Oldest Trees Are 385-Million Years Old

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An aerial view of a fossil of Archaeopteris, a 385-million-year-old tree with surprisingly modern-looking roots. (William Stein and Christopher Berry)

The World’s Oldest Forest Has 385-Million-Year-Old Tree Roots

By Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonian.com

At three trillion strong, Earth’s trees are estimated to outnumber the stars in the Milky Way. These woody wonders sponge carbon dioxide out of the skies, brace soil against erosion, cycle water through ecosystems and support countless forms of life. And we largely have their sophisticated root systems to thank.

Sprouting from the base of tree trunks, roots are the arboreal equivalent of a digestive tract, exchanging water and nutrients with surrounding soils. Roots literally anchor a plant, and the more extensive they are, the bigger and stronger the stuff above ground can grow. In their modern forms, they helped trees dominate their habitats—and spread across the globe.

“Roots maximize [a tree’s] physiological capacity,” says Christopher Berry, a paleobotanist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. “An efficient rooting system is key to being a successful tree.”

But roots didn’t always look as they do today, and researchers have long puzzled over how and when trees evolved their expansive underground plumbing.

Now, new research from Berry and his colleagues suggests the modern versions of these stupendous structures are more deeply rooted in the arboreal family tree than ever thought before.

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Biography
Carol graduated from Riverside White Cross School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and received her diploma as a registered nurse. She attended Bowling Green State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Literature. She attended the University of Toledo, College of Nursing, and received a Master’s of Nursing Science Degree as an Educator.

She has traveled extensively, is a photographer, and writes on medical issues. Carol has three children RJ, Katherine, and Stephen – one daughter-in-law; Katie – two granddaughters; Isabella Marianna and Zoe Olivia – and one grandson, Alexander Paul. She also shares her life with husband Gordon Duff, many cats, and two rescue pups.

Carol’s Archives 2009-2013
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