Did you ever wonder what kind of plants the dinosaurs tromped around on? The answer may surprise you. Some of these unfamiliar animals wandered around among some very familiar plants; oak, willow, magnolia, sassafras, palms, and other such common flowering plants.
In the geologic sequence, the flowering plants first appear suddenly and in great diversity in Cretaceous (“upper dinosaur”) rock. Darwin was aware of the situation and called the origin of these plants “an abominable mystery.” As my professor of paleobotany summarized it, nothing has happened in the last century or so to solve that mystery. As far as the fossil evidence is concerned, we simply find different varieties of the same types of plants we have today, plus decline and/or extinction in many cases.
There is a tendency to give every different fossil fragment a different scientific genus-species name. Five different genus names were given to fossil specimens that later turned out to be parts of just one type of tree, the Lepidodendron. But many of the flowering plants are so easily recognizable that they are classified using the same scientific names we use today.
Other fossil plants are as easily classified as the flowering plants. The ferns and fern allies appear suddenly and simultaneously in Silurian/Devonian rock in far greater diversity than we have today (Fig. 24). Yet none of these fossil plants has any features of anatomy, morphology, or reproduction that are hard to understand in terms of what we observe among living plants. The difference is this: There used to be many more kinds of ferns and fern allies on the earth than there are today. And some of these that are small and inconspicuous today, like the “ground pine” (Lycopodium) and “horsetail” (Equisetum), had fossils with similar parts that grew to be huge trees (e.g., Lepidodendron and Catamites, respectively). The structural design and classification of plants seem to point to Creation; the decline in size and variety to the Corruption and Catastrophe that followed.
Even the algae are recognizable from their first appearance in the fossil sequence as greens, blue-greens, reds, browns, and yellow-browns, the same groups we have today. The “oldest” fossils found so far are some Precambrian blue-green algae that form rocky structures called stromatolites. (I’ve had the privilege of examining and photographing these on both the west and south coasts of Australia.) Are these algae “simple” forms of life like evolutionists had hoped to find? Exactly the opposite! When it comes to energy biochemistry, those “simple” algae are more complex than we are. They can take sea water and turn it into living cells, using just sunlight for energy—a fantastically intricate feat of biochemical engineering called photosynthesis. (Don’t you wish we could run on just water, air, and sunlight!)
Blue-green algal stomatolites are also found living the same way just offshore from their “old” Precambrian fossils. What’s the lesson from these “oldest” plant fossils? Evolution—change from simple beginnings to more complex and varied kinds? Not at all. The lesson from the “oldest” plant fossils seems to be the same as that from the “oldest” animal fossils: living things were created complex and well designed to multiply after kind.
My paleobotany professor (an evolutionist) started his class by saying he supposed we were there to learn about the evolution of plants. But then he told us that we weren’t going to learn much. What we would learn, he said, is that our modern plant groups go way back in their fossil history. Sure enough, all we studied was “petrified plant anatomy,” features already familiar to me from the study of living plants. We encountered some difficulties in classification, of course, but only the same kinds which we encounter among the living plants. Summarizing the evidence from fossils’ plant studies, E. J. H. Corner, Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, once put it this way (even though he believed in their evolution): “… to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favor of special creation.”
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