Glossopteris is the largest and best-known genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 of the extinct
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

 of seed ferns known as Glossopteridales
Glossopteridales is an extinct order of plants belonging to Pteridospermatophyta, or Seed Ferns. They arose at the beginning of the Permian on the southern continent of Gondwana, but dwindled to extinction by the end of the Permian period . The best known genus is Glossopteris.- External links :*...

 (or in some cases as Arberiales or Dictyopteridiales).


The Glossopteridales arose in the Southern Hemisphere around the beginning of the Permian
The PermianThe term "Permian" was introduced into geology in 1841 by Sir Sir R. I. Murchison, president of the Geological Society of London, who identified typical strata in extensive Russian explorations undertaken with Edouard de Verneuil; Murchison asserted in 1841 that he named his "Permian...

 . Their distribution across several, now detached, landmasses led Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess was a geologist who was an expert on the geography of the Alps. He is responsible for hypothesising two major former geographical features, the supercontinent Gondwana and the Tethys Ocean.Born in London to a Jewish Saxon merchant, when he was three his family relocated toPrague,...

, amongst others, to propose that the southern continents were once amalgamated into a single supercontinent - Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

. These plants went on to become the dominant elements of the southern flora through the rest of the Permian but disappeared in almost all places at the end of the Permian . The only convincing Triassic
The Triassic is a geologic period and system that extends from about 250 to 200 Mya . As the first period of the Mesozoic Era, the Triassic follows the Permian and is followed by the Jurassic. Both the start and end of the Triassic are marked by major extinction events...

 records are very earliest Triassic leaves from Nidpur, India, but even these records are somewhat questionable owing to faulting and complex juxtapositioning of Permian and Triassic strata
Strata Marketing Inc. is a Chicago, Illinois-based software company involved in connecting media buyers and sellers. It is owned by Comcast. As of 2010, it processes about $50 billion worth of media buys annually.-History:...

 at Nidpur. Although most modern palaeobotany textbooks cite the continuation of glossopterids into later parts of the Triassic and, in some cases into the Jurassic, these ranges are erroneous and are based on misidentification of morphologically similar leaves such as Gontriglossa, Sagenopteris, or Mexiglossa. Glossopterids were, thus, one of the major casualties of the end-Permian mass-extinction event
Extinction event
An extinction event is a sharp decrease in the diversity and abundance of macroscopic life. They occur when the rate of extinction increases with respect to the rate of speciation...

More than 70 fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

 species of this genus have been recognized in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 alone, with additional species from South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, Madagascar and Antarctica. Essentially, Glossopteris was restricted to the middle- and high-latitude parts of Gondwana during the Permian. Most northern parts of South America and Africa lack Glossopteris and its associated organs. However, in recent years a few disparate localities in Morocco, Oman, Anatolia, the western part of the island of New Guinea, Thailand and Laos have yielded fossils that are of possible glossopterid affinity. These peri-gondwanan records commonly occur together with Cathaysian or Euramerican plant species - the assemblages representing a zone of mixing between the strongly provincial floras of the Permian. Apart from those in India and the perigondwanan localities, a few other fossils from the Northern Hemisphere have been assigned to this group, but these are not identified with great certainty. For example, specimens assigned to Glossopteris from the far east of Russia in the 1960s are more likely to be misdentifications of other gymnosperms such as Pursongia. Confident assignment of fossil leaves to Glossopteris normally requires their co-preservation with the distinctive segmented roots of this group (called Vertebraria) or with the distinctive fertile organs.


Long considered a fern
A fern is any one of a group of about 12,000 species of plants belonging to the botanical group known as Pteridophyta. Unlike mosses, they have xylem and phloem . They have stems, leaves, and roots like other vascular plants...

 after its discovery in 1824, it was later assigned to the gymnosperm
The gymnosperms are a group of seed-bearing plants that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and Gnetales. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the Greek word gymnospermos , meaning "naked seeds", after the unenclosed condition of their seeds...

s. The genus is placed in the division Pteridospermatophyta
The term Pteridospermatophyta refers to several distinct groups of extinct seed-bearing plants . The oldest fossil evidence of plants of this type is of late Devonian age, and they flourished particularly during the Carboniferous and Permian periods...

. In reality, many of the plant groups included within this division are only distantly related to one another. Glossopterids' relationships with other groups remain obscure. Most recent phylogenetic analyses favour placement of glossopterids as sister to a large group including Corystospermales, Caytoniales
The Caytoniales is an extinct order of seed plants whose presence is recorded in fossils collected throughout the Mesozoic Era . The plants are part of the group called seed ferns because they are seed-bearing plants with fern-like leaves....

