Plant Evolution & Paleobotany

An educational resource for botanically curious students and teachers studying Earth's history, fossils, and evolution

The Earth's history is frequently told through a narrative of animal evolution; strange creatures that remind us of mythical beasts, such as dinosaurs, mammoths, and creatures that fascinate the mind of children and adults. Rarely does popular culture describe geologic history through the most fundamental organisms on the planet: plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi.

This website uses plants (and other "unseen" organisms) as the focus for studying the evolutionary changes on Earth. We all learned that photosynthesis is the basis for most life on Earth. This was also true in the past, and therefore autotrophs and decomposers serve as great lenses with which to study geologic/evolutionary change.

In addition, plants can be a better model for understanding evolution. We tend not to think that plants think or desire, thus avoiding misconceptions that assume organisms want to be taller, larger, faster, etc. Since plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi aren't perceived to have desires, people are more likely to understand and accept the mechanisms of evolution as described by scientists, and without anthropomorphism...

...also, let's face it, as you start to study and understand plants/fungi, you start to realize that they are just. so. amazing!

-Jamie Boyer, Ph.D.

In order to elucidate evolution and the role of plants in geologic history, this website is organized to provide this information in several different approaches:

  • What is a fossil? What are researchers trying to decipher? What problems do they encounter?

  • The evolution of land plants is divided into shorter time periods for easy comprehension. This is a short course taught at NYC-based botanical gardens.

FAQ of Earth's History

  • If you are new to the evolutionary history of plants, you may want to explore the section. This section is divided into 10 successive phases of Earth's history. The learning approach of this section is for people who prefer story-based explanations of how things have changed, using frequently asked questions.

  • This section provides detailed information about the Earth's history from a climate, geology, and geography perspective. It will also mention the origins of major groups through the lens of the Earth's timescale.

  • This section provides detailed information about the evolutionary relationship and taxonomic groups of plants both living and extinct. This section provides information about the structural and physiological changes that appear throughout the evolutionary history of plants.

  • This is a reference section for clarification about technical terms that appear throughout the website and paleobotanical literature