Fossils from the world's oldest trees reveal complex anatomy never seen before

The first trees to have ever grown on Earth were also the most complex, new research has revealed.

Fossils from a 374-million-year-old tree found in north-west China have revealed an interconnected web of woody strands within the trunk of the tree that is much more intricate than that of the trees we see around us today.

The strands, known as xylem, are responsible for conducting water from a tree's roots to its branches and leaves. In the most familiar trees the xylem forms a single cylinder to which new growth is added in rings year by year just under the bark. In other trees, notably palms, xylem is formed in strands embedded in softer tissues throughout the trunk.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists have shown that the earliest trees, belonging to a group known as the cladoxlopsids, had their xylem dispersed in strands in the outer 5 cm of the tree trunk only, whilst the middle of the trunk was completely hollow.

The narrow strands were arranged in an organised fashion and were interconnected to each other like a finely tuned network of water pipes.

The team, which includes researchers from Cardiff University, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, and State University of New York, also show that the development of these strands allowed the tree's overall growth.

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