Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Some people study paleobotany to know how ancient plants thrived and lived side-by-side with the animals that saw Earth from a different perspective.

Thomas F. McLoughlin’s A Guide to Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) Age Plant Fossils of Southwest Virginia is a guidebook for geologists and paleontologists. The book features photos of uncovered fossils of plants in the Southwest Virginian bedrock, unraveling the Carboniferous period. Thomas McLoughlin includes 71 plates of over 300 photographs and illustrations of the plant fossils. These plates are described, labeled, and classified according to botanical systematics. Furthermore, the book also featured some marine organisms and animal fossils that lived with the ancient plants.

What is Paleobotany?

Paleobotany is the study of plant fossils, providing insights into how ancient plants survived with other organisms in the different periods that Earth had undergone over several eons. This branch of paleontology also tackles the landscapes, atmosphere, and relationship with other life forms that the plants deal with.

Why do people study paleobotany? If these fossils are from “extinct” plants, why is it important for scientists to uncover them?

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The Pennsylvanian Age

Thomas McLoughlin’s book features plants from the Pennsylvanian Age, particularly those that are uncovered in Southwest Virginia. But what is the Pennsylvanian Age?

The Carboniferous period is an Earth’s geologic time scale characterized by ancient swamps and a huge amount of carbon deposits. It is divided into two: The Mississippian age (Early or Lower Carboniferous) and the Pennsylvanian age (Late or Upper Carboniferous).

Photo by Krystian Piątek

The Pennsylvanian subperiod is a more recent period than the Mississippian subperiod. It was so called Pennsylvanian based on the huge amount of rock fossils found in the state of Pennsylvania. Moreover, this subperiod of the Carboniferous Period features several plant fossils that have once thrived on Earth.

Here are reasons why you should study paleobotany:

Fossils are irreplaceable.

Fossils have always been irreplaceable. It takes many years for an organism to fossilize without getting destroyed by several environmental factors, such as atmospheric and organismic activities. Additionally, fossils give insights into what’s in the past. If these are destroyed, a portal to the ancient life is irreplaceable.

Fossils show evidence of life.

Fossils are pieces of evidence of ancient organisms. These are divided into two types: Body Fossils (mummified bodies and fossilized body parts) and Trace Fossils (prints, traces, and fecal matter).

Plant fossils do not usually leave body fossils as they have soft tissues. Dead plants decay and disintegrate over time. Most of them only leave trace fossils in the form of leaf or flower prints and traces of root systems.

Fossils show ancient ecosystem.

People have always been curious about how plants and animals lived before humans. Paleobotany shows how animals interact with plants. Of course! Plants have always been the provider of shelter and food for ancient animals. In addition, ancient plants are different from today’s flora, which would tell the scientists how organisms evolved with one another.

Photo by Sigmund

Fossils provide insights on adaptation

Living organisms thrive through adaptation. Plants have their way of adapting to the environment. Hence, some documented ancient plants are still extant today, such as cycads, ginkgoes, horsetails, and some ferns. Studying the fossils tells the paleobotanists the best ways of adapting to the changing environment.

Photo by sq lim

Fossils support or discriminate evolutionary theories

Paleobotanists propose different theories on how organisms thrive on ancient Earth. Now, because the fossils tell different stories, these fossils can support or discriminate several claims. Discovering plant or animal fossils will open the minds of theorists about how life functioned millions of years ago.

Fossils share knowledge of the geologic context

One reason why people keep uncovering fossils is to know life in the geologic context. We have been living and thriving on Earth for around 6 to 7 million years. Some organisms have been around for billions of years before us. Using the fossils, we get to see a glimpse of the past and how life progressed from one form to another.

Immerse yourself into Paleobotany in Thomas F. McLoughlin’s A Guide to Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) Age Plant Fossils of Southwest Virginia. Buy the book on tfmloughlin.com, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble today.