The landscape might’ve looked different in the time of the dinosaurs, but some things have remained to survive mass extinctions and other chaos through the paths of time. Once sharing the terra firma with those mysterious beasts, some plants from yesteryear still thrive today. These living fossils now share the earth with us and have an evolutionary story to tell.
Planting The Seed
The plant life in existence today is an essential reminder of the earth’s continual adaptation and diversity. We rewound over 300 million years of history to find out which plants appeared on the dinosaur’s menu.
Mosses are ancient plants, making their first appearance during the early Paleozoic Era, even before the dinosaurs roamed. Some scientists think mosses emerged more than 450 million years ago. The movement of water and nutrients within their system is minimal due to the absence of a vascular system.
For this reason, they grow a velvety green cover close to the ground and absorb the necessary nutrients directly through the leaves. Interestingly, these plants have excellent survival skills. The mosses of 2022 still grow the same way as their ancestors, using water for spore dispersal. 10,000+ species thrive today in various ecosystems across the globe.
Appearing on the scene in the late Paleozoic era, these 360 million-year-old spore-producing plants could facilitate the movement of water and nutrients through their vascular systems and could photosynthesize through their leaves. This set them apart from their predecessors, allowing for more height in plant growth. We can now identify more than 10,000 fern species in various forms, many of which can be dated back to the Triassic period. That’s 180 million years of existence, predating the dinosaur era.
Horsetails arrived concurrently with earth’s first reptiles, about 350 million years ago, and eventually became a food source for the hungry herbivorous dinosaur. Reaching as high as 100 feet, their vascular systems mimicked that of the ferns. Large amounts of coal despots have been discovered by scientists, indicating that Horsetails were in great abundance long ago. Roughly 20 species are still present today.
Gorgeous Ginkgo Bilobas
Ginkgo Biloba is the final remnant of its plant species. Scientists have discovered Ginkgo fossils dating back 290 million years. In the time of the dinosaur, they grew in all areas of the world. Being a seed-producing plant, Gingkos were a food source and could modify into new habitats. It’s possible that its brownish-orange cherry-like fruit became part of the dinosaurs’ herbivorous diet. Today, the Gingko tree is admired for its gorgeous autumnal foliage, and parts of the plant are used for herbal medicines.
Wondrous Wollemi Pines
The Wollemi Pine was part of the extinct plant club until it was found alive and well in the Australian rainforests in the mid-1990s. This rare plant is being protected at all costs by keeping its exact location a secret. Technically not a pine, the Wollemi is actually a conifer with three-inch broad, flat leaves and knobbly tree bark. Showing good growth in acidic soil, it can eventually grow up to 20 ft.
Majestic Monkey Puzzle Trees
With ancestors growing alongside dinosaurs in the Mesozoic Era, the Monkey Puzzle tree was one of the first seed plants on earth about 150 million years ago. Officially known as Araucaria Araucana and currently listed as endangered, these trees enjoy well-drained soil and can be found in various types of forests. Reaching up to 130 feet in height, the top of this plant is often used as a Christmas tree.
Flowering plants (angiosperms) took their time but finally made their first appearance at the end of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs were the dominant animals. The beetle was an important part of Magnolia’s pollination. An eye-catching plant with evergreen leaves, the Magnolia grows large flowers in varied colors of white, yellow, pink, purple, and green. Flowering plants emerged quite recently on the timeline of evolution. Fossils of flowering plants have been discovered, dating back 130 million years.
Although hundreds of millions of years separate us from the dinosaurs, the actual degrees of separation are closer than you think. Once you’ve taken a proverbial walk down the evolutionary garden path, a strong connection can be made between humans and the dinosaurs and flora that came before us.
So the next time you notice moss in the pavement cracks, ferns savoring the shade, towering pines overhead, and the sunlight hitting a vase of magnolias, take a moment to acknowledge the link we share with the ancient beasts of yesteryear.