Connecting the environment of the ancient past with the natural and cultural history of yesterday and today.















 

 


Featured Fossil Archive:

Plants - Angiosperms and Gymnosperms

 

Arranged by Geological Time Period


Holocene

 

Fagus grandifolia (American Beech) and other leaves in Holocene travertine

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Fagus grandifolia (American Beech)

Formation:

None

Age:

Holocene

Location:

Muldraugh, Meade Co., Kentucky

Notes:

How young can a fossil be? Some paleontologists say that 10,000 years is a minimum. Others say it can be less if the organism is extinct. This is an example of molds of leaves in travertine, from a hillside forest spring. Travertine forms as calcium carbonate precipitates from the water. This fossil is very young, likely less than 100 years old! Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

January 7, 2016


Paleogene (Tertiary)

 

Fossil hackberry (Celtis sp.) seeds from the Badlands of South Dakota

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Celtis sp.

Formation:

Brule?

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Notes:

A collection of hackberry seeds that are about 40 million years old, but look a lot fresher! On exhibit at the Geology Museum of the South Dakota School of Technology. Seeds are about 4mm in diameter.

Date Posted:

November 17, 2016

 

Fagopsis longifolia leaf part / counterpart

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Fagopsis longifolia Hollick

Formation:

Florissant

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Teller Co., Colorado

Notes:

The name was taken from the Beech, genus Fagus, but when other parts of the tree were found, it was determined to be an extinct genus. Part and counterpart split in the shale. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

May 11, 2015

 

Unidentified fossil palm leaf from the Oligocene of Oregon

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Unidentified palm leaf

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Arbuckle Mountain, Marrow Co., Oregon

Notes:

Palm trees date back into the Late Cretaceous, about 80 million years ago. This is a fragment of a larger frond. The best-known examples of fossils palm leaves occur in the Green River Shale. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

February 15, 2017

 

Metasequoia sp. seed cone from the Oligocene epoch of Oregon

Fossil Type:

Pinophyta

Name:

Metasequoia sp. seed cone

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Multnomah Co., Oregon

Notes:

Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood) is another example of a tree with an ancient legacy. It was re-introduced to the North American landscape from China, just like the Ginkgo. However, it was discovered in 1944. This fossil is a cross-section of a seed cone. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

March 1, 2016

 

Unidentified flower (Hydrangea?) from Fossil Oregon

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm (Flower)

Name:

Unidentified flower (Hydrangea?)

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Fossil, Wheeler Co., Oregon

Notes:

Flowers are very rare in the fossil record, and may be difficult to identify. Oligocene plants are not dramatically different than extant species, so it is possible to identify the flowers of common or very distinctive plants. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

September 5, 2014

 

Alnus sp. catkin or seed cone from Oregon's Oligocene

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm (Flower or Seed)

Name:

Alnus sp.

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Fossil, Wheeler Co., Oregon

Notes:

A bent seed cone or catkin along with other plant fragments.   Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

May 29, 2017

 

Seed head (catkin) of the genus Alnus from Oregon

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm (Flower)

Name:

Alnus sp.

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Fossil, Wheeler Co., Oregon

Notes:

Trees have male and female flowers. The females produce the seeds. This is fossil of a female flower - commonly called a catkin. Flowers of extant trees look very similar. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

July 28, 2014

 

Alnus flower (male) from the Oligocene of Oregon

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm (Flower)

Name:

Alnus sp.

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Fossil, Wheeler Co., Oregon

Notes:

Trees have male and female flowers. The females produce the seeds. This is fossil of a male flower - commonly called a catkin. Flowers of extant trees look very similar. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

June 22, 2014

 

Part / counterpart of the leaf of the alder tree Alnus newberryi

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Alnus newberryi Meyer & Manchester

Formation:

Clarno Mudstone

Age:

Oligocene Epoch

Location:

Fossil, Wheeler Co., Oregon

Notes:

This is the part / counterpart of a leaf of an ancient alder tree. According to Wikipedia, there are only three alder species native to North America, the others are found elsewhere, primarily in north temperate latitudes. The small leaf fragment on the left edge is probably redwood or Metasequoia. Click here for a closer view. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

December 5, 2013

 

Acer sp., maple seed in mudstone

   

Fossil Type: Plant Seed – Angiosperm
Name: Acer sp. (Maple)  
Formation: Clarno Mudstone
Age: Oligocene epoch
Location: Fossil, Oregon
Notes:

The “helicopter” or winged seed has been a choice method for dispersal for tens of millions of years. It is much easier to identify than the two other leaves on this specimen. Dozens of species of tree leaves are found in this clay bed. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: September 6, 2012

 

Metasequoia from the Eocene of far-western Kentucky

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Metasequoia sp.

