The Evolution Of Forests And Trees In Devonian Period
The vascular plant emerged around 400 million years ago and started Earth’s forest-building process during the Silurian geologic period.
Although not yet a “true” tree, this new member of the terrestrial plant kingdom became the perfect evolutionary link (and the largest plant species) with developing tree parts and considered the first proto-tree.
Vascular plants developed the ability to grow large and tall with massive weight needed for the support of a vascular internal plumbing system.
The First Trees
The earth’s first real tree continued to develop during the Devonian period and scientists think that tree was probably the extinct Archaeopteris.
These tree species followed later by other tree types became the definitive species comprising a forest during the late Devonian period.
As mentioned, they were the first plants to overcome the biomechanical problems of supporting additional weight while delivering water and nutrients to fronds (leaves) and roots.
Entering the Carboniferous period around 360 million years ago, trees were prolific and a major part of the plant life community, mostly located in coal-producing swamps.
Trees were developing the parts that we immediately recognize today. Of all the trees that existed during the Devonian and Carboniferous, only the tree fern can still be found, now living in Australasian tropical rainforests.
If you happen to see a fern with a trunk leading to a crown, you have seen a tree fern.
During that same geologic period, now extinct trees including clubmoss and giant horsetail were also growing.
Our Present Evolutionary Forest
Few dinosaurs ever made a meal on hardwood leaves because they were rapidly disappearing before and during the beginning of the new “age of hardwoods” (95 million years ago).
Magnolias, laurels, maples, sycamores and oaks were the first species to proliferate and dominate the world.
Hardwoods became the predominant tree species from mid-latitudes through the tropics while conifers were often isolated to the high-latitudes or the lower latitudes bordering the tropics.
Not a lot of change has happened to trees in terms of their evolutionary record since the palms made their first appearance 70 million years ago.
Fascinating are several tree species that simply defy the extinction process and show no indication that they will change in another dozen million years.
Ginkgo was mentioned earlier but there are others: dawn redwood, Wollemi pine, and monkey puzzle tree.
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