The Oldest Forest

Schoharie County has a fascinating past. Some of our blogs relate to its exciting Revolutionary history, tied in part to the region’s importance agriculturally. Sharon Springs, the home of Beekman 1802, has a remarkable history as a resort town because of its mineral springs. We haven’t yet even discussed Vroman’s Nose in Middleburgh or the remarkable limestone caves of Howe Caverns and Secret Caverns.

Here’s yet another fascinating piece of information: The floor of the world’s oldest known forest is located in Schoharie County.

The March 1, 2012, issue of Nature, the weekly international journal of science, reported that a team from the New York State Museum in Albany, Binghamton University in the city of that name, and Cardiff University in Wales made the discovery of an ancient forest horizon, complete with root systems, dating back about 385 million years to the Middle Devonian period. This discovery occurred in the same area where fossil tree stumps – known as the Gilboa stumps – were found, first in the 1850s, then again in 1920 during the construction of the Gilboa Dam along the Schoharie Creek. The town of Gilboa, after which the dam is named, is about 40 miles to the south of Sharon Springs.

The Gilboa stumps remained unclassified until 2004-05, when fossils of the tree’s intact crown and a 28-foot-long portion of trunk were found. The ancient trees were given the name Eospermatopteris, or “ancient seed ferns,” by Winifred Goldring, a paleontologist based at the New York State Museum. These trees were weedy and hollow and grew something like bamboo; the closest extant trees are thought to be tree ferns and cycads. The discovery and classification of these specimens earned recognition as one of Discover magazine’s “100 top Science Stories of 2007.”

In 2010, during repair of the dam, researchers revisited the site and determined that Eospermatopteris root systems were the most abundant. But they found other fossil remains as well, including those of large scrambling tree-sized plants known as aneurophytaleans. Similar to ferns today and possibly growing as vines, these are thought to have lived among the tall trees. And researchers found evidence of trees belonging to an ancient group of non-seed plants related to modern Lycopsida, or club mosses with their long creeping stems and erect branches. The ancient lycopsids are the oldest known group leading to modern seed plants, as well as the first plants in the fossil record having true “wood.”

Researchers have been working on a visual representation of this tropical wetland area, indicating exact locations of the different plants and respective heights.

The discoveries at Gilboa have led to a greater understanding of the relationships of ancient plants and the complexity of their forests. Moreover, it is theorized that emerging forests played a part in global climate change. During the Middle Devonian period, the Earth experienced a significant drop in global carbon dioxide levels, resulting in cooling and an eventual glaciation. Such growing knowledge of ancient forests and possible effects can be applied to current climate studies.

One of the Gilboa stumps is currently on display in the New York State Museum on Madison Avenue in Albany, some 50 miles to the east of Sharon Springs. The museum’s website is  www.nysm.nysed.gov.

 

The History Boys are

Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.

 

Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.

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  • By: Bonnie Fewtrell

    When I first started to read this I thought you were going to talk about the remains of 2 old growth forests that are a part of the Landis Arboretum here in Esperance. Do you know if anyone has tried to 'clone' the ancient woods that were found at Gilboa?

  • By: Felicia

    So neat! I love reading about what the land there was like when my family settled around there (Canajoharie)….even cooler to find out they've discovered amazing plants from 100s of millions of years ago.

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