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.