Connecticut's Petrified Forest

It’s a new day. As the sun slowly rises, a gentle breeze cools an already warm morning. Volcanoes rumble in the distance. Within thick forests of towering trees, small dinosaurs— among the first of their kind—scurry about, fallen twigs snapping beneath their scaly feet.

 

Welcome to Connecticut—210 million years ago.

 

But how do scientists reconstruct such ancient worlds today? By studying the rocks and fossils found beneath our feet.

 

In 1828 a woodsman in South Britain swung the blade of his axe into a tree stump that he encountered in a hillside forest. But this was no ordinary stump. He discovered what was only the second-known fossil plant locality in the entire United States, and what is still the only petrified wood site in New England from the age of dinosaurs. Today the area is known as Connecticut’s Petrified Forest, named in 2009 by Yale Peabody Museum scientists Shusheng Hu and the late Leo Hickey.

 

Many trunks and other pieces of petrified wood have since been recovered from this area. In examining the internal structure of the wood, Drs. Hu and Hickey realized that the petrified plants represented a new species of conifer. They named it Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense.

 

To learn more about ancient forests and the evolution of trees see The Forest Primeval: The Geologic History of Wood and Petrified Forests by Leo J. Hickey, available from the Museum Store.

 

Click here to read The New York Times articles about the exhibition!

Map showing location of Connecticut's Petrified Forest - South Britian
Vertical and Horizontal slices of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense
Dilophosaur
Petrified Conifer Trunk
Fossilized conifer branches with needle-like leaves
Petrified conifer wood
David Blersch next to type specimen of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense
Map showing location of Connecticut's Petrified Forest - South Britian

Location of Connecticut's Petrified Forest

Vertical and Horizontal slices of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense

These magnified images of vertical (left) and horizontal slices of the type specimen of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense—on display to your left—show the cells in the woody tissue that transported water and nutrients throughout the plant. The scale bar equals 30 micrometers. (The average human hair is about 100 micrometers wide!)

Dilophosaur

Commissioned by Museum of the Earth

 

Most of the fossilized trees in Connecticut’s Petrified Forest are of the species Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense—a primitive conifer, or cone-bearing tree that grew to 85 feet (almost 26 meters) tall! These trees thrived in the semi-arid forests that covered areas of Connecticut 210 million years ago. At that time the global climate was much warmer than today (there were no ice caps at the poles) and the continents were still assembled into the supercontinent called Pangaea, though the break-up of that grand landmass had just begun.

Petrified Conifer Trunk

Petrified conifer trunk

Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense
Late Triassic Period
(about 210 million years ago)
South Britain, Connecticut
YPM PB 167915


This fossil is the type specimen of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense. A type specimen is the specimen on which an entire species is based. For other fossils to be called Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense, they must be
compared to—and match—this single specimen.

 

 

What’s in a name?

It might be a mouthful, but Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense is named for its plant origin—xylon is Greek for “wood”—and its location, the Pomperaug Basin of Connecticut.

Fossilized conifer branches with needle-like leaves

Fossilized conifer branches with needle-like leaves

Geinitzia sp.
Early Jurassic Period (about 190 million years ago)
Suffield, Connecticut
YPM PB 073284


The conifer Geinitzia, also known from Connecticut, is a possible close relative of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense.

Petrified conifer wood

Petrified conifer wood

Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense
Late Triassic Period
(about 210 million years ago)
South Britain, Connecticut
YPM PB 168096

Fossilized conifer branches with needle-like leaves

Geinitzia sp.
Early Jurassic Period (about 190 million years ago)
Suffield, Connecticut
YPM PB 073285

David Blersch next to type specimen of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense

The type specimen of Pomperaugoxylon connecticutense on display here was discovered on the farm of Mr. David Blersch, who kindly donated it to the Yale Peabody Museum

This display was developed in honor of Dr. Leo J. Hickey (1940-2013), a former Director and Curator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.