Lepidodendron sp. Ancient Scaled Tree


This plant fossil has a Carboniferous fossilized cone

A fine looking strobilus of a Lepidodendron from the Carboniferous of Germany

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About Lepidodendron

Physical Description

Lepidodendron is an ancient tree-like plant. The name comes from Greek meaning Lepis = scale and Dendron = tree. It gets this name as the tree trunk it made up what looks like scales from a fish. These plants had a different reproduction cycle than modern trees. They would grow to about 40 and even 50 meters in height and then release their spores  after which they would die off. The trunks of these plants have been found many meters in diameter. At the top of the plant were the branches with its needle like leaves and at the tips there were strobilus’s (cone like objects in size and shape).


Age and Distribution

Lepidodendron thrived during the Carboniferous as it is found almost everywhere in the world, during this time the Earth was a lot warmer and experienced almost no seasons (it was mostly a tropical enviroment). So it was ideal for plants. This specimen was found near Osnabrück in Germany. Where an old volcano burst through the crust a long time ago and took many of the top layers with it. After it eroded away it left the Carboniferous exposed. At that time this region was home to a series of lakes and rivers. From time to time a flash flood would occur and take everything with it. That is why the rocks are stuffed with fossils and not (finely) layered. Other flora and fauna that lived at this location were the plants Calamites, Asterophyllites equisetiformis, Neuropteris attenuata and many more. One could also encounter small horseshoe crabs here like the Euproops bifidus and many insects like dragonflies.

About the Lepidodendrales Lepidodendron

Evolutionary Significance

During the Carboniferous a lot of plants became fossilized and were turned over time into fossil fuels, which we use today. The Osnabrück quarry still gets mined for that same reason, although they do keep certain sections available for research. The Lepidodendron was very succesful during this period but dwindled and became extinct in the late Triassic (no specimens from after this time have been found). Apparently in the past, people thought that the scaled trunk of Lepidodendron was actually a piece of fossilized reptile and presented that as such.


Lepidodendron belongs to the Lepidodendraceae which is a subclass of the Lepidodendrales. The species that comes from Germany is the Lepidodendron lycopodioides, which this most likely is, but cannot say for sure.