Plants from the landscape of pre history
Ventnor Botanic Garden has on loan a number of plant fossils from Dinosaur Isle. These date to the Cretaceous period, 125-110 million years ago. All of the plant material we have loaned is from the same period as the dinosaurs, and have come from the same beds in which we often find the dinosaur bones. Dinosaurs were living approximately 230 – 65 million years ago, so the plant fossils are from the later end of the dinosaur reign, but at the same time. All of these fossils were collected from the south of the Island from the eroding cliffs near Atherfield. At this time the Earth was a significantly warmer place, the atmosphere had a greater percentage of CO² than present. The fossilised plants originated on land but are believed to have become trapped in river silts on floodplains. There is evidence that many became trapped as a result of potentially violent flood activity.
VBG also has a number of plants that have variously been claimed to represent “living fossils”. These plants are actually descendants from very ancient lineages; often that have attracted media attention. One example is the Metasequoia glyptostroboides or Dawn Redwood, which, when discovered in the early 20th century in Szechuan, caused great attention as a surviving example of a primitive Gymnosperm (conifer) group. More recently, history repeated itself with Wollemia nobilis or Wollemi Pine. This was discovered in a remote canyon in Australia and represents an unlikely extant member of the ancient Araucaria family. The general rumpus generated by its discovery exceeded the fuss around the Dawn Redwood multifold, with every botanic garden soon clamouring for material.
Many stories can be wrought from these fossils which relate to this garden. In 2012 VBG flowered a Cycas revoluta out of doors, a remarkable achievement in itself. What is perhaps more significant is that the south of the Wight had Cycas growing wild in the same general locus 120 Million years ago. Could this flowering event be linked to climate change?
We have deliberately borrowed plant fossils that have extant relatives in order to “bring them to life”. For example, we have fossilised Monkey Puzzle Trunk and grow modern Monkey Puzzle trees. We also have fossilised Ginkgo wood and live Ginkgo trees and both ancient and modern Treeferns, Tempskya and Dicksonia respectively.