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Fossil Plants

Fossil Plants
Paul Kenrick and Paul Davis
Smithsonian Books
Publication Date: 

paper, 216 p., $24.95

Paleobotany provides rich and complex insights into the flora of this planet for the past 400 million years. Sadly, there has not been a decent introduction to this fascinating discipline since Chester Arnold’s much dated Introduction to Paleobotany. This book fills an important gap for fossil plant collectors and students.

Eight chapters take you from the earliest plants, Precambrian stromatolites, to tantalizing hints of plants in the early Paleozoic to a plant explosion in the Carboniferous. The last few chapters discuss the modernization of the world’s flora over time and the growing interaction of plants and animals. Plants also provide clues to past climate and geography and there is an up-to-date review of recent research in these arenas.

Plenty of illustrations, including 16 pages of color photographs, add to the delight of this work. My only quibbles are the lack of scale on some of the figures and a recycling of some images that seem to be de rigeur in a work of this sort. For example, on page 84 there is an illustration of a diorama of the Carboniferous in Illinois; unfortunately, this diorama has long been extinct in the halls of the Field Museum of Chicago. In spite of these small failings, this book is an excellent starter for budding paleobotanists and anyone interested in the history of flora on Earth.

— Edward J. Valauskas, curator of rare books, Chicago Botanic Garden