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Found 161 results

  1. The following text is largely a translation of an article I wrote for the Nederlandse Varenvereniging (Dutch Fern Society) in 2010, for a special issue on fossil ferns. I updated the text where needed and made a few expansions/changes. Unfortunately, I had to leave out quite some of the figures of the original text. Hopefully though, some TFF members may still find the text useful, and perhaps even entertaining. Taxonomy (derived from the Greek terms “taxis” and “nomina”, translating into “arrangement method”) is the science which deals with the study of identifying, grouping, and naming organisms according to their established natural relationship. For plants, the onset of taxonomy is marked by Linnaeus’ work Species Plantarum, published in 1753, which introduced the concepts of their biological classification and contains the first scientific plant names nowadays considered to be validly published [stace, 1991]. In theory, the basic principles as laid out by Linnaeus are (and should be!) the same for both extant and fossil (extinct) plants. In practice however, there are some notable and inevitable differences. DNA analysis for example, becoming more and more important in the taxonomy of extant organisms, usually cannot be applied to fossils. Below, we will briefly discuss the methodology adopted by palaeobotanists to overcome these practical hurdles and classify plant fossils. Palaeobotanical nomenclature While fragments of leaves, branches, bark, reproductive organs and parts of the rooting system are rather common finds, fossil remains of larger parts, or of the plants as a whole, are extremely rare to non-existent. To cope with this, the nomenclature used in the classification of plant fossils is somewhat different from that used by botanists for extant plants, and this can cause some confusion. Within the regular Linnaean system of botanical nomenclature, each plant –as a whole– is given one single name, consisting of a genus- and species name. Higher hierarchical taxa (such as family, order and class) indicate the more distant relations between species. Palaeobotanists use similar binomial names, but assign separate systematic names to the different parts of plants, such as foliage and roots, thereby enabling the classification of small fossil fragments. A single plant can easily give rise to five or six fossil genera this way [Cleal and Thomas, 1994, p. 46]. Fossil taxa The lycophytes, distant relatives of the extant shrub Lycopodium, form a nice example. During Carboniferous times, these plants formed a major element of the swamp floras. Some of the plants could attain heights well over 30 meters [bateman et al., 1992], and finding the fossil remains of a complete specimen is therefore virtually impossible. This difficulty is reflected in lycophyte systematics in a number of ways. Stigmaria (text-fig. 1) for example, represents the roots of several types of lycopods, such as Lepidodendron and Sigillaria. Grouping the roots together in one genus is the only workable solution, as they are found almost exclusively disconnected from the subaerial parts of the plants. From a biological perspective, further separation would be desirable, of course. However, we cannot make the distinction on basis of the limited fossil evidence. This limitation has significant consequences though. Now, we can't include Stigmaria in the Lepidodendraceae, nor can we group it into the Sigillariaceae; the fossil genus has limited biological meaning. There is also no such thing as a ‘Stigmaria plant’, bearing Stigmaria leaves and Stigmaria branches. These and the other distinct structures, such as the reproductive organs, are assigned their own generic names. Text-figure 1: Stigmaria, the roots of several types of lycophytes, but not a complete plant Morphotaxa Identification problems commonly arise when having to distinguish between true ferns and a group of early gymnosperms, informally known as the pteridosperms. I would like to ask you to take a close look at text-figure 2 now, for the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Without consulting the caption: how many and which ones of these fossil fragments represent true ferns? Text-figure 2: caption with answers can be found at the end of this post The way the question is formulated probably raises a suspicion that pteridosperms are among these fragments. Indeed, there are. However, in the beginning of the nineteenth century (the early days of palaeobotany as a science) all these fossils would probably have been classified as ferns. This is not that strange, really, as the compound leaves –at least superficially– show great resemblance. As a matter of fact, their fronds are so similar that the pteridosperms are also known as “seed ferns”. This is a rather misleading name, since pteridosperm biology is quite different from that of the ferns; they bore seeds and are more closely related to the cycads [Cleal and Thomas, 2009, p. 138]. Started to wonder how well you did as a palaeobotanist? The caption (can be found at the end of this post) lists which of the specimens are ferns and which are pteridosperms. Fern- and pteridosperm