Earth's oldest fossil forest found is SW England


Valued Senior Member
In this paper we report evidence for a previously unrecognized cladoxylopsid forest landscape, archived within the Eifelian Hangman Sandstone Formation of Somerset and Devon, SW England. This unit has previously been considered palaeobotanically depauperate but is here shown to contain the earliest fossil evidence for such trees in the British record, as well as the oldest known evidence globally for the relative position of standing trees:
Paper here.

Article here

"The record of fossil forests, where tree bases are preserved where they were living, so far dates back to those discovered in New York State, at Cairo and Gilboa at about 385 million years.

"Although the area of rock exposure is limited and dangerous to access, our new discovery is the oldest clear example of such a geological phenomenon known to date and it speaks directly to the ecology of the oldest forests 390 million years ago."
Cladoxylopsids dominated terrestrial ecosystems for a period of about 5 million years before the advent of more modern woody trees about 385 million years ago, according to the team.

[...] Rather than solid wood, their trunks were hollow in the center with a ring of woody supporting strands around the outside. Instead of leaves their branches were covered in hundreds of twig-like structures.

The trees were also much shorter than their descendants, standing between 2 and 4 meters tall and as they grew, they shed their lower branches, dropping lots of vegetation litter, which supported invertebrates on the forest floor.

If "flimsy" even applies to that, then apparently no grave threat or pressure from the existing arthropods, arachnids, and insects.

Even becoming woody in a more modern sense at circa 385 million years ago still wouldn't quite coincide with the first primitive tetrapods adapting to land. Or rather, the latter crawlers wouldn't develop into towering vegetarian menaces for millions of years to come.