue-fern’, given for its long, tongue-shaped leaves). Further finds revealed that it was actually a seed plant with pollen-bearing organs, and that it grew as a small tree with a woody trunk.

Leaves of Glossopteris have been found in rocks of Permian age (roughly 300 to 250 million years ago) in India, Australia, South Africa, South America, Africa and Antarctica. Their distribution, and that of other fossil species, was one of the lines of evidence which were gathered by Alfred Wegener, to support his theory of ‘continental drift’, the pre-cursor to modern plate tectonics. Wegener argued that that the continents of the Southern Hemisphere had once been joined together (in a continent known as Gondwana), and had drifted apart. Wegener’s ideas were not widely accepted when proposed in the 1910s and it was not until five decades later that the idea of drifting continents became mainstream.

G is for…. Was written by guest blogger paleobotanist and Science communicator Susannah Lydon.

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