Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prehistoric plants

I’ve started working on a project for recreating prehistoric plants. The ultimate goal would be to generate accurate ecosystems that can be used as background scenery for prehistoric animal reconstructions.

The Bennettitales are a group of completely extinct seed plants from the Mesozoic. The leaves bear strong resemblance with those of the extant cycads thus their other name of cycadeoids. They are traditionally classified into two families, the Williamsoniaceae and the Cycadeoidaceae. The members of the first family (such as Williamsonia) are reconstructed with slender branching stems with cones at the tip of lateral branches. 

Fig 1.- Reconstruction of Williamsonia sewardiana with the leaves of the Ptilophyllum type. The genus Williamsonia is based on cones and the actual appearance of the plant remains controversial.

The members of the second family have short trunks and were widely represented with flower like structures around the trunk. The idea came from Wieland who suggested in his 1906 monograph that they have strong affinities with the angiosperms (flowering plants), interpreting the mature cones as flower like structures. However, later studies showed that the cones remained closed at maturity (Delevoryas, 1963).

Fig 2.- Alternative reconstruction of Ptilophyllum, as a Bennettitale of the Cycadeoidaceae type.

Calamites is another interesting plant from the Carboniferous and Early Permian. They look like trees with wooden trunks reaching several meters in height, but were actually related to the modern horsetails.

Fig 3.- Calamites.


Delevoryas, T. 1963. Investigations of North American cycadeoids: cones of Cycadeoidea. American Journal of Botany 50: 45–52.

Watson J. and Sincock C. A. 1992. Bennettitales of the English Wealden. The Palaeontographical Society 145(588):1-228.

Wieland, G. R. 1906. American fossil cycads. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., USA.

Yamada. T. 2007. Structurally preserved Zamites bayeri Kvacek from the Coniacian Kashima Formation (Yezo Group) of Hokkaido, Japan. Cretaceous Research 2009: 1-6.


  1. Funny I'm in the middle of the exact same project. Though I'm working on trees at the moment (I'm logged into the wrong blogger ID, my Palaeo-environment project stuff is up on Weapon of Mass Imagination).

    What 3D software are you working with? I'm a Carrara boy myself.

  2. I am using 3DS Max and Vue...How is your project going?

  3. Sidetracked at the moment.

    I have two scientists interested in me doing reconstructions for some upcoming publications.

    I've done a bit more work on refining the plants I've got, but nothing too huge since March sadly

  4. Same for me. Always seem to be dragged into different projects as soon as I get into one. But it's more like a long term project, building plant species one after the other...

  5. How are you dealing with potentially large scene management... Are you relying on vue's internal instancing? Or are you establishing a distance-to-camera object replacement set-up?

    Could you share those papers?
    Maybe we can create a depository of our efforts. I've been working of of the book Paleobotany.

  6. I haven't thought about that yet as my scenes are still quite small and Vue's instancing seems to work.
    As for papers, sure, what's your email address? I can put them in a dropbox or something...

  7. ah... lost track of this...
    my mail is david(at)
    Thanks in advance!

  8. Nice illustration & recon. Just found your site. Keep up the good work!

    Cheers -- Pete Tillman
    Consulting Geologist-Geochemist

  9. Beautiful work and a great idea. A question: Would calamites have been cold hardy? I know the late Carboniferous experienced glaciation and the so-called Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse, so maybe your image portrays the changing climate?

  10. Hello All,

    I'm modeling a coal forest diorama and I'm looking for a good paleobotany reference: great info, great photos of fossils, and lavishly excellent illustrations/ recreations. Can anyone make a recommendation?

  11. Você poderia me dar sugestão de espécies para floresta do cretáceo quando apareceram as primeiras flores?

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