Jeff Benca, a grad student in the Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Palaeontology at Berkeley in California, also a prehistoric plant enthusiast, published a paper describing a ‘new’ found prehistoric species of lycopod. The difference in his paper to many others is his detailed colour reconstruction of the plant. His artwork appeared on the cover of the American Journal of Botany.
“Typically, when you see pictures of early land plants, they’re not that sexy: there is a green forking stick and that’s about it. We don’t have many thorough reconstructions. I wanted to give an impression of what they may have really looked like. There are great colour reconstructions of dinosaurs, so why not a plant?” Benca had to reconstruct the plant using only the flat, compressed fossil as his model. The plant hasn’t been around for over 375 million years. The plant is called the Leclercqia scolopendra, or centipede clubmoss, and lived during the Devonian Period. The Lycopod group were the only plants to have leaves at the time. They were most likely prickly ground-covering plants. They have hook-like leaves that probably helped them scramble over other larger plants, though their true function is unknown.
Extinct and living lycopods have been Benca’s passion since high school. When he moved to Berkeley, he had 70 different species which now appear as a collection at the UC Botanical gardens. “The way we analysed Leclercqia material makes it possible to gain more information from these fragments, increasing our sample size of discernible fossils. Getting a better grip on just how diverse and variable Devonian plants were will be important to understanding the origins of key traits we see in so many plants today.”
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[Image via io9]