Formation:

Claiborne, “Lamkin Clay”

Age:

Middle Eocene Epoch

Location:

Mayfield, Graves Co., Kentucky

Notes:

Cenozoic leaves are not well-known in the central U.S., but the Eocene silt deposits of the Mississippi Embayment are known for producing nice fossils. Metasequoia (known today as the Dawn Redwood) is widespread during the Eocene and Oligocene epochs in North America, even though they were extirpated more recently. Rick Schrantz specimen.

Date Posted:

September 30, 2016

 

Allophylus leaf - a warm climate plant found in NW Colorado Eocene shale

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Allophylus sp.

Formation:

Green River

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Rio Blanco Co., Colorado

Notes:

Fossils tell us about the environment of ancient ecosystems. The Green River Shale contains an abundance of plants, some like the Sycamore and Sumac are still found in the region. Others, like Allophylus are restricted to subtropical to tropic climates. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

November 27, 2015

 

A large Zelkova brownii leaf from the Green River shale

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Zelkova brownii Tanai and Wolfe

Formation:

Parachute Member, Green River Shale

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

There are a large number of species of trees that lived along the lake(s) that created the extensive Green River Formation. Leaf identification is aided by the fact that many are ancestors to extant species, but climate conditions were different, so they don’t always align with modern North American species. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

June 25, 2015

 

Fossil sumac leaf from the green River Formation in Colorado

Fossil Type:

Tree Leaf

Name:

Rhus sp.

Formation:

Green River

Age:

Eocene epoch

Location:

Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

Sumac leaves are common in the Green River Shale. The trees grew near the edge of the lake or streams feeding into it and were washed in and buried in the fine sediment. The proximity to water is essential for the preservation of plant leaves. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

October 18, 2015

 

Rhus nigricans - a fossil sumac leaf

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Rhus nigricans (Lesquereux)

Formation:

Green River

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

The shape of this 50 million-year-old leaf preserved as a carbon film is not too different that the living Sumac. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

February 12, 2015

 

Mimosites coloradoensis? and insects in shale

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Mimosites coloradoensis Knowlton?

Formation:

Parachute Creek Member, Green River Formation

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Rio Blanco Co., Colorado

Notes:

A simple carbonized leaf surrounded by aphids & long-legged fly. A freshwater lake deposit, it is rich in fossils of leaves and insects blown into the water by strong winds. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

January 6, 2015

 

A very large Sabalites frond from the Green River Formation

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Sabalites sp.

Formation:

Green River

Age:

Eocene

Location:

Wyoming

Notes:

The largest fossil leaf in the Green River Shale belongs to the palm. It is about five feet (1.5 M) long. Black Hills Institute for Geological Research specimen on exhibit.

Date Posted:

November 26, 2014

 

Populus wilmattae (on left) and Macginitea angustiloba

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm leaves

Name:

Populus wilmattae Cockerelll (on left) and Macginitea angustiloba (Macginitea)

Formation:

Parachute Creek Member, Green River Formation

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

A variety of deciduous trees were in forests surrounding the large prehistoric Lake Uinta that covered western Colorado and northeastern Utah. Large shale slabs may contain leaves or plant parts from several species that fell into the lake and were buried in clay. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

April 30, 2014

 

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Unidentified flower (on left) and Zelkova nervosa (Newberry) leaf

Formation:

Parachute Creek Member, Green River Formation

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

Flowers are rare as fossils and are usually difficult to identify unless associated with a branch with leaves. The common name for Zelkova is the ‘Keaki Tree,’ a member of the elm family, and relatively abundant in the Green River Shale. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

