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Pennsylvanian Flora from East Central Illinois


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deutscheben

For the last 4 years I have been collecting plant fossils from sites in East Central Illinois. These fossils were all brought to the surface by underground coal mining in the first half of the 20th century. Most of the spoil piles in the area have been graded or flattened out, but a few still remain, standing tall above the flatland.

 

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One particular pile is, I believe, the source of most or all of the fossils I find. The shale that makes up the spoil has been fired by the internal heat of the pile, resulting in the hard, reddish material known as "red dog". This shale is then crushed and used as paving material, on trails, parking lots, and construction sites in the area. It's at these secondary locations that I am able to search the material for the impressions of ancient plants and collect them. 

 

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The shale is pretty smashed up, so complete or large fossils are rare, but the preservation of detail is generally quite good. Geologically, the fossils come from the Energy Shale Member of the late Pennsylvanian Carbondale Formation.

 

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deutscheben

I have built up a decent sized collection, so it will take me a little while to post it all. I will try to include IDs when I can, but a number of these have me truly stumped, even after looking at multiple guidebooks  (although I don't have the latest ESCONI Mazon flora book yet).

 

I will start with a few of my favorites. First is a large and detailed Sigillaria, the outer bark of a lycopod tree. I love the intricate pattern.

 

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Here is a detail of that pattern:

 

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deutscheben

Next is one that I entered in the fossil of the month contest earlier this year- this Crenulopteris acadica fern pinnule also has some rare fauna preserved near it, the branchiopod crustacean Leaia tricarinata. In fact, Leaia are the only animal remains I have found from this material. 

 

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minnbuckeye

Nice plants!!! Wish we saw more postings of plants. I assume no access to that mountain of fossils before they are broken up? On the last picture, the top right seems to show something. Is it my imagination?  

 

 Mike

 

 

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deutscheben
1 hour ago, minnbuckeye said:

Nice plants!!! Wish we saw more postings of plants. I assume no access to that mountain of fossils before they are broken up? On the last picture, the top right seems to show something. Is it my imagination?  

 

 Mike

 

 

Thank you! Yes, unfortunately the gob pile owner does not permit access for liability reasons. You are not imagining things, the roundish shapes in the top right are the flattened Leaia- there are also some to the middle left of the fern.

1 hour ago, Carboniferouspat said:

Nice fossils I would like to see more.

Thanks! I have about 70 photos lined up, so I will be at this for a while. :)

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deutscheben

Here are two small samples of Lepidodendron scale tree bark. 

 

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deutscheben

Here are some close-ups of the one other piece I have with Leaia preserved on it- this one just has some partial scrappy fern material along with the branchiopods. 

 

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The shells are on the top right of the first picture and bottom right of the second one. 

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deutscheben

This next little leaf is another one of my favorites- the way it sits isolated in the middle of the plate, and how the veins are preserved in such intricate detail is very appealing. I think, based on the shape and multi-branching veins, that this is Reticulopteris munsteri. 

 

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Awesome finds! You're right that leaf is really special. But they all seem to have such nice preservation.   :envy:

 

I've wondered the same thing about the Braceville spoil pile that ESCONI field trips go to. When they take parts of that away to use as fill somewhere else, where did it go? And could I find that place and hunt there? My problem is that it's nearly a 3 hour drive just to get there, so I don't usually have a lot of time to wander and just have a look around.

 

Do you look on the side of roads? Do you know, in Illinois, is there always a distance off the road that is public not private property? If I ever do see an area with a road cut, I'm just wondering if it's always legal to go have a look.

 

Thanks again for sharing! Would definitely like to see more of your finds from this area. Chris

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deutscheben
9 minutes ago, bigred97 said:

Awesome finds! You're right that leaf is really special. But they all seem to have such nice preservation.   :envy:

 

I've wondered the same thing about the Braceville spoil pile that ESCONI field trips go to. When they take parts of that away to use as fill somewhere else, where did it go? And could I find that place and hunt there? My problem is that it's nearly a 3 hour drive just to get there, so I don't usually have a lot of time to wander and just have a look around.

 

Do you look on the side of roads? Do you know, in Illinois, is there always a distance off the road that is public not private property? If I ever do see an area with a road cut, I'm just wondering if it's always legal to go have a look.

 

Thanks again for sharing! Would definitely like to see more of your finds from this area. Chris

Thanks! I have wondered that about other spoil piles I have collected from too. I know @Nimravis has posted before about tracking down areas where spoil was used as fill and collecting from them. 

 

Hunting like this does definitely require a lot of time, to research and to drive around and explore, so I am thankful this location is less than an hour away from me. I have wanted to do the same thing in the Mazon Creek area but have not manged it yet- when I only have a day to work with, it makes more sense to go with a sure thing like Pit 11. 

