from lowly birds to the mighty sequoia, plants space at the heart of many of earth ecosystems. Using photosynthesis, lock gather energy from sunlight and also produce the oxygen important for animals, fungi, plants themselves, and many microbes. They provide most of ours food, shelter, and medicines. Floor plants first appeared around 450 million years ago during the Ordovician period, and have end up being increasingly complex since then.

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There space two main varieties of plants. Vascular plants use a mechanism of tissues dubbed xylem and also phloem – to transfer water and also nutrients throughout the plant. Non-vascular plants, through contrast, have no xylem or phloem, and also cannot regulate their water content.

many of the plants viewed in this exhibit stand for some the the most old plant lineages alive today. Long before grasses or wildflowers evolved, this primitive plants overcame the landscape, sometimes cultivation to substantial size.


The mosses or bryophytes are tiny non-vascular plants that absorb water and nutrients straight through your leaves. They perform not have actually a root system, yet anchor themselves v thread-like fibers dubbed rhizoids. Mosses reproduce by shedding spores. Although the bryophyte fossil document is sparse as result of their fragility, recognizable moss fossils are recognized from the Permian period and probably the Carboniferous as well.


Living moss ~ above exhibit at the Museum that the Earth, Ithaca, new York. Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks.


The lycopods or lycophytes are among the earliest lineages of life vascular plants. They very first appeared in the Silurian duration (425 million years ago), and became extremely diverse by the so late Carboniferous duration (323-298 million year ago) and some species grew together trees an ext than 100 feet tall. Today, lycopods comprise almost 1300 living species, including the clubmosses, spikemosses, and quillworts. They are small, slow-growing plants that colonize forest floors and wetlands, and reproduce by shedding spores.


The clubmoss Huperzia lucidula, a kind of lycopod, farming near Dryden, brand-new York. Picture by Jonathan R. Hendricks.

Root the fossil lycopod Stigmaria sp. From the Carboniferous the Illinois. Specimen is native the Cornell college Paleobotanical repertoire (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Size of specimen is about 18.5 cm. 

Conservation connection

Clubmosses were when harvested extensively for usage in Christmas wreaths and for their spores. Lycopod spores space flammable and can be supplied to make flash powder, originally supplied in the so late 1800s for special effects and also in flash photography. Clubmosses grow incredibly slowly, v some species taking as plenty of as 20 years to construct from a spore to a totally mature plant. Together a result, plenty of North American clubmosses were decimated from extreme harvesting and are rarely in the wild today. Several states, including new York and also Indiana, now have actually laws protecting specific clubmoss species from collection.


The ferns include several major groups. True ferns have feathery leaves and also produce spore capsules from a single cell. Various other fern groups have a vast diversity that forms, consisting of horsetails and also whisk ferns, and produce spores from a team of cells on your leaves.


Horsetails are the only living members of the Equisetaceae, a spore-bearing family of vascular plants that was extremely diverse during the late Paleozoic era. Some members of this group, like the tree-size Calamites, prospered to substantial size and also dominated Carboniferous forests together with the lycopods. Modern-day horsetails, the genus Equisetum, very first appeared throughout the late Jurassic (165 million year ago). Over there are around 20 living varieties and they have the right to be found on every continent other than Antarctica. The plant’s typical name describes its resemblance to a horse’s tail.

A horsetail (Equisetum sp.) cultivation in California. Photo by Jonathan R. Hendricks.

Examples of fossil horsetails

Horsetail: Calamites sp. (Cornell University)by Digital Atlas of ancient Lifeon Sketchfab

Stem of the fossil horsetail Calamites sp. Indigenous the Carboniferous of Illinois. Specimen is native the Cornell university Paleobotanical arsenal (CUPC), Ithaca, brand-new York. Length of specimen is around 14 cm.

Fossil rhizome (underground stem) the the horsetail Calamites sp. Indigenous the Carboniferous that Illinois. Specimen is native the Cornell university Paleobotanical repertoire (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Length of specimen is roughly 21.5 cm.

Fossil pipeline of the horsetail Annularia stellata preserved in a concretion indigenous the Pennsylvanian the the Mazon Creek area of northeastern Illinois (PRI T-1762). Specimen is native the teaching collection of the Paleontological research study Institution, Ithaca, brand-new York. Size of bordering rock is about 15 cm.