fronds can be distinguished from one another with certainty only after a fossil specimen bearing either sporangia or seeds (ovules) has been found. The third fragment (text-fig. 2) shows an example from the Middle Triassic of Australia, where the frond on the right-hand side of the photo bears sporangia [see also Holmes, 2001]. However, the great majority of fossil specimens consists of sterile fronds, lacking such diagnostic features. Again, palaeobotanists turn to the usage of an artificial classification scheme, namely that of morphotaxa [e.g. Brongniart, 1822]. This system is based on the shape of the pinnules and the larger scale architecture of the fronds. It is thus based solely on the morphology of the fossil, and not on biological affinity. As a consequence, morphogenera act like “collector bins” for species that cannot be assigned to proper fossil genera and thereby generally contain several types of plants. Foliage belonging to the morphogenus Pecopteris, for instance, was not only borne by several Filicales and Marattiales ferns (among which the Carboniferous tree-fern Psaronius), but also by at least one pteridosperm [Taylor et al., 2009, p. 680]. In this regard morphogenera differ from fossil genera, such as Lepidodendron and Stigmaria. The latter names immediately tell us that we’re dealing with lycophytes. As soon as sufficient evidence to do so becomes available –such as in the rare case a fertile frond or one with attached seeds is found– the species is placed in a more natural, fossil genus. Scolecopteris, for example, represents species with a pecopterid (Pecopteris-like) appearance that have a known marattialean affinity. This could be discerned through exceptionally well preserved fossils (so-called “coal balls”), in which the sporangia can be studied in detail [e.g. Ewart, 1961]. Note that such finds only provide evidence for the specific species concerned in the attachment and do not generalize to the form-genera to which they belong. Morphogenera are not completely abandoned, even when the biological affinity is known, for it is convenient to keep them as a synonymy [Chaloner, 1986]. Usage of a full name like Asterotheca (al. Pecopteris) arborescens (Schlotheim) Kidston, 1924, for instance, makes it immediately clear that this frond has a pecopterid morphology. Effect of taphonomy Taphonomy is a common source of bias in the fossil record and may also become important for the identification of single specimens, hence a short note here. For a more extensive discussion on taphonomy and its effects the reader is referred to the CarboBase page on the subject and the references given there. Taphonomy is a collective term for all the processes that affect plant remains as they go from the biosphere to the lithosphere. A fossil may, for example, have been transported, abraded, decayed or partially eaten before becoming buried in the sediment and onset of fossilization. As a consequence, there is considerable variation in the degree of preservation between fossils; some specimens can show signs of significant rot before conservation. This is again nicely illustrated by the lycophytes, as the lowermost stem portions of Sigillaria trees often experienced significant decortication prior to burial and fossilization. Compared to regular Sigillaria specimens, the resulting bark fossils –referred to as Syringodendron– lack leaf cushions, but instead only display pairs of markings. It should be noted that, used in this manner, the name Syringodendron represents no taxonomically independent genus, but only a (morphologically distinct) decortication state of another. Similarly, Knorria represents bark of the Lepidodendron-type that underwent some degree of rotting before fossilization. Post-burial alteration can also be important, as fossils occur in many forms of preservation (compressions, permineralisations, etc.), depending on the conditions prevailing during fossilization and diagenesis. Each of these preservation modes can provide different types of information. However, this variation can considerably complicate taxonomy, as palaeobotanists will always have to decide whether the differences they observe between any two fossils are truly biologic or, alternatively, due to another type of fossilization. Sometimes this gives rise to the usage of different fossil genus and species names for what might very well be the same plant. The fossil genera Calamites and Arthropitys represent, respectively, the compressions and anatomically preserved fossils of calamite stems, for example. Complete plant reconstructions One of the most challenging aspects of palaeobotany is trying to reconstruct what the whole plant would have looked like. These reconstructions are of key importance, because analytical methods used in systematic biology to determine the evolutionary relations between organisms (such as cladistics) do not work well on separate organs [Cleal and Thomas, 2009, p. 46]. Reconstruction of the whole plant requires us to group together the fossils we treated and named as separate entities until now. In the reconstruction of the giant horsetail-tree Calamites (text-fig. 3), for example, Calamites (stems), Annularia (foliage), Calamostachys (cones), and Pinnularia (rootlets) are associated with each other. Text-figure 3: Reconstructions of the Calamites-tree. Schematics modified from Taylor et al. (2009) and Langford Producing such a complete plant reconstruction is comparable to assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle. Or, actually, more like building a couple of these puzzles simultaneously, as generally different kinds of plants have fossilized together. Also, important pieces of the puzzle might still be missing (you don’t know how many) and, moreover, there is no box with example picture to work with. Furthermore, convergent or divergent evolution may have resulted in multiple plants with, for example, similar foliage but different reproductive organs [Cleal and Thomas, 1994, p. 46], as was shown earlier to be the case for ferns and pteridosperms (text-fig. 2). It is not surprising we sometimes have to make assumptions due to the difficulties outlined above. As a consequence, whole plant reconstructions are always, at least to some extent, hypothetical. This is also the case for Tempskya, a genus of “false trunk” tree ferns, known principally from silicified trunks from the Cretaceous. The characteristics of the petioles and petiole traces on these fossils suggest Tempskya bore small-sized, abundant foliage along the length of its trunk instead of a crown of fronds [Taylor et al., 2009, p. 458]. The reconstruction of Tempskya incorporates this evidence. However, fossils of the fronds themselves have never been found [stewart en Rothwell, 2009, p. 257; Taylor et al., 2009, p. 458] and their appearance in the reconstruction is therefore open for interpretation of the artist. It is very well possible whole plant reconstructions need to be modified when more fossil evidence becomes available. As a consequence the literature generally contains multiple reconstruction proposals for the same plant group [e.g. Pfefferkorn et al., 1984, p. 3]. Therefore, it is important we appreciate these complete plant reconstructions for what they are: not taxonomic species, but working-hypotheses, based on the best data available at the time. Notes on scientific names As already briefly mentioned in the section on palaeobotanical nomenclature, plant fossils (and extant plants alike) are assigned a name, consisting of a genus- and species name. This paragraph provides some further general notes on scientific names. It is customary to write these names in italics, where only the genus name gets a capital letter. The complete record should also contain the name of the author who first described the species, together with the year of publication of this description: e.g.: Calamites suckowii Brongniart, 1828 The species in the example above belongs to the genus Calamites, and was first described by Brongniart in the year 1828. When subsequent changes are made to the classification of a species, this should be included in the scientific name in certain cases. When the species is transferred to a different or amended genus, for example, the first, original author is only mentioned between brackets, followed by the author who published the amended diagnosis and the year of publication of this change: e.g.: Alethopteris serlii (Brongniart) Göppert, 1836 In 1828, Brongniart originally published the species of the example above as Pecopteris serlii. Subsequent work in 1836 by Göppert led to the transfer of this species to another genus, namely Alethopteris (a genus name coined by Sternberg in 1826). Sometimes it is very difficult to classify a fossil with certainty. In such cases, taxonomists make use of so-called “open nomenclature” [bengtson, 1988]. The following three abbreviations are used most frequently when the classification is uncertain. When “aff.” precedes the species name this indicates that the specimen is considered to be a possible new species, closely related to the mentioned species. The material is insufficient for the formal formulation of a new species though (used mainly in the literature). When “cf.” precedes the species name this indicates that the determination is uncertain. This may be due to poor preservation of the fossil. Sometimes “?” is also used for this purpose. In the example below, the fossil specimen probably belongs to the species Calamites suckowii, but some characteristics could not be discerned due to poor preservation. e.g.: Calamites cf. suckowii Brongniart, 1828 When “sp.” is written after a genus name this indicates that the specimen couldn’t be related to any established species. e.g.: Calamites sp. In this example, the fossil specimen is considered to belong to the genus Calamites, but the species couldn’t be determined (or no further classification attempt has been made yet). Note the caption of text-figure 3 contains open nomenclature. Caption text-figure 2: Several fossils of ferns and pteridosperms. Pteridosperms: A, B, C, D, E and I. Ferns: C, F, G and H. How many did you get right? For the enthusiasts: A = Mariopteris cf. muricata, B = Alethopteris davreuxii, C = Asterotheca chevronervia, D = Eusphenopteris striata, E = Alethopteris serlii, F = Pecopteris sp., G = Pecopteris polymorpha, H = Renaultia crepinii, I = Callipteridium gigas.
