Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Fossil Leaf from Dino Day March 17, 2009

Filed under: field trips,trees — greenwalks @ 4:13 pm
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A few Saturdays ago, it was raining like crazy and there was no chance of a non-soggy park visit, so my mom suggested the Burke Museum‘s Dinosaur Day as a possible diversion. I was too sick to go, so the rest of the crew headed off to join the mob scene at this annual Seattle event.

My daughter’s not a real dino nut like some of the kids in attendance, but she still had fun checking out the bones, fossils and other related stuff and getting to chip away at some rocks in a bit of pretend paleontology.

Her favorite part was the chance to take home a free fossil, courtesy of Stonerose,
a dig-your-own fossil site and interpretive center in Republic, WA.  This may be a potential future field trip for the whole family – I’d love to do a little digging and maybe find some cool fossils. For a small fee, you are directed to a likely “find” zone and get to keep up to three fossils as long as they are not deemed historically significant.

From a table of botanical fossils, she chose one of a small leaf. It was identified as an Alder (Alnus), from the Betulaceae (Birch-Alder) family, hailing from the middle Eocene period (i.e. over 50 million years old).

Aspen leaf fossil close-up

I don’t have a lot of experience with fossils, but something about this little leaf (it’s maybe an inch long) was very powerful to me. The idea of it sitting around in the rock for so many millenia, finally being discovered, then ending up in a tray of freebies and brought home to our house – it just provided an amazing connection to the past and a reminder that our plant friends were here long, long before we arrived on the scene. There aren’t any alder trees in our neighborhood that I’m aware of, but I feel like I need to go and find one and bring the fossil (and my daughter) along for a comparison.  Has this species evolved since the Eocene, or are our alders basically the same? Yet another reason I need to take a botany class!

Among other possible fossils she could have chosen, as I can see from a list she brought home, I would have been very curious to see Umbrella pine (Sciatopytis), grape (Vitus), willow (Salix) or some of the extinct stuff. “Unknown fish parts” and “loon vomit,” not so much!

Anyone have fossil stories to share?


6 Responses to “Fossil Leaf from Dino Day”

  1. Racquel Says:

    No fossil stories sorry. But that’s really cool that your daughter got such a nice souvenier. Hope she puts it somewhere special. 🙂

  2. chris Says:

    Not quite a fossil story but while visiting a coffee plantation in Guatemala, I did come across what I’d imagine to be some very old pottery and a portion of obsidian blade. After talking to some local farmers I learned it wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to find artifacts in their fields. How cool!

  3. Jen Says:

    What a cool activity for kids! It must be hard for them to wrap their brain around the concept of something being that old. Hard for me even. Now that you mention it, I did have a fossil when I was a kid. It was a grey rock with the imprint of a tiny scorpion-type creature. Wonder what ever happened to that….

  4. Michelle Says:

    I found what I think might be a fossilized cone of some sort. There’s an area in the neighborhood where there are sedimentary rocks. I poked around in a jumble of stones at the side of the road and found it there. It’s not as beautiful a speciment as what your daughter brought home. It is wonderful to think about how long ago that plant lived and the process it took to preserve part of it.

  5. Hey Karen–sorry I haven’t been checking in much recently. It’s the crazy time of the semester…

    Love the fossil story, though. I do have a few of my own, since I got my PhD in geology, with an emphasis on vertebrate paleo (though I’ve left that world behind). I know next to nothing about fossil plants, though, or anything from the Eocene (more of a Cretaceous turtle person, myself…) so I’m afraid can’t help you much with the alder question.

    I love your take on the leaf providing a link to the past for a gardener. I’d not thought of that, so maybe I’ll look into fossil plants a bit.

    I’m headed to Midland today to work on my Dad’s hell strip. We should do a guest blogging switcheroo sometime soon!

  6. Chloe.M Says:

    Fossils are wonderful! Last fall I discovered an entire fossilized clamshell on a hike in our backcountry. It’s probably as large as my hand. When I think of the age of the fossil it’s pretty thrilling.

    Right now it’s on my mantle – but I hope to return it to the backcountry soon. It’s homesick.

    Chloe M.

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