The fossilized frond, which is similar to today’s fern, came from the Gilboa Forest in the Catskill Mountain in New York State. The Gilboa Forest contains the oldest tree fossils ever discovered on the Earth.
Three hundred seventy million-year-old rocks and fossils from tree stumps were first exposed after an 1869 flood occurred in the forest that washed away much of the top layer of soil. Later, in the 1920s, other stump fossils were found when the Gilboa Reservoir was being built.
The Gilboa forest is well known to paleontologists (scientists that study prehistoric life forms with the use of plant and animal fossils) who have been studying the area for years. Unfortunately, all they could find were fossilized stumps of trees. They couldn’t find any leaves—that is, until now.
British team members—headed by Chris Berry of Cardiff University, England—state that the tree is one of an extinct group of plants known as cladoxylopsids, which are closely related to some ferns and articulates (sphenopsids) that still live today. The cladoxylopsids have a central trunk with smaller, lateral branches coming off.
All fossils of cladoxylopsids are from the Middle Devonian (417 to 354 million years ago) to Early Carboniferous (354 to 290 million years ago) periods.