  2. Taken from my blogpost http://redleafz.blogspot.ca/2013/08/cape-breton-sydney-mines-donkin-july.html I had planned to head back to Cape Breton in the Summer of 2013. I set aside a few days during my first week of vacation in July to head back over there. I decided to go during the week, leaving on a Tuesday to avoid the weekend touristic rush. My plans were to spend some time looking at rock, but to also do the touristy thing and visit some of the local interests, such as the French Fortress of Louisbourg. From Moncton to Sydney is a bit over 5 hours of driving by car. After a few stops along the way, I arrived at the hotel at about mid afternoon. I booked my room that I had reserved in advance, dropped my stuff, and jetted out to the beach for a little afternoon stroll to check out some rocks before turning in for the night. Point Aconi, Cape Breton I headed out to a spot I had already gone last year to check for rocks. Point Aconi is well known for its Carboniferous fossils, having coal seams cross that area, leading to economy based on that product, with several mines tapping throughout an extensive period of time. Going down the beach was tricky as you had to walk over thick layers of smelly, rotting seaweed. Once on the sand, the rest of the walk was practically easy. When I reached the point, the beach was littered with shale fragments all over the place. There weren't many fragments larger than the size of my hand. Fossil bearing shale The shale that comes out of these cliffs are rich in fossils. There's barely any piece of rock that you would grab that didn't have something on it. The tides surely did some good work, grinding these rocks to tiny bits. Still, there was some pretty ones, albeit not numerous. Annularia After spending some time picking at rocks, I headed back to town for supper and to relax a bit. The city of Sydney is nice, especially with all the beaches and rocks surrounding it. I called it the day and turned in early. The next morning I took a drive to Sydney Mines, north of Sydney, to check out the Cape Breton Fossil Museum where I met Stuart and Jim, the gentlemen responsible for this beautiful interpretation center. We had a good chat on everything related to rocks and Cape Breton, and happily went about checking their fossils on display. The quality of their collection is quite good and a must for anybody visiting Cape Breton. After my stroll in the center, I said my goodbyes and proceeded south towards Louisbourg. ** If you want to see the Louisbourg visit, go check my post where I post a few pics of my walk down history here: http://redleafz.blogspot.ca/2013/08/cape-breton-sydney-mines-donkin-july.html When I was done with my stroll in the park, I decided to do some more rock hunting before heading back for a long drive home. From Louisbourg I drove up north towards Donkin to check out the rocks. It was hard not to walk over rock that didn't have any fossils on it. The cliff erodes at a pretty good rate, and thick slabs of rock dropped on the beach have nice plants on it. The fossils in this area are very nice and numerous. I ended up staying a bit later then I expected and managed to twist my ankle by stepping in a stupid gopher hole. Limping back to the car, I left a little bit after 7pm and got back home at around 1am. Quite a drive, but it is one of the things I enjoy the most when I'm out there. It was a good trip and another item to scratch off my list of the year. I'd say it ended up being a good kickstart to my Summer. Cheers! - Keenan
  3. I found out about the Kinney Brick Quarry here on the fossil forum and decided to go check it out. From a paper I found on the internet I got a map showing where it is and dove over first thing this morning. When I arrived I stopped up high and was looking around when Bill saundered up and warned me no to hang out under ths cliffs ans the big boulders fall all the time and I could be killed. He suggested I come down to the shelf they have uncovered ad meet his associates. I did and I was blown away. This is a commercial operation and they are taking the heavy duty approach to excavating a very large area for the fossils. I asked if I could just go through the tailings but by the end of the day I was all in and helping out as a volunteer in return for the stuff they don't need or want. This is a wonderful operation and they have already made some significant finds.. Two insects were found while I was there. One came out of the tailings pile. These guys are real professionals and I will learn a lot from them. I will probably only go there when one of them is there and will always ask when I find anything new if it is something they want. Attached are a few pictures Here is the shelf.
