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The Paleobotany Thread- Prehistoric plants, trees etc




    Has any of you guys heard about those HUGE araucaria and sequoia trees found in the US which are supossed to be twice as tall as modern day redwood trees?


  • First I have heard of it Adam. How do they know the height?

  • Rubecula wrote: »
    First I have heard of it Adam. How do they know the height?

    I don´t know, I suposse they must have found some REALLY big petrified trunks laying down or something.

  • Yeah, its from last year but somehow I missed it, shame on me. Huge prehistoric trees up to 100 meters tall:


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  • Thanks for this informative post, Adam. I am fascinated by palaeobotany, and hope that you will present us with more posts on prehistoric plants in the future.

    I would like to attach a very interesting article on lycopsids, but am not sure how to send attachments from my PC; would a simple link suffice?

  • Yeah, link's fine

  • Here's a lovely link, with fine illustrations.

    By the way, this forum is wonderful. A great place for discussion. The best spot to learn about recent discoveries! Congratulations, Adam, for a job well done.:D

  • To be quite honest the forum's been almost as dead as its usual subjects of discussion for a while...

  • True, but on the other hand and speaking for myself I check in here every single day awaiting your posts and content. It may well feel like a one man band for you AK, but trust me it has an appreciative audience out there.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.

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  • I agree entirely with Wibbs.

  • Adam, this forum is far from dead. People like you, Wibbs, Manach, Fathom etc. are keeping it alive. Hopefully me, too.Your comments are always well worth reading. So don't get discouraged.;)


  • Manach wrote: »
    I agree entirely with Wibbs.
    *Takes screenshot for future reference/blackmail* :D

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.

  • So, peaches have been around for a long time. Today, we mostly take them and other fruits for granted: they are readily available at all grocery stores. But ancient hominids would have gathered them from the trees. Our remote ancestors lived in environments which were essentially unpolluted: no factory smoke, no nasty car exhaust, no toxic waste or noxious plant sprays...So the peaches of long, long ago must have been healthy, succulent, exquisite. Lucky hominids, who could enjoy such a luscious biological diet every day.

    I'm curious to know, what is the oldest "modern" type fruit of which we have fossil evidence? Do peaches hold that record now, or are even more ancient fruits known? Perhaps tropical varieties like bananas, mangoes, pineapples, papayas appeared first, considering the warmer climate of the Mesozoic?

    Fellow members of the forum, please help me with this "peachy" research! Thanks!:)

  • I believe figs are amongst the oldest fruits- dating back to the Cretaceous.

    I'm no expert on plants either living or extinct, but I do remember reading something interesting about avocados, and how they relied on giant ground sloths and glyptodonts to spread their seeds. The giant beasts ate the avocados, the seed went unharmed through their intestine and was released (along with fertilizer) far away from the parent tree as the creatures wandered about. Then giant sloths and glyptodonts went extinct about 11.000 years ago, for unknown causes (although humans more than likely had something to do with it), and the avocado became an endangered species. Fortunately, those same newly arrived humans discovered it was great eating and started planting the seeds themselves, eventually saving the plant from extinction.
    The same story may be true for other large-seed fruit such as mango; they were originally meant to be spread by giant plant-eaters.

    There's also this study about the relationship between pumpkins and megafauna:

    And although not paleontology proper, here's this interesting news story about an extinct squash being brought back to life through seeds found at an archaeological site:


  • It is been a while since I read any books on early hominids. Offhand though I remember that a lot of the sites (as they came from Africa) were near water. So quite a lot of shells and fish bones but few fruits. This might be why (according to a book I read by Nicolas Wade) that most of us do not smell (well the ablility to smell anyway). In that odour is a key indicator of fresh fruit and by moving onto other food source then this sense atrophied.

  • Thanks Adam and Manach for your replies.

    As for planting ancient seeds with positive results: I never thought it possible. Wouldn't the organic structure of the seeds have been altered or damaged after such a long time? Maybe the vegetables that resulted from this experiment have suffered organic modification?

    Manach, your theory about smell is interesting. Perhaps prehistoric individuals...including animals...which lived close to the sea got used only to fishy and saline odours, and found it difficult to distinguish other odours. Conversely, those who dwelled close to lush vegetation might have been able to identify each fruit smell with great accuracy, but not other types of food.

  • If you look at most mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, they have a distintive wet nose, or what we call a rhinarium; this increases their smelling acuity and helps them determine where a scent comes from. "Primitive" primates such as lemurs have this trait, but monkeys and apes which are much more visually oriented do not. So I would say our decreased sense of smell dates back to a much, much earlier time, long before there was anything recognisable as a hominid. Besides, I'd imagine that a sense of smell would actually be much more useful to a fish and shellfish eater than to a fruit eater; eating rotting fish is way worse than eating overripe fruit, and our fruit eating ape relatives manage perfectly well with good color vision and a moderate sense of smell to avoid unpleasant mouthfulls.

