Silicified woods from near the town of Ocú on the Azuero Peninsula, Panama were first reported by Stern and Eyde in 1963; however, the significance of these fossils has been largely overlooked. Well-characterized fossil floras from Central America can be used to test hypotheses related to the historical biogeography and paleoclimate of the Neotropics. We describe 10 new wood types and one palm based on 22 samples from Oligo-Miocene deposits. Affinities at the family/order level include Fabaceae, Lauraceae, Moraceae, Sapotaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Arecaceae, Sapindales, Ericales, and Humiriaceae. The fossil woods are fragmentary and have not been found in-place, but the size and angularity of the specimens suggests minimal transport from the site of growth. We compared these woods with calcareous woods from the Lower Miocene Cucaracha Formation and silicified woods from the upper Miocene Alajuela Formation using Rare Earth Element (REE) analysis to test the hypothesis that the Ocú woods were preserved under uniform conditions and not reworked. Although the results were ambiguous with respect to the original hypothesis, we note that the REE concentrations in silicified woods are much lower than in calcareous woods. We used comparative analysis of wood anatomical features to draw conclusions about the paleoclimate from the fossil flora. All the dicot woods are diffuse porous and none have distinct growth rings; some have very wide vessels at low frequencies. These features are typical of canopy trees in tropical lowland forests. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling of wood anatomical characters from a variety of communities and ecological categories showed that the anatomy of the Ocú woods is most similar to that found in tropical rainforests. Based on the combination of taxonomic identity and functional anatomy, we interpret these fossils as evidence for humid to perhumid megathermal climate in Panama during the late Paleogene-early Neogene.
Fossil angiosperm wood was collected from shallow marine deposits in the Upper Cretaceous (Coniacian) Comox Formation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The largest specimen is a log at least 2 m long and 38 cm in diameter. Thin sections from a sample of this log reveal diffuseporous wood with indistinct growth rings and anatomy similar to Paraphyllanthoxylon. Occasional idioblasts with dark contents in the rays distinguish this wood from previously known Paraphyllanthoxylon species and suggest affinity with Lauraceae. The log also includes galleries filled with dry-wood termite coprolites. This trunk reveals the presence of tree-sized angiosperms in what is now British Columbia, and the association of dry-wood termites with angiosperm woods by the Coniacian (89 Ma). To understand the significance of this discovery, we reviewed the record of Cretaceous woods from North America. Our analysis of the distribution of fossil wood occurrences from Cretaceous deposits supports the conclusion that there was a strong latitudinal gradient in both the size and distribution of angiosperm trees during the Late Cretaceous, with no reports of Cretaceous angiosperm trees north of 50°N paleo-latitude in North America. The rarity of angiosperm wood in the Cretaceous has long been used to support the idea that flowering plants were generally of low-stature for much of the Cretaceous; however, large-stature trees with Paraphyllanthoxylon-like wood anatomy were widespread at lower–middle paleo-latitudes at least in North America during the Late Cretaceous. Thus, the presence of a large Paraphyllanthoxylon log in the Comox Formation suggests that Vancouver Island has moved significantly northward since the Coniacian as indicated by other geological and paleobotanical studies.
We report fossil wood specimens from two Miocene sites in Panama, Central America: Hodges Hill (Cucaracha Formation; Burdigalian, c. 19 Ma) and Lago Alajuela (Alajuela Formation; Tortonian, c. 10 Ma), where material is preserved as calcic and silicic permineralizations, respectively. The fossils show an unusual combination of features: diffuse porous vessel arrangement, simple perforation plates, alternate intervessel pitting, vessel–ray parenchyma pits either with much reduced borders or similar to the intervessel pits, abundant sclerotic tyloses, rays markedly heterocellular with long uniseriate tails, and rare to absent axial parenchyma. This combination of features allows assignment of the fossils to Malpighiales, and we note similarities with four predominantly tropical families: Salicaceae, Achariaceae, and especially, Phyllanthaceae, and Euphorbiaceae. These findings improve our knowledge of Miocene neotropical diversity and highlight the importance of Malpighiales in the forests of Panama prior to the collision of the Americas.