Book Review – Paleozoic Fossil Plants by Bruce Stinchcomb

Paleozoic fossil plants coverThis book, illustrated with nearly 700 color photographs, traces the history of plant evolution from the tiniest marine algae to large trees that inhabited the Earth between 542 million years ago to 235 million years ago.  The book is written in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner.

The fossil record provides a picture of the first forests in the Devonian Period, some peculiar plants of the Mississippian Period, the coal swamps of the Pennsylvanian Period and the more sparse plants of the Permian, just before a great mass extinction.  The book also examines some peculiar fossils that were first thought to be plants, but are more likely the tracks and burrows of animals, and it also mentions some things that look like they should be fossils but are not.  Stinchcomb points out that plant fossils are rarer than animals fossils because plants don’t have shells or bones and are thus harder to preserve.

Much of the story in this book is told in the photo captions which are in eight-point type, a bit small for the eyes of this old fossil.  I suppose, however, to print the captions in ten-point type would have caused the book to be at least twice as long.

This book can be used as a scientific reference, a reference for collectors, or simply as an introduction to Nature’s art work.  Stinchcomb writes that “This book is for all who are curious about the ancient earth.” I was able to use it to identify a fern fossil I have as Aleothopteris from Pennsylvania.  Stinchcomb provides a value range for many of the fossils he shows, that is, what a collector would pay for a specimen.  He gives a value range for “A grade” specimens at $1,000-$2,000 down to “H grade” specimens at $1-$10 each.

I found it very interesting to browse through this book and see all the various forms fossil plants can take.  It’s not just leaves, seeds and stems are also fossilized. The story takes the reader to some collecting areas in the mid-west.

The author, Bruce L. Stinchcomb, is a retired professor of geology and has collected fossils since he was a child, hence his enthusiasm for the subject.  He has written nine other books on fossils which cover the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras.

Paleozoic Fossil Plants

is published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. of Atglen, PA.,   It is also available at Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.