Oldest Forest Found! 390 Million Years Old

What is the oldest forest in the world? You might think of the ancient redwoods in California or the towering sequoias in Yosemite. But these forests are relatively young compared to a new discovery made by researchers from Cambridge and Cardiff Universities. They have found a fossilized forest dating back to 390 million years ago in the cliffs near Minehead, Somerset, in England. This forest is the oldest ever found on Earth, surpassing the previous record holder, the Gilboa fossil forest in New York state, which is 386 million years old. In this article, we will explore how this fossilized forest was discovered, what it looked like, why it is important, and what it reveals about the past.

The Fossilized Forest

The fossilized forest consists of small, palm-like trees called cladoxylopsids, which are thought to be closely related to ferns and horsetails. These trees had a long central stem and fronds that looked like palm leaves, but were actually made of many twiglets. The tallest trees were between 2 and 4 meters high, making it a low-growing forest. The researchers identified the fossils of plants and their debris, as well as fossilized tree logs and traces of roots. They also found arthropod tracks, indicating that animals were present in the forest. The fossils were preserved both as hollow trunks filled with sediment and as fallen logs that were flattened over time.

The fossilized forest was discovered by chance during fieldwork in the Hangman Sandstone Formation, which dates to the Middle Devonian period (393 million to 383 million years ago), the time of life’s big expansion onto land. The researchers noticed some unusual patterns on the rocks and realized they were looking at ancient tree trunks. They then collected samples and analyzed them using various techniques, such as microscopy, X-ray tomography, and carbon dating. They confirmed that the fossils belonged to cladoxylopsids and that they were about 390 million years old.

The Significance of the Discovery

The discovery of the fossilized forest is significant for several reasons. First, it reveals how early trees helped shape landscapes and stabilize riverbanks and coastlines hundreds of millions of years ago. The researchers found evidence that the trees prevented erosion and sedimentation by anchoring their roots into the soil and creating a network of branches and twigs. They also found that the trees influenced the local climate by creating shade and humidity.

Second, it shows how diverse and complex forests were during the Devonian period, which was a time of rapid evolution and diversification of plants and animals. The researchers compared the fossilized forest with the Gilboa fossil forest in New York state, which is slightly younger but much more diverse. The Gilboa forest had at least six different types of trees, some of which had true leaves and seeds, while the Minehead forest had only one type of tree, which had no leaves or seeds. This suggests that forests went from being relatively simple to well established over the course of just a few million years.

Third, it provides insights into the evolution of plants and their interactions with animals and climate. The researchers found that the cladoxylopsids had a unique way of growing their stems by adding new segments from within, rather than from the outside like most modern plants. This allowed them to grow taller and thicker without becoming too heavy or unstable. They also found that the cladoxylopsids had a symbiotic relationship with fungi that helped them absorb nutrients from the soil. Moreover, they found that the cladoxylopsids were adapted to a warm and dry climate, which was different from the cooler and wetter climate of later periods.

Fourth, it adds to the geological and paleontological heritage of the U.K., which is rich in fossils from different eras. The U.K. is known for its Devonian fossils, especially marine ones, but this is the first time that a terrestrial fossil forest has been found in this region. The researchers hope that their discovery will inspire more exploration and conservation of these ancient sites.


The fossilized forest discovered in England is a remarkable find that sheds light on the history of life on Earth. It is the oldest known forest in the world, dating back to 390 million years ago. It reveals how early trees shaped the environment and how forests changed over time. It also offers a glimpse into a prehistoric world that was very different from today’s.

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