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Present day lycophyta or lycopods make up for a small group of plants mainly existing of clubmosses and quillworts. Innitially many of these plants have a moss like appearance. In modern day flora these plants play an inferior roll, throughout ancient history however they have a long and flourishing track record, at some point they even were a mayor component off all plant life on earth. With Baragwanathia longifolia from the upper Silurian as the oldest group of vascular plants which still has representatives in present day.
Fragments of lycophyta are fairly common in rocks of Devonian age, when compared to other fossil plant remains. It is safe to assume that lycophyta were well presented in the flora of that period. Usually it concerns small herb like plants.
During the Carboniferous period this group of plants was at the peak of its existence. Lycophyta that formed immense forests growing up to 50meters high, scale trees and other arborescent (tree-like) plants dominated the swampy landscape, known as the coal-forest. Although fossils of these plants are fairly common on the old spoil heaps of the coal mines, they mostly exist of little fragments (individual leaves, twigs, small pieces of bark, parts of the root system and spore carrying cones). To deal with these fragments scientists divided them in groups bearing their own name. Roots are called Stigmaria, bark is called Lepidodendron (spiral rearranged ) or Sigillaria (row like rearranged scars). The cones or fruiting bodies we now as Lepidostrobus and Flemingites.
At the end of the Carboniferous period, changing tectonics caused the swamps to dry up on a large scale. Because the aborescent lycophyta were dependent of very moist conditions (moist climate) for their reproduction, their numbers diminished strongly. Only in China the big lycophyta survived until the Mid Permian period until they went extinct.
In the Early Mesozoic period a group of early members of the Isotales existed. Where most of the plant life struggled with big losses after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, these plants known as Pleuromeia flourished and grew up to 3meters high. They were build up from a non-branched stem with lance shaped leaves up to 10cm in size. The basal parts of the stem lost their leaves making the plant look similar to a palm tree. These Pleuromeia where the dominant component of plant life in the coastal planes and river delta’s during the Triassic period. Although highly fragmentized in the fossil records, it is assumed that these thriving plants grew smaller but still remained a fairly common plant in the late Mesozoic period and Cenozoic period.
Fossils and locations for Lycophyta on this site
Special thanks to Tim Wolterbeek for writing this article. English translation by Ivo Kesselaer.
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