Magazine article ROM Magazine

Rooted in the Ancient Tropics: A Drowned Forest, Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Is Where This Unusual Fossil Originated

Magazine article ROM Magazine

Rooted in the Ancient Tropics: A Drowned Forest, Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Is Where This Unusual Fossil Originated

Article excerpt

Q My father picked up this fossil on the beach at Joggins, nova Scotia, in 2006. Can you tell me what it is?--Freddy Cook, Toronto

A The Joggins area is famous for its fossils of the great coal forests of 310 million years ago. So called for the huge deposits of accumulated organic matter that eventually turned to coal, these were vast wetland forests that covered much of Earth's tropical regions during the Late Carboniferous and Permian. Your fossil is a piece of the spreading root system, or rhizophore, of a lycopsid tree, or giant club moss.

Club mosses today are small moss-like vascular plants that grow close to the ground. But in the past they grew into giant trees 30 m (98 feet) tall or more. The trunks typically bore a very regular pattern of scars or scales where the leaves were attached, giving them the common name "scale tree."

The irregular dimples on your rhizophore mark the places where rootlets once emerged underground. While the trunks of different varieties of scale trees can be characterized by the pattern of their scales, the roots are all very similar and have been given the generic name Stigmaria.

Plant fossils are usually found in disassociated pieces because of the way the plant parts are dispersed and the nature of their composition--leaves and fruits, for instance, are usually soft and easily destroyed by biological or physical activity. So, fossil leaves, seeds, stems, roots, and even pollen or spores of a single species are often given different names until someone finds two or more of the pieces still physically together. …

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