Focus: Fossil Plants

Focus: Fossil Plants

A re-creation of a Pennsylvanian Coal Swamp, with surprisingly tall ferns, horsetails, and lycophytes that dominated tropical Carboniferous forests.

The Paleobotany Collection spans 3.8 billion years of history but has its major strengths in the Late Paleozoic and Cretaceous-Paleogene. Current research focuses on the evolution of fire systems in deep time, with emphasis on this phenomenon in coal-forming environments and its impact on Earth system processes, particularly fluctuations in atmospheric oxygen concentrations throughout the Phanerozoic.

Focus: Fossil Plants Collections


Mesofossils are fossils that are typically visible to the naked eye but require microscopic study to elucidate their morphology and anatomy. These fossils typically fall in the range of 200μm to 10mm in size. Mesofossils are often preserved as charcoal or lignite and can include flowers, fruits, seeds, leaves and other plant organs. However, mesofossils may also include cuticle fragments as well as un-charred seeds and megaspores. Mesofossils are frequently more abundant than macrofossils and often occur where typical compression floras do not.

A Charles Knight mural depicting an ice age scene with a herd of woolly mammoths and two woolly rhinoceros making their way across the frozen plain.

Photo Archives - Charles Knight Collection

In the early 1920s, among Knight's great admirers was Dr. George Kunz, the renowned gemologist for Tiffany. Visiting Knight's studio, Kunz was struck by the fact that The Field Museum did not own any of Knight's work. Dr. Kunz worked with Knight's daughter Lucy, to secure a contract to create his biggest commission yet: a series of 28 murals to enclose the Museum's new fossil hall. The murals show the development of life on earth, from its earliest origins through the ages of amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Knight and Lucy traveled to Chicago in 1926 to begin the project.