Have You Hugged a 380-Million-Year-Old Tree Today? (ca. 380,000,000 BC)

By: The Scribe on Friday, June 8, 2007

it probably looked something like this, but tallerSomething North America seems to be famous for is revealing ancient flora… very, very ancient, in fact. In 2007, archaeobotanists working near Gilboa, Ohio, found what may be the world’s oldest known tree – a giant palm that lived around 380 million years ago.

Hearkening back 140 million years before the dinosaurs, and earlier than the Wollemia pine from Australia that may have lived with the dinosaurs, the Wattieza tree fern had a thin palm-like trunk with a top that resembled the fronds of a modern palm tree. It was likely only around 10 meters high during maturity, though this would have been high enough to reach sunlight through the dense forest canopy.

Archaeogeologists have identified this period of time as the Middle Devonian Period, between 397 and 385 million years ago, which is thought to have been an incubator period that saw the development of new reproductive strategies for land plants. Other life at the time included small insects, spiders, and oceanic crustaceans, as identified through fossil remains.

With the rise of land plants, the atmosphere and ecosystem of the entire Earth would have shifted, creating new micro-environments that could have sustained additional smaller plants and insects, eventually storing enough carbon to support an extensive amount of land life.

Previously, the oldest known tree was a plant called Archaeopteris, which had leafy twigs and long roots and branches, very unlike the small fern-leaves and reproductive spores from Wattieza. Archaeopteris was placed in the Late Devonian Period, around 359 million years ago.

The discovery of the world’s oldest tree has managed to shed significant insight into how the Earth’s landscape developed over the course of time, as well as helping to understand how much impact a forest’s growth can have on the rest of an area’s environment. So far, archaeobotanists have realized that it was the growth of these early forests and plant systems that must have paved the way for the sustainable development of early reptilian and mammalian life.

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Tomorrow: Nostradamus…OoOoOoooh


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