True ferns (the tree we know most generally as “ferns”) are very diverse team of vascular plants that an initial appear in the fossil record during the Devonian duration (380 million years ago). However, plenty of of the varieties we know today go not appear until the Cretaceous period (145 million year ago), once a major radiation occurred. Today, over there are roughly 9000 fern species. Ferns have complex leaves and reproduce via spores, with no flowers or seeds. They have the right to be discovered in a wide variety of habitats, indigenous alpine and woodland settings to rainforests, ponds and lakes, and also even deserts.

A marginal hardwood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) growing on the residential or commercial property of the Paleontological research Institution, Ithaca, brand-new York.

Stem that the modern-day tree fern Dicksonia sp. Indigenous Australia. Specimen is from the Cornell Unversity Paleobotanical arsenal (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Size of specimen is roughly 14.5 cm.

Section that fossil tree fern Tempskya wesselli from the Cretaceous that Idaho. Specimen is native the paleobotanical collections of the institution of Integrative Plant sciences at Cornell University, Ithaca, new York. Longest measurement of specimen is about 8.5 cm.

Seed plants evolved during the Devonian duration around 370 million years ago. Lock enclose their embryos in a protective external covering - a seed. Seeds were a significant evolutionary development for plants, enabling them come disperse farther, endure harsh environments, and provide nutrients to the young plant.

The “naked seed” plants, likewise called gymnosperms, to be the first type of seed plants. Their seeds are often enclosed in cones. Gymnosperms rapidly dominated the see after they evolved, replacing forests once to fill with giant lycopods. Seed ferns and cycads, because that example, formed vast forests throughout the late Paleozoic. After ~ the Permian-Triassic fixed extinction, conifers - cone-bearing trees choose pines, firs, and redwoods - additionally exploded in diversity.

The flowering plants, or angiosperms, produce seeds attached in a fruit. They are the most varied group the land tree today. The earliest flower fossils are recognized from 130 million years ago during the early on Cretaceous period. By the end of the Cretaceous, angiosperms had actually replaced conifers as the dominant form of tree.

Ginkgos developed alongside ferns and also cycads in the time prior to flowering plants. Castle are first found in fossils native the early on Jurassic, and also have existed practically unchanged due to the fact that that time. During the Mesozoic, Ginkgo diversity to be much greater than that is today, and also declined to just two types by the end of the Cretaceous. The types we recognize today, Ginkgo biloba, showed up around 50 million years earlier during the Paleocene. The tree’s vast distribution, and capacity to live in disturbed environments likely added to the survival.

Although they appear to have fruits choose flowering plants, the seeds of the gingko are simply encased in a fleshy shell. Ginkgos are thought come have progressed from seed ferns.

Ginkgo biloba tree farming behind the Museum the the Earth, Ithaca, new York. Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks.

Fossil pipeline of Ginkgo huttoni from the Jurassic of England. Specimen is from the Cornell university Paleobotanical repertoire (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Size of specimen is about 16.5 cm.

Lost & Found

At the finish of the Pliocene, about 3 million year ago, ginkgos disappeared worldwide. The species survived only in main China, wherein it was grew for millennia through Chinese monks. Because of its condition as a spiritual symbol, the tree was also introduced come Korea and also Japan. Part planted tree at temples and also shrines are recognized to be over 1500 year old. There is no this cultivation, the is feasible the ginkgo would have gone extinct.

Europeans an initial became aware of the ginkgo tree in 1690, as soon as German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer encountered it in a Japanese holy place garden. Today, the ginkgo is planted an international as one ornamental plant, and it thrives in metropolitan environments.

The living fossil "Dawn Redwood" tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) farming next come the Museum that the earth in Ithaca, brand-new York (this types is aboriginal to Hubei district in China). Inset images display leaves (left) and a cone (right). To compare these function with the fossil specimens below. Photographs by Jonathan R. Hendricks.

Fossil leaves of the Dawn Redwood Metasequoia occidentalis from the Miocene that Idaho, kept as carbonizations. Specimen is native the Cornell university Paleobotanical repertoire (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Length of specimen is roughly 16 cm.

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Fossil cones of the Dawn Redwood Metasequoia occidentalis from the Eocene of Canada. Specimen is from the Cornell Unversity Paleobotanical collection (CUPC), Ithaca, new York. Size of specimen is roughly 11.5 cm.

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