  • Excellent observations, Adam. I had not known that "wet-nosed" creatures have a more highly developed sense of smell.

    What about the dinos? What about birds? How would their sense of smell compare to that of a cat, for example?

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  • Linnaeus wrote: »
    Excellent observations, Adam. I had not known that "wet-nosed" creatures have a more highly developed sense of smell.

    What about the dinos? What about birds? How would their sense of smell compare to that of a cat, for example?

    All evidence thus far suggests most dinosaurs had an excellent sense of smell. Tyrannosaurus rex seems to have had the most acute sense of smell of all; this we know due to the huge size of the olfactory lobe in the brain. It could probably smell prey from many miles away. Compared to cats? Much much better. Cats have much better sense of smell than we do, but actually rely more on hearing and sight; in the nose department they are easily outmatched by many other animals including dogs and bears. And apparently T. rex far surpassed these.
    Other dinos that apparently had great sense of smell were Carnotaurus, Giganotosaurus and Saurornitholestes. Interestingly, Troodon seems to have relied most on hearing and sight, like cats.

    As for birds, most of them are believed to have a very poor sense of smell: the exceptions being the turkey vulture, the kiwi and certain sea birds, which use this sense to find carrion, hidden worms and fish respectively. The kiwi in particular is unusual for having its nostrils at the tip of the beak rather than the base of it- much like a dinosaur, or a mammal.
    Most other birds rely on their sharp eyesight, and a few, like owls, hunt mostly by their sense of hearing.

  • Linnaeus wrote: »
    What about the dinos? What about birds? How would their sense of smell compare to that of a cat, for example?
    If I recall correctly birds have a pretty good sense of smell and a very good one in some birds like vultures. They can smell a dead body from miles away.

    Our relative lack of a sense of smell would be as Adam wrote an old one going way back, but I would suspect it further atrophied in later hominids, especially us. We've tiny noses compared to previous humans. One idea is that we domesticated the dog, so our abilities reduced. Not so sure about that.

    As for hominid diets we were/are extremely adaptable and opportunistic. Even Neandertals who are seen as near pure carnivores varied quite a bit. The ones in the Middle East had quite the bit of plant food in their diet and even invented(as far as we know) the first biscuits made up of seasonal grass seeds and nuts. There was no one "paleolithic diet". It was one of our major evolutionary advantages. Very early proto hominids were more limited to things like seeds and nuts and fruit. Becoming a carnivore allows an animal to travel far more widely and spread out into new environments, because so long as there are other animals in the new environment you can survive.

    Funny enough, from my readings on pre Sapiens hominids I can't recall much mention of fruit. Root vegetables certainly and seeds/nuts(and various meats of course), even possible uses of medicinal herbs but less about fruit.

    Few enough were innocent in the past, few enough are innocent in the present, we just don’t know why yet.

  • The one branch of the hominin tree that apparently became very specialized (Paranthropus, which was seemingly adapted to eating grass and hard vegetation) became extinct rather quickly leaving no descendants. Usually its the opportunists that make it.

  • This is an early modern plant. I'm sure that many earlier, now extinct primitive plants have been also preserved inside amber. Adam, you are really great at finding the most amazing photos; could you please delight us with a small gallery of beautiful prehistoric plants trapped in amber? What, in your opinion, is the most ancient of plants thus "frozen in time"?

  • In my opinion? Sorry... I don´t know enough about the subject to give an informed opinion.

    Re:pictures, there's plenty in Google if you search "amber preserved plant/flower" but these caught my eye especially:




    (last one being notorious because of the fungus growing on top of it)

    Also, found this little gem:


    That is a parasitic nematode, frozen in the act of trying to escape a sticky end through its host's arse (and of course, failing)

    Not an uncommon find, either.


    Here's a mass exodus:


    Yeh, I know, not what you asked for, but still fascinating...

  • The first photo of a plant which you sent this morning is especially interesting; what species is it? It's certainly elegant.

    A pity that the very earliest land plants...Cooksonia, for example...lived long before amber-producing trees. Thus, they could not be preserved in amber. We do have some fossil impressions of Cooksonia, but these do not reveal many details.

    Have you seen the recently discovered Canadian amber fossils which are said to contain "dino-fuzz"? If so, what do you think of them?

  • I think until either DNA is extracted and analyzed from said fuzz, OR a tiny feathered dinosaur is found encased in a big chunk of amber, then the fuzz could really come from anything, maybe a bird or even something entirely different. I'm sort of agnostic about these sort of finds.

  • Also, no comment on the parasites? I'm hurt.:(

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  • Wouldn't hurt you or anyone else, not for the world...But as I have an innate dislike of most insects and all parasites, I thought the less said, the better.

    It would perhaps be difficult to imagine a glob of liquid amber large enough to contain and sustain a small feathered dino until the solidification process had been achieved. Nevertheless, perhaps in the future we will find a chunk enshrining a transitional avialid...a true missing link...and that would indeed be a day for rejoicing.