Plant Evolution & Paleobotany

Website by Jamie Boyer, Ph.D.

An educational resource for botanically-curious students and teachers studying Earth's history, fossils, and evolution

Paleobotany course (online)

The Earth's history is frequently told through a narrative of animal evolution; strange creatures that remind us of mythical beasts, such as dinosaurs, mammoths, and creatures that fascinate the mind of children and adults. Rarely does popular culture describe geologic history through the most fundamental organisms on the planet: plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi

This website uses plants (and other "unseen" organisms)  as the focus for studying the evolutionary changes on Earth. We all learned that photosynthesis is the basis for most life on Earth. This was also true in the past, and therefore autotrophs and decomposers serve as great lenses with which to study geologic/evolutionary change.

In addition, these organisms can be a better model for understanding evolution. We tend not to think that plants or fungi think or desire, thus avoiding misconceptions that assume organisms want to be taller, larger, faster, etc. Since plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi aren't perceived to have desires, people are more likely to understand and accept the mechanisms of evolution as described by scientists, and without anthropomorphism...

...also, let's face it, as you start to study and understand plants/fungi, you start to realize that they are just. so. amazing!

-Jamie Boyer, Ph.D.

In order to understand evolution and the role of plants, algae, and fungi in the geologic record, this website is organized to provide paleobotanical information in several different formats

FAQ of Earth's History

Question of the week...

What is an Eophyte?

 Eophytes are a recently described group of early land plants from the Welsh Borderland that help us understand the evolution of plants during the Silurian-Devonian (Edwards et al. 2021a; Edwards et al. 2021b). "Eo-phyte" means early plant, and they provide evidence of the transition from non-vascular plants (e.g. bryophytes), to plants that were evolving conducting cells.

They were very small plants that had upright, branched stems that were tipped with spore sacs containing a distinct type of spore; this was the sporophyte phase. This phase had food-conducting cells, similar to modern phloem, but they lacked water-conducting cells!

There are also flattened plant fossils found in association with these upright, branched forms. They look similar to the thalloid form of bryophytes. These thalloid fossils possess specialized cells for transferring nutrients, and may represent the gametophyte phase of the branched forms. 

It is possible that these upright, branched forms were dedicated to dispersing spores, but did not have the ability to conduct photosynthesis. Instead, the thalloid form was photosynthetic, and provided nourishment to the branched forms. 

Learn more on the Eophyte page