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Elkinsia polymorpha, a plant fossil found in Randolph County, provided important information on the evolution of seed bearing plants. In plant evolution, the development of seed for reproduction was an essential step that allowed plants to colonize areas and environments that had previously been unsuitable. Lower, simpler forms of plant life today continue to reproduce by means of spores, as did their very early ancestors of the Paleozoic Era of geologic time. Those simpler forms include algae, fungi, mosses, and ferns.

By the time of the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian periods of geologic time, 345 million to 280 million years ago, terrestrial seed-bearing plants spread as great forests across much of the earth’s landscape. Because of that great diversity of seed-bearing plants, scientists suspected that the origin had come earlier, but had no actual confirmation through the fossil record.

A fern-like fossilized plant found at a few locations along U.S. 33 a few miles east of Elkins has provided that ‘‘missing link’’ and is now recognized as the oldest seed-bearing plant in North America. This plant fossil, named Elkinsia polymorpha, occurs with several other types of plant fossils in Late Devonian-age stone known as the Hampshire Formation. The rocks in which these fossils are found are sedimentary mud stones and thin, impure coal beds that were deposited in swampy areas on an ancient coastal plain. Elkinsia was found by Joseph F. Schwietering of the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey in the late 1970s and is presently on display in the State Museum in Charleston.

This Article was written by Ron Mullennex

Last Revised on November 24, 2023

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Gillespie, William H., Gar W. Rothwell & Stephen E. Scheckler. The Earliest Seeds. Nature, 1981.

Gillespie, William H., Gar W. Rothwell & Stephen E. Scheckler. Elkinsia gen. nov., a Late Devonian Gymnosperm with Cupulate Ovules. Botanical Gazette, 1989.

Serbert, Rudolph & Gar W. Rothwell. Characterizing the Most Primitive Seed Ferns. 1. A Reconstruction of Elkinsia polymorpha. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 1992.

Cite This Article

Mullennex, Ron "Elkinsia Polymorpha." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 24 November 2023. Web. 24 July 2024.


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