200million years a grinding

Began the day with a macroeconomics lesson, at least I think that’s the term. It seems that like us, there are spenders and savers in the plant world. Karen describes two strategies employed by plants, the live fast die young types with thinner leaves and the shrewd long term investor thick leaved types. I immediately like the live fast ones. They just seem less boring. And then we get to the fossil bit, yay!. By taking leaf thickness and shape measurements, it’s possible to divide fossils into either group and link investment strategy to prevailing conditions. Cool. We learn about the rounded leaves plants develop to overcome sulphur dioxide levels and how despite employing this strategy most of them end up dead anyways. Live fast, live slow, die out regardless. Ah we’ll, at least they tried.


Exactly a week ago we got to see a preserved slice of our history. A 200 million year old fossil mudstone. We’re back again to learn some tricks to properly photograph fossils to show them to maximum advantage. These guys don’t need the red carpet treatment. They are profoundly impressive. Some of the plants on show have no living descendants. What we have preserved is the only evidence that they ever existed. It’s almost like looking at ghosts. I’m already excited but Karen, ever one for showmanship, brings out the big guns. She shows us a 205 million year old leaf. Not a fossil. Not minerals. An actual leaf. The remnants of a real living organism that lived and died 205 million years ago. I’m speechless. This leaf dropped to the ground long before us and here I am looking at it right now. It is as surreal as it gets. Nerd that I am, I get on the phone to ring some folks who might appreciate this type of thing.

In the afternoon we move from looking at 200 million year old fossils to activities that make you feel like a 200 million year old fossil. Leaf grinding. Doesn’t even have a good ring to it. There’s no way to dress this one up. It’s pretty boring. But just like splitting your bourbon cream is a necessary slow step to getting at the creamy goodness inside the biscuit, ground leaves tell you all sort of wonderful things about plants and the conditions they grew in. I imagine someone I really hate ( not too hard) and get to grinding. It seems I have a lot of unresolved anger as I have a bigger than average leaf and I manage to just about avoid de-atomising it. I’m pretty excited to find out what this leafs been up to but alas we are just part of a massive grinding experiment and it will be some time before we find out how our leaves coped with their carbon dioxide party.

Good songs to grind leaves to…Ashes to ashes, it’s just a little crush and you spin me right round baby right round

Chief Wiggum ” What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mysteries?”

Bennetites…the italian fashion fossil..

Actual 200 million year old leaf..really..not kidding..


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