For approximately 30 years, our laboratory has focused on studying various aspects of plant biology during the Late Permian (~255 million years ago), Middle Triassic (238 Ma) and Early Jurassic (185 Ma) of Antarctica. One of the principle reasons that the Paleobotany Division conducts expeditions to Antarctica to collect fossil plants is the nature of their preservation. The best of these floras is anatomically preserved, which means that every cell within the tissue system of the plant is preserved in infinite detail. This comes about because waters highly concentrated with certain minerals infiltrate the plant parts and entomb the individual cells. As a result of this process, termed permineralizion, extraordinary details about the anatomy, morphology, and reproductive biology of the plants can be studied.
The fossil floras from Antarctica are even more valuable to study since during these time periods a number of unusual seed plant groups evolved, several of which have been implicated as possible ancestors of the flowering plants (angiosperms), the group that dominates the world today and that we depend upon for food and other uses. As a result of our studies, information about the evolution of some of the late Paleozoic-early Mesozoic seed plant groups has moved rapidly forward.