  4. Triassic Lockatong - Plant or Root Fragments? Saturday I spent 2 hours looking over a Lockatong formation (Triassic) in Montgomery County, PA. I'm sort of testing my ability to spot some fossil patterns in this formation where fossils are very scarce. I found this interesting piece with lots of organic fossils and impressions - assume they are plant fossils. It's so difficult to find Lockatong fossils in PA, anything we find is interesting. I've included a piece of the large rock (about 10 inches) and several closeups. These look to me like some sort of vine-like plant stems with rootlets and also cross-sections of stems. Also on Saturday, Nan and I visited a second nearby Lockatong site and saw what appear to be reptile tracks on a piece of rock about 4 or 5 feet long - although the impressions were round and not track shaped except for one of the round impressions had a thin pointed tip. We did not photograph or collect this, mostly admired it and count it as a "weak signal" that there are better fossils to be found.
  5. Had my husband drop myself and Bella the Labradoodle off near an area I had heard there were fossils. I walked down to the cliff and a piece had eroded out. It was full of partially weathered plant fossils, which I am fairly sure are Dicroidium, a Mesozoic seed fern. There was also a seed/cupule that I have posted in the ID thread for an accurate appraisal, check it out, it's gorgeous and shimmers in the light! Ok I will stop gushing now, here are the pics XD
  6. Here are a couple of finds from the Southern Highlands. The rock is very fragile and the fossiliferous layers are incredibly thin. Most of the material I've found has been fragments, but these are the nicest bits. I believe the second one to be Dicroidium cupules. If anyone is interested in this site or the fossils feel free to PM me.
  7. This past week I took off from my home on wonderful Vancouver Island to visit the Southern British Columbia Interior town of Princeton. I had a lead on some great Eocene plant material in the silicious paper shales there. I was planning on visiting McAbees further north in B.C. but the government has taken over that site and is changing it's context. This was fortuitous for me as amazing stuff awaited me in Princeton. It's a long haul through the lower mainland of Vancouver and I finally made it to Princeton late in the day. The motel I chose was a $65 special and came straight from the 1960's. Excellent swimming pool! Although I was tired I decided to check out the site before I had a major dig the next day. Holy moly what an astounding site! I am a retired art professor and I love all things colourful but I did not expect the fossils to be so wild! The old name for Princeton is Vermillion and you can see why in the rock colours. I had to separate my collection into 2 groups - real fossils and pretty rocks. The kinds of fossils we have on the island are mostly Cretaceous and exist in grey coloured shales. Pretty dull matrix generally speaking. The colours ranged from purples to oranges reds and cream. Wild! The fossils are all Eocene and are mostly lake deposits. The majority of the material is plant but there are bugs there as well. I expected but did not see an fish. After my initial visit I spent many hours the next days flipping rocks and splitting slabs. Heaven.One thing that was very funny demonstrates how local knowledge can be confusing. I found material which looks just like the white blocky (bentonite?) that they mine for kitty litter at McAbees. The pale brown shale at Princeton weathers white on it's surface and looks a bit blocky too. This material at McAbees is not fossiliferous so I ignored it for a while. Then I noticed lots of fragments of cedar and some Comptonia on it. When I split a few pieces open I realized it was tan inside and chalky white outside. Then I targeted that material and came to realize that this was the true SILICIOUS paper shale. The