Using little more than a flattened fossil, researchers from UC Berkeley have created a stunningly life-like computer rendering of a long-extinct lycopod. A quick glance at this primordial plant reveals a very alien-looking species.
The computer rendering was compiled by graduate student Jeff Benca.
"Typically, when you see pictures of early land plants, they're not that sexy: there is a green forking stick and that's about it. We don't have many thorough reconstructions," noted Benca in a statement. "I wanted to give an impression of what they may have really looked like. There are great color reconstructions of dinosaurs, so why not a plant?"
His realistic, full-color image earned him a spot on the cover of a recent edition of the American Journal of Botany.
The plant is called Leclercqia scolopendra, or centipede clubmoss, and it lived during the "age of fishes," more commonly known as the Devonian Period. It featured shoots about a quarter-inch in diameter and likely formed prickly, scrambling, ground-covering mats. The function of its hook-like tips is unknown, though they may have been used to clamber over larger plants.
Today, lycopods are represented by a group of plants called called club mosses, quillworts and spikemosses. And in fact, Benca referenced these distant relatives when creating his computer rendering.
Read the entire study at American Journal of Botany: "Applying morphometrics to early land plant systematics: A new Leclercqia (Lycopsida) species from Washington State, USA." Additional information via UC Berkeley.
Image: Cathy Cockrell photo; Jeff Benca rendering.