The group of fossilized trees discovered in the Chinese province of Anhui has been defined as the most ancient fossil forest ever found in Asia and one of the greatest examples of Devonian forests. It is 250,000 m² of a fossil forest that lived mostly during the Devonian period, ie between 419 and 359 million years ago. It is a period also referred to as “the age of the fish” but which, however, has seen progress at the evolutionary level very important even in plants.
The study, published in Current Biology, describes how these trees should look: they resembled palm trees with trunks without branches and with upper leafy parts. They lived in an environment near the coast very often subject to flooding.
The trees were on average 3.2 meters high (the height of one of the found fossil trunks was however estimated at 7.7 meters) and were inserted into a new species called Guangdedendron micron. The researchers think it could be one of the trees that provided the largest amount of biomass that then formed the coal we extract today.
The first fossils of trunks of licopsid trees have been found in these places in 2016 but research in these quarries is still ongoing. This is the third Devonian fossil forest of this size found after one in the United States and one in Norway.
The trees were quite tall and the relatively small size of the trees could make Xinhang forest “very similar to a sugarcane field” as noted by Deming Wang, a professor at Peking University and one of the authors of the study with Min Qin of Linyi University.
The fossils were formed on the walls of various clay quarries in this region of China, near a four-meter thick sandstone bed. The height of the trees was estimated by analyzing the diameters of the fossilized trunks.