, Bennettitales
Bennettitales is an extinct order of seed plants that first appeared in the Triassic period and became extinct toward the end of the Cretaceous...

, Pentoxylales, Gnetales (in some analyses), and angiosperms. A few analyses favour alternative links with Ginkgoales, Cordaitales
Cordaitales is an extinct order of primitive conifers....

 and Pinales
The Order Pinales in the Division Pinophyta, Class Pinopsida comprises all the extant conifers. This order was formerly known as the Coniferales....


Glossopteris should strictly be used to refer to the distinctive spathulate fossil leaves with reticulate venation, however, the term has also been used to refer to the parent plant as a whole.


Glossopteris was a woody, seed-bearing shrub or tree, some apparently reaching 30 m tall. They had a softwood interior that resembles conifers of the family Araucariaceae
Araucariaceae, commonly referred to as araucarians, is a very ancient family of coniferous trees. It achieved its maximum diversity in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when it was distributed almost worldwide...

. Seeds were borne on one side of variably branched or fused structures, and microsporangia containing pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

 were borne in clusters at the tips of slender filaments. Both the seed- and pollen-bearing organs were partially fused (adnate) to the leaves, or, in some cases, possibly positioned in the axils of leaves. The homologies of the flattened seed-bearing structures have remained particularly controversial with some arguing that the fertile organs represent megasporophylls (fertile leaves) whereas others have interpreted the structures as flattened, seed-bearing, axillary axes (cladodes). It is unclear whether glossopterids were monoecious or dioecious.

They are interpreted to have grown in very wet soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

 conditions, similar to the modern Bald Cypress
Taxodium is a genus of one to three species of extremely flood-tolerant conifers in the cypress family, Cupressaceae...

. The leaves ranged from about 2 cm to over 30 cm in length.

The profile of glossopterid trees is largely speculative as complete trees have not been preserved. However, based on analogies with modern high-latitude plants Glossopteris trees probably tapered upwards like a Christmas tree
Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree, real or artificial, and a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas started in Livonia and Germany in the 16th century...

 and were relatively widely spaced to take advantage of the low-angle sunlight at high latitudes. Instead of needles, they had large, broad lance- or tongue-shaped leaves that fell to the ground at the end of summer. The fossil leaves are commonly found as dense accumulations representing autumnal leaf banks. The fossilized tree rings in the Glossopteris trees reveal that they grew steadily each spring-summer and abruptly stopped for winter.

Glossopteris leaves are morphologically simple so there are few characters that can be used to differentiate species. Consequently, many past researchers have considered the Permian Glossopteris flora to be rather homogeneous with the same species distributed throughout the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

. However, more recent studies of the more morphologically diverse fertile organs have shown that taxa had more restricted regional distributions and several intra-gondwanan floristic provinces are recognizable. Nevertheless, several species of leaves found in Antarctica are common in the rocks of similar geologic age in India, located north of the equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

 and half a world away. Seeds, much too large to be wind-borne, could not have blown across thousands of miles of open sea, nor is it likely they have floated across vast oceans. Observations such as these led the Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n geologist Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess was a geologist who was an expert on the geography of the Alps. He is responsible for hypothesising two major former geographical features, the supercontinent Gondwana and the Tethys Ocean.Born in London to a Jewish Saxon merchant, when he was three his family relocated toPrague,...

 to deduce that there had once been a land bridge between these areas. He named this large land mass Gondwanaland (named after the district in India where the plant Glossopteris was found). These same observations would also lend support to Alfred Wegener's Continental drift
Continental drift
Continental drift is the movement of the Earth's continents relative to each other. The hypothesis that continents 'drift' was first put forward by Abraham Ortelius in 1596 and was fully developed by Alfred Wegener in 1912...


The first Antarctic specimens of Glossopteris were discovered by members of Scott
Robert Falcon Scott
Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13...

's doomed Terra Nova Expedition
Terra Nova Expedition
The Terra Nova Expedition , officially the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, was led by Robert Falcon Scott with the objective of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Scott and four companions attained the pole on 17 January 1912, to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald...

. The expedition members abandoned much of their gear in an effort to reduce their load, but kept 35 pounds of Glossopteris fossils; these were found alongside their bodies.

External links

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