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10 Plants Lost to History


6
Glossopteris
These fossilized Australian Glossopteris leaves are the same ones found on Antarctica.  Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images
These fossilized Australian Glossopteris leaves are the same ones found on Antarctica. Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images

Antarctica isn't exactly a place you associate with lush, green trees, shrubs and flowering plants. In fact, there are only two flowering species on the whole continent: Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica. But there were times when the icy continent showed a lot more green, like the Late Permian, an era marked by the melting of the great ice sheets and the existence of cool, wet weather across Antarctica. It was then that Glossopteris thrived [source: Kenrick and Davies].

Because scientists have never found large parts of the Glossopteris preserved intact, they don't know exactly what it looked like. Their best guess is that it was probably a big shrub or a small tree. Fossils of the oval-shaped leaves, however, are fairly common, with some measuring up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) in length. The large number of preserved leaves suggests that the plants were deciduous, meaning they dropped their leaves in the fall and sprouted new ones in the spring [source: Speer].

Glossopteris fossils are also found in South America, Africa and Australia because those continents were once joined with Antarctica in a giant continent called Gondwana. Despite this apparent widespread success, the plant went extinct about 245 million years ago when a warmer, drier climate settled over the region during the Triassic period [source: Francis and Thorn]. Who knows — with our climate experiencing another warming trend, maybe we'll see plants like Glossopteris break through the Antarctic soil once again.