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Fossils of Ancient Trees Bizarrely Ripped Themselves Apart

Fossils from a 374-million-year-old tree, found in north-west China, revealed an interconnected web of woody strands within the trunk of the tree that is much more intricate than that of the trees we see around us today. What made these first trees, ever grown on Earth, so complex?

The narrow strands were arranged in an organised fashion and were interconnected to each other like a finely tuned network of water pipes. Rather than the tree laying down one growth ring under the bark every year, each of the hundreds of individual strands were growing their own rings, like a large collection of mini trees.

As the strands got bigger, and the volume of soft tissues between the strands increased, the diameter of the tree trunk expanded. The new discovery shows conclusively that the connections between each of the strands would split apart in a curiously controlled and self-repairing way to accommodate the growth.

At the very bottom of the tree was also a peculiar mechanism at play – as the tree’s diameter expanded the woody strands rolled out from the side of the trunk at the base of the tree, forming the characteristic flat base and bulbous shape synonymous with the cladoxylopsids.

Research is underway to understand how much carbon these trees were capable of capturing from the atmosphere and how this effected Earth’s climate.

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