A fossil of an ancient plant that dates back to more than 280 million years has become a gateway to unravelling the origins of a lineage called cycads, or Cycadales that continues to exist even today. In the June issue of Journal Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, a research will highlight how the preserved species of a small piece of wood, which is little over five inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter approximately, lived through two mass extinctions on the planet and continues to survive even today through its evolved counterparts.
It is named as Iratinia australis which comes from the Latin word “Australis” meaning “south” as the fossil came from the southern part of a rock layer known as the Irati Formation, present in the Kungurian region of the Paraná Basin in present-day Brazil. Speaking to The New York Times, lead author of the study and graduate student at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany, Rafael Spiekermann said that the vegetative anatomy of this plant has exhibited uncanny resemblance to the ones that live today.
He further mentioned that the cross-section of the fossilised plant is the same as the anatomical pattern of cycadale plant found today. It was Rafael who first pointed out that the fossil was Iratinia australis and not lycopsids, which was a different group of plants omnipresent in Gondwana.
André Jasper, a biology professor at the University of Taquari Valley in Brazil and an author of the paper, told The New York Times that the relatives of this ancient plant can be found in Australia, Asia, Africa, and America. The research highlights the resilience of this ancient plant that has lived through history — from the time of Gondwanaland to now when the continents have drifted and spread across the globe.
Considering the amount of time they have lived on the planet, it is no surprise that Cycadales was consumed by herbivorous dinosaurs. Speaking to the daily, Dennis Stevenson, an emeritus senior curator at the New York Botanical Garden and an expert on the species, confirmed this.