The Dawn Redwood—A Living Fossil


The Division of Paleobotany’s holdings include the gem-like cross section and petrified logs that were once portions of the trunks of towering trees belonging to a family of conifers known as the araucarians. In addition to these trunks, the collection includes striking examples of fossil cones and foliage that were once attached to these great giant trees in an ancient forest that towered over the dinosaurs.

A wonderful opportunity arose in March 2000 when Ralph Thompson, a respected collector and dealer, came to visit the paleobotany collections and brought along several beautiful petrified wood specimens collected near the Petrified Forest in Arizona. After his visit, then Curator Leo Hickey and Collections Manager Linda Klise obtained these spectacular specimens for the Museum in October 2000 with a grant from the Alex G. Nason Foundation. These colorful specimens were formerly showcased in the display Petrified Wood: Rainbows in Stone, which opened in the Peabody’s Great Hall on June 26, 2003.

Through the generosity of Ruth Lapides, a long-standing member of the O.C. Marsh Fellows, the Museum was also able to obtain a spectacular slab of hardened volcanic ash, also on display, with more than 40 araucarian cones, some still attached to their branches.

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 Yale University Press.