Since our cases were finally installed, the VMNH Collections Department has been busily moving specimens from our old building to the new one. As with most natural history museums, VMNH holds many more specimens than we exhibit; across all departments, our holdings number in the tens of millions.
Storage was so cramped in our old building that many specimens were pretty inaccessible, even to us. With the move, I’m seeing fossils that I haven’t seen in years (and, in a few cases, ever). As most of these will never be on exhibit, I’m going to periodically feature some of the more interesting and photogenic ones here.
We don’t have a paleobotanist on staff, so the responsibility of caring for our several hundred plant fossils falls on the vertebrate paleontology department. The specimen above is Triphyllopteris latilobata, a pteridosperm (seed fern). The seed ferns are an extinct group that generally had fern-like leaves but true seeds (rather than spores). It’s not clear if they are ancestral to any modern groups of plants, or indeed even if they are all related to each other. Triphyllopteris was a particularly common taxon during the Mississippian Period, 318-359 million years ago.
This specimen, from Pulaski County, VA is from the Mississippian Price Formation. During that time, southwestern Virginia was covered with swamps growing on river deltas, which produced fossil-rich deposits of alternating coal and sandstone beds like the ones below (also from Pulaski County):