“Unlike any of those living at the present time.”

Illustration of specimen (with simplified leaves), human silhouettes for scale.

Illustration of specimen (with simplified leaves), human silhouettes for scale.
clarification: Tim Stonesifer

You will never leave the look of this ancient tree. A team of researchers has found a type of 350-million-year-old fossilized tree that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss character.

The fossils are among the oldest known trees, and were discovered in an ancient lake in northeastern Canada. It's called the type Sanfordiacolis densifolia It would have resided under the taller members of the forest canopy. the Oldest fossil trees Dating from the Late Devonian, these – from the Early Carboniferous – are only a few million years younger. It is not clear what Sanfordiacolis The closest relationships are on the tree of life (no pun intended), which means they are incertae Sedis —Fuzzy classification.

Dr. Seuss's truffle trees may have been inspired by the cypress tree He died in 2019But one could argue that these real trees were more exotic. Research describing ancient plants from leaf to stem is published Today in Current Biology.

Fossil tree 350 million years old.

Fossil tree 350 million years old.
picture: Matthew Stimson

“We estimate that each leaf grew at least another meter before it expired,” Robert Gastaldo, a paleontologist at Colby College and lead author of the study, said in the journal Cell. launch. “This means that the 'bottlebrush' had a dense canopy of leaves extending at least 5.5 meters (or 18 feet) around a non-woody trunk and measuring only 16 centimeters (or 0.5 feet) in diameter. It is impressive, to say the least.”

The ancient trees in New Brunswick were preserved when an earthquake pushed foliage at the lake's edge into the water, compressing the trees at the bottom of the lake. The recent paper focuses on the most complete of five tree specimens preserved in sandstone and siltstone at the ancient lake site, now a quarry.

Based on the tree's shape – with an enormous canopy that matches the rest of its size – the researchers concluded this Sanfordiacolis It optimized its growth by intercepting light from green spaces in its immediate environs. Excavations reveal that the tree could have had about 250 leaves around its trunk, each extending about 6 feet (1.75 meters) from the trunk.

“The history of life on Earth consists of plants and animals unlike any of those living today,” Gastaldo said in a statement. “Evolutionary mechanisms operating in the deep past resulted in organisms that lived successfully over long periods of time, but their shapes, forms, growth structures, and life histories took different paths and strategies. Rare and unusual fossils, such as the New Brunswick tree, are just one example of He did not colonize our planet, but it was an unsuccessful experiment.

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