Paleobotany is the study of fossil plants sensu latu (in the very broadest sense).


1. SYSTEMATICS - The attempt at a natural classification of plants. The "Plant Kingdom" is subdivided into MONERA (Cyanobacteria & Bacteria); FUNGI; PROTISTA (Slime molds, Brown Algae, Red Algae, Diatoms & Golden Brown Algae, Yellow-Green Algae, Dinoflagellates, Euglenoids, Grass-green Algae); PLANTAE (Bryophyta, Tracheophyta).

2. MORPHOLOGY - An analysis of the way in which plants are constructed. Roots, stems, photosynthetic appendages, and reproductive structures.

3. ANATOMY & HISTOLOGY - The recognition, delimitation, and organization of plant cells, tissues and organs.

4. EVOLUTION & DIVERSIFICATION - The changes in plant types and increase in different plant groups through time as a function of genetic processes (interbreeding, mutation, etc.)

5. COAL GEOLOGY - The role in which plants contribute to the stored potential energy of the Carbon Cycle.

To learn more, visit the Geological Society of America's Coal Geology Division Webiste.


1. WHOLE PLANT PALEOBIOLOGY - The incorporation of all aspects of a plant's vegetative and reproductive parts to understand it's role in the plant kingdom.

2. PALEOECOLOGY & ECOSYSTEM DYNAMICS - Plants interact with their environment and are the basis of the ecosystem. These interactions are discernible in the fossil record and allow paleobotanists to compare them to present ecosystems to assess the evolution of the community through time.

3. PALEOBIOGEOGRAPHY - This involves the distribution of plant communities globally through time and their changes in distribution as it relates to both geological and climatological influences.

4. PALEOCLIMATOLOGY - Terrestrial plants are the most sensitive organisms to changes in climate on the continental scale. The distribution of major forest types provides the best assessment of global climate change.

5. TAPHONOMY - The processes responsible for the development, burial, and preservation of plant parts not only as fossils but also as Organic Carbon. This involves an understanding of sedimentology and sedimentary processes.

6. ENERGY RESOURCES & ORGANIC GEOCHEMISTRY - The incorporation of plant-derived Organic Carbon has been demonstrated to be in integral part of all hydrocarbon-forming environments (petroleum & natural gas).

7. PHYLOGENETIC AND EVOLUTIONARY MECHANISMS - Plants provide independent tests of hypotheses concerning the mechanisms responsible for and acting upon organic evolution.

8. ASYSTEMATIC FUNCTIONAL MORPHOLOGY - Plant organization appears to be independent of systematic affinity, and specific adaptations evolve in response to specific conditions. Assessment of such morphologies provides evidence for organic "problem solving."

The Paleobotanical Section of the Botanical Society of America is home to the North American association of paleobotanists.

The University of California's Museum of Paleontology has recently opened their Virtual Paleobotany Laboratory in which you can explore the diversity of ancient plants.

© Copyright 1997-1999 by Robert A. Gastaldo. All rights reserved. No part of these lecture notes may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the author.