Oldest know charred pine fossil found

The fossil of a pine tree was preserved as charcoal within rocks in Nova Scotia

From the BBC:


“The charred pine twigs date back 140 million years to a time when fires raged across large tracts of land. Pine trees now dominate the forests of the Northern Hemisphere.

fossilized pine twig
False color image of the fossilized pine twig that is a few milimeters long. Photo by H. Falcon-Lang.

The research suggests the tree’s evolution was shaped in the fiery landscape of the Cretaceous, where oxygen levels were much higher than today, fuelling intense and frequent wildfires.

“Pines are well adapted to fire today,” said Dr Howard Falcon-Lang of Royal Holloway, University of London, who discovered the fossils in Nova Scotia, Canada.

“The fossils show that wildfires raged through the earliest pine forests and probably shaped the evolution of this important tree.”

Serendipitous find
The specimens, which are described in Geology journal, were preserved as charcoal within rocks from a quarry.

“It was only when I digested [the samples] in acid that these beautiful fossils fell out,” Dr Falcon-Lang told BBC News.

“They were sitting in my cupboard for five years before I actually worked out what was there.”

Plant oddities
The fossils are just a few mm long but probably came from trees resembling the Scots Pine that now cover large areas of Scotland.

“One of the oddities about pine trees today is that they are one of the most fire adapted species on our planet,” explained Dr Falcon-Lang.

“These oldest pine fossils are preserved as charcoal, the product of fire, suggesting that the co-occurrence of fire and pines is something that’s very ancient, that goes back to the very origin of these first pine trees.”

Dr Falcon-Lang plans to return to the quarry this summer to recover more specimens.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matthew.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.