Some plant species that were around at the time of the dinosaurs can still be seen growing on planet Earth today. Find out more about some of them here.
First land plants
The oldest living group of vascular plants (those with specialised transport vessels) are the lycophytes. These plants reproduce using spores and have simple leaves with only a single vein. Species from three plant families in this group can still be seen growing on Earth today: Lycopodiaceae (clubmosses), Isoetaceae (quillworts, such as Isoetes eludens) and Selaginellaceae (spikemosses).
Horse-tails (such as Equisetum arvense) were also among the early land plants, and can still be seen, often sturdily pushing through cracks in pavements, today. Ferns, which reproduce via spores, but have less primitive leaves, are also among the most ancient plants. Tree ferns, such as Dicksonia antarctica, were common in the forests of the Jurassic period.
Cycads and ginkgos
Cycads and ginkgos are primitive seed plants that were around at the time of the dinosaurs and species of which can still be seen growing today.
Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree) is considered a ‘living fossil’ as it is the only remaining species in the subclass Ginkgooidae, and is the only living ‘link’ between ferns and conifers.
Cycads flourished some 280-135 million years ago. They are scientifically important because they may represent a link in the evolution from ferns to flowering plants; also many species of cycad are now rare.
Conifers dominated the landscape at the time the dinosaurs were at their peak. They were the most diverse group of plants at this time, and the majority of large trees were conifers.
Modern conifers appeared in the Triassic with the Araucariaceae (an ancient family which includes the Wollemi pine) and Podocarpaceae. The Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) is considered a ‘living fossil’ as it is the only remaining member of an ancient genus, dating back to over 65 million years ago.
It is worthy of note that the label of ‘living fossil’ could also apply to many other species of conifer that were important and widespread at the time of the dinosaurs, but which are now the only species in their genus, many others having become extinct. Find out more about conifers.
Profiles of ancient plants
Australian tree fern
Eastern Cape giant cycad
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