bright coloured plates were not silicious although I am sure their silica content is high. Some of the fossils were just too weird for words and strangely some were quite dimensional. Here is one I have no idea what is. Also there was this material which I took to be trace material. Any ideas? Here are examples of the colours- wild! OK and I admit it - I have at least a million pieces of Metasequoia but when they are this colour I just can't say no. After a day of fossil hunting I retired to the most incredible bakery in the world. It's called Thomasinas and has chocolate croissants that are better than the ones I ate in France. Blasphemy I know but there you are! As the weather was surprisingly cool for the interior I decided to take a run up to Nicola Lake and see if I could find the Quilchena Eocene site. After much bad language and being chased out of a field by an angry rancher I gave up and returned to Princeton. I did not read my fossil guide very well and found out the next day I had driven past an outcrop of the Eocene White Lake formation. Fortified by more coffee and chocolate croissants I drove back up the road and dug out some nice bits of leaves. I did not do that site justice but I will come back and fossil hunt there again another day. I would like to share the location of the actual site but it is a private quarry. If I get permission I will share that with everyone! Have great fun hunting my friends, its a beautiful life and fossils just improve it! Fran Benton
  8. Sticks And Stones...stems?

    We're taking a closer look at our finds from St. Clair and one of the more interesting fossils is a well articulated stem of some sort - about 7 cm long - broken into two sections. It's in a 3D form attached to the shale so it can be seen from several views. There is a smaller stem fragment associated with it, lying close to the main stem. The last image shows the broken off portion of the main stem. One of the closeups seems to suggest this had a sheath. Also, there is a very thin fossil fragment protruding from the edge of the shale close to the stem that has some texture. There are no closely associated leaves. Not sure there is any way to identify what this might be but interested in ideas, insights, observations.
  9. Exciting Find: Over One Hundred Genera of Fossil Plants from Eocene (Messel, Germany), Sci-News, July 27, 2012 http://www.sci-news....ticle00492.html "A survey of the extensive fruit and seed collections from the Middle Eocene of the Messel fossil site in Germany has revealed 140 genera, representing more than 34 families of ancient seed plants." Collinson, M. E., S. R. Manchester, and V. Wilde, 2012, Fossil Fruits and Seeds of the Middle Eocene Messel biota, Germany. Abhandlungen der Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung. Band no. 570, 251 pp. http://www.schweizer...n/9783510614004 Yours, Paul H.
  10. Miocene Plant Fossils

    Hello all, Just recently got back from a trip out to Succor Creek, a popular rockhound spot in idaho. Its located right on the border of Oregon. Got a lot of material back from the site, here are some of my favorites! All the fossils are located in a limestone matrix and are from the Miocene Epoch, roughly 11-19 mya. Enjoy and tell me what you think! (fossils listed in order: maple leaf, unidentified leaf fossil, maple seed, and fossilized pappus!)
  11. Show Us Your Cordaites

    Has anyone here collected these Pennsylvanian plants? If so, show 'em. This gymnosperm tree is classified under a handful of genera: Cordaites - leaves Cordaianthus - seed cone Cardiocarpus - seed Artisia - stem Amyelon - roots I'll start with a few I've posted on the forum already.... Leaf bundle (Cordaites): Leaf (Cordaites): Stump and roots: Roots (Amyelon?): Roots (Amyelon?): All are from the Pennsylvanian Winterset Limestone of the Kansas City area. A reconstruction of the living tree:
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