A team of paleobotanists announces that they have identified the remains of a plant that evolved 280 million years ago, long before the advent of the dinosaurs. Members of the same order still adorn the gardens and other forest beds in the south today.
An exceptional discovery
Before the first mammals and dinosaurs saw the light of day, a plant emerged from the earth in present-day Brazil, on the supercontinent Gondwana. Almost 280 million years later, its fossil remains were discovered and analyzed by a team of paleobotanists. This plant is none other than one of the first members of the Cycad lineage, still present today. This incredible discovery has just been the subject of an article in the Review of paleobotany and palynology.
This plant fossil was unearthed decades ago. At the time, however, botanists had mistakenly identified it as belonging to a different group known as Lycopsides. These plants were plentiful in this part of Gondwana at that time, so the fossil didn’t get much attention until Dr. Spiekermann, as part of his doctoral thesis, gave it another shot. eye. And he is adamant: this plant belongs to the order of the Cycads.
Nowadays, the Cycads are often considered as “living fossils“, To my extent these plants have retained many of the same characteristics as their ancestors.
This is no exception to the rule. The vegetative anatomy of this plant named Iratinia australis, represented by a small piece of wood about 13 cm long and about 6.5 cm in diameter, is indeed “remarkably similar to those who live today“, Underlines the researcher. “If you cut a cycad with a machete today, you will see the same model as that of our fossil ”.
A plant with astonishing resilience
The Cycads thrived, but never really dominated the plant kingdom. Their heyday dates back more than 120 million years. Next, flowering plants, which reproduce faster and adapt to changing ecological niches, have taken center stage.
This new discovery gives us more information on the resilience of these plants which, as we recall, have suffered two massive extinctions. The first, operated at the end of the Permian geological period 252 million years ago, opened the evolutionary path for the rise of dinosaurs, while the second, 66 million years ago, ended the reign of these. In the meantime, Cycads have probably been eaten by some of the largest herbivores on the planet.
Even today, these plants flourish on several continents, represented by about 350 species. Perhaps one of the best known is the Japanese Cycad, an ornamental plant that resembles a small palm tree; but who is not.