Conifers Garden History Gardening

Let’s Wish Pines a Happy 140 Millionth Birthday!

The pine tree: 140 million years young! Source: &, montage:

Yes, pine trees (Pinus spp.) are 140 million years young.

A fossil of the oldest known pine was recently found in a Nova Scotia, Canada quarry by paleontologist Howard Falcon-Lang of Royal Holloway University of London. He used an acid solution to free several small (7 to 20 mm) fossils from the surrounding rock and they turned out to be those of a primitive pine (Pinus mundayi). This is 5 to 10 million years earlier than any previous known pine.

20181102B Howard Falcon-Lang, Royal Holloway University of London..jpg
Pine twig fossil. Source: Howard Falcon-Lang, Royal Holloway University of London.

The fossils were fire-charred, suggesting they had been damaged in a forest fire, probably caused by lightning. At the time, the Cretaceous period (when dinosaurs ruled the earth), the air was richer in oxygen than today and fires would have been more commonplace.

Pines evolved to tolerate fire, with some species actually depending on it for their reproduction, as their cones only open after exposure to extreme heat. In fact, if pines are the most widely distributed of all conifers today, it’s largely because of their capacity to recuperate rapidly after forest fires.

So, a toast to the pine ,,, and I’ve got to say, you don’t look a day over 120 million!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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