A Brief Introduction to


Although most of the "green things" that populate our oceans and continents don't have the ability to move about and, hence, grab out attention, the world's biota couldn't exist without these organisms. The Plant Kingdom is the base of Earth's food chain and, as such, is the foundation for all life as we know it today, in the recent past, and in the deep past. That's not to say that today's biota is exactly like that of the past. Indeed, there have been dramatic changes in the base of the food chain since its first appearance. Documentation of these changes and understanding the reasons for these changes is only part of what Paleobotany - the study of fossil plants sensu latu (in the broad sense) - attempts to do.

Those scientists who actively pursue study of these seemingly "uninteresting" organisms have devised several approaches to examine life's history that can be separated into two broad categories -- TRADITIONAL and INTEGRATIVE APPROACHES. Traditional approaches follow methodologies established during and immediately after the Renaissance, while Integrative approaches are based upon methodologies that could only be established following advances in technology of the 20th Century. Advances in analytical techniques in the next several decades will, once again, change the way in which we approach this and other disciplines but, the traditional approaches will remain basic to all avenues of research. If you don't know how it was preserved, what it is, how it is constructed, and what is its life cycle, you can't take the organism(s) and use it with any amount of credibility for more synthetic approaches in our desire to develop local, regional, and global models of how Earth works.

Traditional approaches to studying plant fossils include the following:

Integrative approaches, developed within the past half-century, include:

There is a whole lot more to the study of fossil plants than what is imagined by the general public. Paleobotany can be a dynamic and contributing science to a working knowledge of biological systems of the past, present, and possibly the future.

A Website providing course notes on Paleobotany is maintained on Colby's Server.


last updated 12 July 2000

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