 

Regarding public/private property, I do not believe there is a universal standard in the state. Before I collect at planned sites, I use online county GIS resources to give me an idea about who owns the property and reach out to them for permission if it's not public property. If I find one when driving around, I have to use my judgment to evaluate and determine if it is ok to collect from, or if I should check with someone first. 

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deutscheben

Occasionally I will find pieces that have split to preserve both a positive and negative impression.

 

This first one is fairly faint, and knowing the changes in nomenclature that have happened, I will just call it a Pecopteris-like fern. Each side is about 3 1/2 inches wide.

 

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This next is pretty unusual- the entire piece has a thick, rounded and concretion-like shape, and when it split it revealed a complex mash of plant remains- the most prominent component is wide Cordaites leaves. 

 

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@bigred97 I remember a post on here a while ago where someone mentioned finding a handful of nodules in a public park near Morris. Might be worth checking some parks out. Some include other small streams (i.e. not MC) which maybe could expose small sections of shale.

 

@deutscheben These are some very nice finds! Would love to poke around down there one day.

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deutscheben
2 hours ago, connorp said:

@bigred97 I remember a post on here a while ago where someone mentioned finding a handful of nodules in a public park near Morris. Might be worth checking some parks out. Some include other small streams (i.e. not MC) which maybe could expose small sections of shale.

 

@deutscheben These are some very nice finds! Would love to poke around down there one day.

Thanks! I would be happy to show you around if you are in the area.

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deutscheben

Next is a rarity from this site, a Neuropteris frond with multiple leaves preserved.

 

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Another noticeable rarity from here is any kind of Annularia- this small whorl is the only specimen I have found so far. The absence of Annularia and Macroneuropteris really differentiates it from the older Mazon Creek deposit. 

 

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deutscheben

To start this morning I want to share a few pieces I am less than certain about it. I think both are reproductive structures of some sort. This first one might be a partial impression of some kind of large cone, like Macrostachya? It has a very intricate pattern. 

 

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I think the next one could be a Crossotheca, the pollen organs of a pteridosperm fern

 

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deutscheben

Here is another somewhat mysterious one- it's definitely the bark from some kind of lycopod tree, but the combination of leaf scars and ridges does not match anything I have been able to find online or in the literature yet. I have an in situ picture of this one because I could see how intriguing it was immediately. It also shows how some repair is occasionally needed on fossils I find, most commonly on medium-sized pieces of bark for whatever reason. 

 

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The rounded leaf scars more closely resemble Sigillaria, but the elongated diamond-shaped ridges are like those found on Lepidodendron. Here is the reassembled piece. 

 

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Some very interesting puzzles here. I hope someone more knowledgeable will be able to shed some light on a couple of these specimens. Thanks for sharing!

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Bob Saunders

Hi, I grew up in Mattoon and have seen a few piles that you pictured along old highways years ago. no idea now where that was but possibly north of Champaign?  I recall see the night lights at a working strip coal mine near Paris, Illinois. 

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Wonderful material!

i have not seen much come out of that area of Illinois 

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deutscheben
5 hours ago, Bob Saunders said:

Hi, I grew up in Mattoon and have seen a few piles that you pictured along old highways years ago. no idea now where that was but possibly north of Champaign?  I recall see the night lights at a working strip coal mine near Paris, Illinois. 

Interesting, thanks! Probably not north of Champaign, I wouldn't think, as coal hasn't been mined in the county. There could have been some south, east or west though, near Murdock, Danville or Springfield. 

4 hours ago, RCFossils said:

Wonderful material!

i have not seen much come out of that area of Illinois 

Thank you! As far as I can tell, I'm the only person collecting regularly here. 

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deutscheben

This specimen shows the bark of another lycopod tree, Asolanus camptotaenia. This fossil preserves extremely fine detail, such as the tell-tale regular striations that run between the leaf scars. I'm not sure what the scattered thin ridges on it are, though. Some plant material that was laying underneath the bark when the impression was fossilized? Or some kind of trace fossil?

 

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deutscheben

This next piece is a hunk of mystery bark- some kind of lycopod for sure, but otherwise I'm not sure. The braided ridges are very interesting, and it has a nice scattering of colors. 

 

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Rob Russell

Beautiful material!  Thanks for sharing your beautiful specimens with us. 

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deutscheben
1 hour ago, Rob Russell said:

Beautiful material!  Thanks for sharing your beautiful specimens with us. 

Thanks Rob! 

 

Here is another in situ picture of what one sees while scanning through the scattered shale- the majority is completely devoid of fossils, and most of what I do find is scrappy. 

 

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