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Living fossils (of the plant variety) are among us to this day, and you’d be surprised by just how old some of these plants are.

Thomas McLoughlin, author of A Guide to Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) Age Plant Fossils of Southwest Virginia, is an expert on plant fossils. His Pennsylvanian book about fossil plants perfectly captures his vast knowledge about the topic. Readers can gain a lot of valuable information from his work. Additionally, people can get to know the plants that used to thrive during the Carboniferous planes of Pennsylvania.

If you want to know some living plant fossils with us today, read on as we present them!

What is a Living Fossil?

A species identified from fossils that resemble it today is considered a living fossil. The coelacanth is arguably the most well-known living fossil of all the animals.

The fossil species must be ancient in relation to the current clade’s time of genesis. It’s this characteristic that makes a plant or animal qualify as a living fossil. Although they don’t have to, living fossils come from lineages with few species. Living fossils display stasis over long geological time scales, commonly called “bradytely.”

Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis

The Araucaria plant family, so named for the Arauco area of Chile, home of the monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), is home to the oldest conifers of the southern hemisphere.

Currently, 41 species of it are distributed over the continental remnants of Gondwana, namely New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

These include the Norfolk Island pine, kauri pine, and bunya-bunya. Jurassic-era araucarians covered the planet with forests.

A ranger in Australia’s Wollemi National Park in the Blue Hills discovered an unusual tree in a tiny, isolated canyon towards the end of 1994. It was discovered to correspond with Australian fossil leaves that date back 120 million years. Its pollen grains closely resembled the fossil pollen species Dilwynites, which may be found in Jurassic-era rocks in New Zealand, Antarctica, and Australia.

Ginkgo, Ginkgo Biloba

One of the most famous plant variants considered living fossils is the ginkgoe. Ginkgoes belong to a very ancient plant family; the earliest specimens were discovered in Permian strata, which date back about 280 million years. They were common and plentiful at some points in the geologic past, which means the dinosaurs undoubtedly consumed them.

The extinct Ginkgo adiantoides species is identical to the living ginkgo. It was discovered in strata dating back 140–100 million years, during the Early Cretaceous, the ginkgo’s apparent prime. Although Thomas McLoughlin’s Pennsylvanian book about fossil plants doesn’t talk about ginkgoes, the plant species’ age and lineage are worth mentioning when discussing living fossils.

The ginkgo tree is widely recognized as an ornamental and street tree today, yet it seems to have gone extinct in the wild for many years. In Buddhist monasteries in China, only domesticated trees endured until they were dispersed throughout Asia almost a millennium ago. This could’ve made it possible for the ginkgo to be one of the living fossil plants today.

Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Unlike its brethren, the giant sequoia and coast redwood, the dawn redwood drops its leaves annually. The remains of closely related species can be found throughout the northern hemisphere and date back to the late Cretaceous period. Dawn Redwoods are typically found on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic, most likely their number one locality. The leaves and stumps of Metasequoia remain unmineralized from the humid Eocene Epoch around 45 million years ago.

In 1941, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a fossil species, first came to light and described to the world. Prior to then, its remains were known, but for over a century, they were mistaken for those of the swamp cypress species Taxodium. At this time, the real redwood genus Sequoia. M. Glyptostroboides was believed to have vanished long ago.

Japan has produced the most recent fossils, which date to the early Pleistocene (2 million years ago). However, a living specimen was discovered in China a few years later. This resulted in the severely endangered species flourishing within the horticultural trade. There are currently only 5,000 wild trees.

Living Fossils Are Awesome and Fun to Know About

Whether you’re a fan of paleobotany or not, it’s undeniable that living plant fossils are awesome, and knowing about them is quite enjoyable. Learning about their past and how they survived is worth documenting and sharing with everyone.

If you want to read more about plants, particularly ancient ones, grab a copy of Thomas McLoughlin’s Pennsylvanian book about fossil plants. Visit his website at to order A Guide to Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) Age Plant Fossils of Southwest Virginia today!

Check out some of our other articles as well, and discover some interesting plant fossils from diverse places!