Fossil of an Ancient Fern-like Plant

Brown colored fossil of an Ancient Fern-like Plant on a blue background.

Weedy, fern-like plants appear in the latest Devonian, specialized to colonize disturbed sites such as volcanic landscapes. By the middle Carboniferous, all major fern growth forms were present: trees, vines, and ground cover, mostly specialized to exploit disturbances. Among these plants, however, were tree ferns up to 10 meters (32 feet) tall that lived in swampy wetlands, and whose remains fossilized into coal. Many of these early groups of ferns went extinct in the Paleozoic but were eventually replaced by new forms, many of which have survived to the present day. Photo 50511by Chip Clark, Smithsonian.