380 million year old fossilized trees found in New York, USA

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Gilboa Fossils from the Wattieza tree located in Gilboa, New York discovered in 1920. Credit: New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Two fossilized trees with their roots, trunks and heads still attached, and are said to be over 380 million years old, have been found in the state of New York inside a rock quarry near Gilboa, New York in the USA.

Researchers call the extinct tree a Wattieza and this particular tree stood over 30 feet tall and used spores to reproduce rather than seeds. It may have even looked like many palms trees that exist today, but did not have any leaves. Instead they had fronds much like a fern.

"These were very big trees. Our reconstruction shows them to be a lot longer and much more treelike than any of the reconstructions before. I don’t think any of us dared think of them being quite that big," said paleobotanist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and one of the researchers who studied the tree, William Stein.

Over 130 years ago in 1870, the same kind of trees, but only the stumps, were also found in Gilboa after flood waters caused the stumps to be exposed. A few decades later in the 1920s, another set of stumps were found in the same area.

In 2004, the researchers found a top to one of the trees that weighed almost 400 pounds not too far from Gilboa.

Researchers say that these trees likely shaped the forests of Earth as we see them today, and that the trees existed long before dinosaurs were roaming the planet.

"In forming the first forests, they must have really changed the Earth system as a whole, creating new types of micro-environments for smaller plants and insects, storing large amounts of carbon and binding the soil together. The rise of forests removed a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This caused temperatures to drop and the planet became very similar to its present-day conditions," said the leader of the research team, Christopher Berry.

Wattiezas were most common during the Devonian period and existed on the planet before fish evolved sufficiently to leave the seas.