Primordial trees that flourished on Earth over 300 million years ago had a far more intricate structure than modern day ones, scientists have found out.
The Anatomy Of Ancient Trees Took Scientists By Surprise
A team of researchers studied a cladoxylopsid tree dating back to 374 million years ago whose well preserved fossilized trunk was found in northwest China's Xinjiang region. Trees are known to have xylem, which are woody strands, that look similar to straw. Xylem transports water from the roots to the leaves. Furthermore, new xylem layers in most trees create growth rings in branches and trunks.
However, after examining the fossilized trunk, the research team was puzzled to find that the prehistoric tree had a completely hollow middle and that the xylem was confined only to the outer 5 cm of the tree trunk. Moreover, the tree trunk's diameter had widened as the strands stretched out, and links between them tore apart.
According to the research team, scientists have not seen any other tree until now that has ever behaved in such a complicated manner. The tree tore its structure apart and slumped under its own weight, while at the same time it stayed alive and grew outwards and upwards to become a significant ancient plant.
"By examining these extremely rare fossils, we've gained unprecedented insight into the anatomy of our earliest trees and the complex growth mechanisms that they employed," said Chris Berry, paleobotanist from the University of Cardiff research team that is studying the anatomy of the fossilized tree. Berry also added that the new find also raises a provoking question as to why the very oldest trees that flourished on Earth are the most complicated.
No Other Primordial Tree Fossils Compare With The New Find
Berry, who has previously uncovered and studied a fossil cluster of 385-million-year-old cladoxylopsids in New York's Gilboa region, has found nothing like the recent find from China, according to a report. The fossils found in Gilboa were filled with sand when fossilized and therefore offered only beguiling clues about their structure.
The new fossil find in China was not only huge but was also aptly preserved in glassy silica due to volcanic sediments. Consequently, the paleobotanists were able to study every single cell of the plant.
At present, the researchers plan to continue their study of cladoxylopsid trees to know how much carbon they could take in from the atmosphere as well as the consequent impact on the climate.