Oldest Tree Fossils Discovered Along Lush British Coast

Mar 22, 2024

Thought Question: How do you think we’ll be remembered 390 million years from now? 

Researchers have unearthed the oldest tree fossil remnants along a high cliffline of sandstone and forest in southwest England. They're a stunning 390 million years old. That makes them roughly 4 million years older than an ancient forest in New York state, which had been believed the oldest. 

Scientists from the Universities of Cambridge and Cardiff found them. They said the fossils came from a forest of ancient Calamophyton trees. The fossils date to the dawn of the animals that lived on land in the Devonian Period, the Cambridge study said. It was published this month in the Journal of the Geological Society. Experts believe the trees will help them learn more about the role of plants in shaping landscapes as life spread from water onto land.  

The Devonian era saw the first seed-bearing plants. It was also when arthropods became Earth’s first land animals. “The Devonian Period (greatly) changed life on Earth,” Neil Davies, a professor of earth sciences, explained to Earth.com. Davies said it also changed how water and land were linked with each other. This is because trees and other plants helped stabilize sediment through their root systems. But little is known about the very oldest forests, he said.    

The Calamophyton trees looked sort of like palm trees found in tropical climates. But their trunks were thinner and hollow, the Cambridge team said. They stood about 6 feet tall. They shed branches as they grew from seeds. They had no leaves. But their branches were covered with hundreds of twig-like structures. 

Because the trees shed greatly, the dropped vegetation would help to support invertebrates, or spineless animals, that appeared during that era.  

Sketch of Calamophyton courtesy Falconaumanni on Wikimedia Commons.

What does the word "remnants" mean in the phrase "oldest fossilized tree remnants"? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. new growths
b. complete trees
c. remaining parts
d. imaginary trees
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