March 25, 2014

 

Swartzia wardelli and Eocene leaf with insect damage

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Swartzia wardelli MacGinitie

Formation:

Green River Shale

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Bonanza, Utah

Notes:

Swartzia is a tropical tree with some 200 species today that was uncommon in North America during the Eocene. This leaf shows insect predation, so it is also an example of a trace fossil. Anonymous collection. Scale on right = 2 cm

Date Posted:

February 17, 2014

 

Leaf of Cardiospermum coloradensis - an ancient balloon vine

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Cardiospermum coloradensis (Knowlton)

Formation:

Parachute Creek Member, Green River Formation

Age:

Eocene Epoch

Location:

Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

The common name for the modern version of this plant is the balloon vine, in the soapberry family. It is a tropical & subtropical species, now common as an invasive in southern U.S. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

October 23, 2013

 

Allophylus - a tree leaf from the Green River Shale in Colorado

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Allophylus sp.
Formation: Parachute Member, Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Rio Blanco Co., Colorado
Notes:

Allophylus contains over 330 species today, common to the tropics and subtropics. It was common in North America in the Eocene, more than 50 million years   ago. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted: September 16, 2013

 

Cedrela oregoniana - the fossilized leaf of a tree in the mahogany family.     

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Cedrela oregoniana Lesquerreux
Formation: Parachute Member, Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

This simple looking leaf belong to a member of the mahogany family. This was a common constituent of North American forests 50 to 60 million years ago. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted: August 2, 2013

 

Two-lobed maple leaf of the Acer arcticum complex

Fossil Type: Maple Leaf (Angiosperm)
Name: Acer arcticum Linnaeus (part of the A. arcticum complex)
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

Today’s  maple leaves are deeply notched and bear little resemblance to this 50 million-year-old ancestor. It is likely a genus different from the true Acer. The origin of the maple may be North America or Eurasia. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: June 25, 2013

 

Salix longiacuminata - the leaf of an ancient willow

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Salix longiacuminata Brown
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

Willows are common in riparian habitats, so it is not surprising that their leaves are common in lake deposits like the Green River Shale. This variety has the typical long narrow leaf seen in modern Salix species. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: May 10, 2013

 

Cedrelospermum nervosum - an Eocene tree leaf

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Cedrelospermum nervosum (Newberry)
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

A member of the Ulmaceae, this is a group that includes elms and zelkovas. The leaf is fairly common in the intermountain lake sediments that created the Green River deposits. This website tells a story of the Green River Shale and Eocene life in the surrounding environment. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: April 2, 2013

 

   

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Salix cockerelli Brown with insect damage
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

Willow in one form or another has been around of tens of millions of years. This leaf closely resembles the modern species. Herbivorous insects similar to those extant feed on leaves as evidenced in the fossil record (making this a trace fossil as well as a plant fossil). This insect-gnawed leaf ended up in the bottom of a lake where it was buried by fine mud and preserved. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: February 19, 2013

 

Leaf of Pterocarya roanensis - an ancient walnut

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Pterocarya roanensis
Formation: Parachute Member, Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

An early ancestor in the walnut family, this leaf is narrower than the familiar walnuts of American woods and landscapes. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: January 14, 2013

 

Unidentified seed with small insects

       

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Unidentified Seed   
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

Fossilized seeds are not as common as other plant remains. Only flowers are rarer. The bifurcated “wings” (samaras) of this seed indicate it was dispersed by the wind (called anemochory). The earliest seeds date back to the Middle or Late Devonian, but were not angiosperm plants. Note the small insects in the lower part of the slab. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: November 16, 2012

 

Macginicarpa manchesteri - seed-bearing fruit of an ancient sycamore

Fossil Type:

Tree fruit

Name:

Macginicarpa manchesteri (M. glabra Manchester?)

