Skip to main content

A Fossilized Tree That Dr. Seuss Might Have Dreamed Up

·2 mins

In the ancient prehistory of Earth, there is a chapter that waits to be told known as Romer’s gap. Researchers have identified a hiatus in the tetrapod fossil record between 360 million and 345 million years ago, after fish had begun to adapt to land and more than 80 million years before the first dinosaurs. While mysteries remain about evolution’s experiments with living things during that 15-million-year gap, a fossilized tree described in a new paper offers greater insights to some of what was happening during this period in nature’s laboratory. The tree had a six-inch diameter with a nearly 10-foot-tall trunk composed not of wood, but of vascular plant material, like ferns. Its crown had more than 200 finely striated, compound leaves emanating from spiral-patterned branches that radiated 2½ feet outward. The tree most likely remained upright by intertwining its branches with those of neighboring trees. ‘This is a totally new and different kind of plant’ than had been found in the Late Paleozoic Era, said a professor of biology. She added, ‘We typically get bits and pieces of plants, or mineralized tree trunks, from Romer’s Gap. We don’t have many whole plants we can reconstruct. This one we can.’ The tree was unearthed in an active private quarry within a geological layer that has also yielded fossilized fish and trace fossils. Although partial fossils of the same tree species had previously been found, the new discovery represents the only such fossil whose trunk and crown were preserved together.