Ashicaulis woolfei n. sp.: additional evidence for the antiquity of osmundaceous ferns from the Triassic of Antarctica

Am J Bot. 2002 Feb;89(2):352-61. doi: 10.3732/ajb.89.2.352.


Numerous small fern trunks and dispersed osmundaceous frond fragments occur within a Middle Triassic silicified peat near Fremouw Peak in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. These specimens form the basis of a new species of osmundaceous ferns that further helps to characterize the early Mesozoic vegetation of high latitude Gondwana. Ashicaulis woolfei n. sp. consists of small, upright trunks with a persistent armor of frond bases, adventitious roots, and vegetative frond parts. In cross section the trunks are ∼2.5 cm in diameter and include up to 45 frond bases. Stems range from 5 to 8 mm in diameter with a xylem cylinder of 8-9 xylem segments separated by leaf gaps. Phyllotaxy is variable, approaching 2/5 or 3/8, with 10-12 frond traces in the cortex. Stipes have parenchymatous, stipular wings that are usually devoid of sclerenchyma; fronds are pinnate with alternate-subopposite pinnatifid pinnules. Although the absence of fertile pinnules and sporangia precludes assigning the fossils to a living genus, this species demonstrates that ferns with stelar architecture and histology similar to Osmunda subgenus Osmundastrum (Osmundaceae) were present in the Southern Hemisphere by the mid-Triassic.