Formation:

Parachute Creek Member, Green River Formation

Age:

Eocene epoch

Location:

Douglas Pass, Garfield Co., Colorado

Notes:

A cluster of seed-producing bodies, they resemble those from Sweet Gum, but may belong to the Sycamore (Platanus) which would have been common along the  edge of the lake that created the Green River Formation. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

June 12, 2016

 

50 million year-old Sycamore leaf

  

Fossil Type: Angiosperm
Name: Macginitiea wyomingensis (Linnaeus) - sometimes listed as Platanus
Formation: Green River Shale
Age: Eocene epoch
Location: Garfield Co., Colorado
Notes:

This is an early sycamore. The leaf is not too different from those on the living tree. Notice what might be some insect damage to this leaf. The Green River Shale produces fossil fish, insects and leaves in abundance. Different locations and layers will have different flora and fauna preserved. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted: July 24, 2012

 

Fossil Type:

Gymnosperm (Pinophyta)

Name:

Sequoia dakotensis Brown

Formation:

Cannonball

Age:

Paleocene Epoch

Location:

Morton Co., North Dakota

Notes:

The seed cone of an ancestral Sequoia, the label indicated Cannonball Formation which is placed in the Paleocene rather than the Late Cretaceous as the label indicated. (Fairly common in the Hell Creek Formation.) Click here for another view. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

March 25, 2015


Cretaceous

 

Amber (Tree Sap) from the Cretaceous of Alberta

Fossil Type:

Amber

Name:

Amber (Tree Sap)

Formation:

Upper Foremost Formation

Age:

Late Cretaceous

Location:

Grassy Lake, Alberta, Canada

Notes:

This backlit fossil tree spa shows desiccation cracks, from drying before it was buried. No DNA can be found in fossils this old – the complex molecule is too delicate. Anonymous collection. Specimen 3 cm wide

Date Posted:

July 6, 2017

 

Backlit amber from Alberta, Canada

Fossil Type:

Amber

Name:

Amber (Tree Sap)

Formation:

Upper Foremost Formation

Age:

Late Cretaceous

Location:

Grassy Lake, Alberta, Canada

Notes:

Amber is tree sap hardened over time. Softer amber is copal. This backlit specimen shows an undulating flow, with inclusions making the veiled boundaries.  Anonymous collection. Specimen 13mm wide

Date Posted:

April 16, 2016

 

Amber from the Cretaceous of New Jersey

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Amber

Formation:

South Amboy Fire Clay

Age:

Turonian, Late Cretaceous

Location:

Sayersville, New Jersey

Notes:

Amber doesn’t always look like to polished stone you see in jewelry. Most are pretty rough of the surface and have numerous inclusions (bubbles) of air or water as well as fractures (perhaps from freezing and thawing). This amber is the oldest in North America and the third oldest in the world. Anonymous collection. Scale = 2 cm

Date Posted:

April 2, 2017

 

Cretaceous amber from New Jersey

Fossil Type:

Angiosperm

Name:

Amber

Formation:

South Amboy Fire Clay

Age:

Turonian, Late Cretaceous

Location:

Sayersville, New Jersey

Notes:

This amber is from a site that used to be a clay pit, but has been developed and no longer exists. The fossils found here were well-preserved, with many species of plants washed into river delta sediments. The amber is the oldest in North America and the third oldest in the world. Anonymous collection. Specimen is slightly more than 1 cm wide.

Date Posted:

August 3, 2015

 

Unidentified Cycadeoidea from the Cretaceous of South Dakota

Fossil Type:

Cycadophyte

Name:

Unidentified Cycadeoidea

Formation:

Unknown

Age:

Lower Cretaceous

Location:

Southwestern South Dakota

Notes:

The trunk of a Cretaceous Cycadeoidea tree. Each divot-like pattern is where a large leaf frond was attached. These were a food source for Mesozoic herbivorous dinosaurs. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology Museum specimen.

Date Posted:

October 17, 2014


Pennsylvanian

Fragments of the primitive confier Walchia from Colorado

Fossil Type:

Pinophyta

Name:

Walchia sp.

Formation:

Minturn

Age:

Upper Pennsylvanian

Location:

McCoy, Eagle Co., Colorado

Notes:

These are stem fragments of the plant that is considered the oldest conifer in North America. It is an ancestor of the cypress. Stumps of these trees are found in Brule, Nova Scotia. Anonymous collection.

Date Posted:

September 10, 2015

 

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Created July 26, 2012, Updated July 16, 2017