Lost Worlds: 5 Fascinating Extinct Plants

Gone but not forgotten

In our planet’s history, 99.9% of all species of animals and plants that once existed are now extinct today. And while we have countless appearances of animals like the dinosaurs, dodo, and sabretooth tiger in popular media, we never seem to hear about the amazing plant species that we have lost over the eons.

As such, today’s blog is going to explore five of the weirdest and most wonderful cultivars missing from today’s forests and jungles, what they looked like, and how they met their end.

Silphium

Silphium was popularly used by human societies right up until the 1st century BC. Originating along the coastline of modern-day Libya, it was a staple trade resource for both the ancient Greek and Roman empires that had a variety of different applications.

The plant was used popularly as a perfume, a form of seasoning and it is believed, somewhat ironically, as both an aphrodisiac and a form of birth control. The plant was so overfarmed that it eventually died out with the very last sprig rumoured to have been a gift from Pliny the Elder, a roman statesman, to emperor Nero.

Sigillaria

Sigillaria inhabited our planet over 300 million years ago and emerged during the Carboniferous period, otherwise known as the Age of the Amphibians as this was when these creatures began to dominate the land. A tall, coniferous species, Sigillaria was fairly otherworldly compared to what we expect of conifers today.

Its trunk grew in a spiral shape and, rather than having bark, it had photosynthetic plates that spanned its entire length and it propagated by releasing spores instead of seeds. All of these strange characteristics contribute to the Sigillaria actually being recognized as a gigantic form of moss rather than a tree.

Cooksonia

The Cooksonia was one of the earliest terrestrial plants on Earth and it was the first to have upright stems. Similar to Sigillaria, it made use of certain fungal traits to support its growth in that, despite its rootless structure, Cooksonia was able to attach itself to the ground using fungal rhizomes.

Unsurprisingly, Cooksonia was an amphibious plant that grew along coastlines and waterways all over the world. It was also instrumental in making the environment habitable to other plant species as it contributed greatly to changing the soil compositions of our planet, allowing those that would follow to thrive.

Glossoptetris

The Glossoptetris is another conifer but it comes to us via a somewhat tragic backstory because it was discovered on Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica. However, their sacrifice – partially thanks to Glossoptetris – was by no means in vain since the discovery of these 270 million-year-old fossils all but confirmed the theories of Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift.

It stands to reason that for such abundant plant life to be found in Antarctica, the continent must have once been covered in lush biodiversity. Since plants cannot survive such a cold, dark climate, the continent itself must have carried them to the far south from more temperate climes.

Lepidodendron

Another one from the Carboniferous period and by far the most abundant plant of its era, the Lepidodendron – thanks to an oxygen-rich atmosphere and high temperatures – was able to spread all over the planet and makes up the majority of the coal deposits that we use today.

It was also one the largest plants in history, averaging heights of over 130 feet, and had diamond-shaped scale marks on its bark where leaves would peel away as it grew.

While these are some of the strangest extinct plants we were able to find, this is not an exhaustive list and if there are species you think deserve a place here then please comment down below. Next week we’ll take a look at some of the most abundant species of plants on Earth and, as always, thanks for reading.

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