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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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See caption below.


Scale trees and their relatives lived in vast swamps that eventually formed most of the coal that is mined in the Appalachians and Midwestern United States today. Artwork by Mary Parrish in the NMNH Department of Paleobiology.

Giant Fossil Scale Tree

In June, 2005, the National Museum of Natural History received one of the largest plant fossils ever collected - 3.9 m (13 ft) long and 3.7 m (12 ft) high, and weighing more than 16 tons.

Fossil tree with truck and crane

See caption below.

Dr. Schabilion admiring the fossil tree before it is shipped to the National Museum of Natural History.

Fossil preparators are now working in our Mall-side parking lot to reduce the size of the block. You can see them from the Mall steps, if you look down into the parking lot on the side towards the Washington Monument.

Once the specimen is light enough that the Museum's floors can safely support it, the fossil will be brought inside for additional preparation and display.

The fossil comes from a coal mine on the Rus family farm located near Pella, Iowa. The Rus family donated the fossil to the University of Iowa, which in turn donated it to the Smithsonian through the efforts of Dr. Jeff Schabilion.

How did this tree become a fossil?


Drawing by Mary Parrish of forrested swamp. Scale tree is outlined and highlighted.

This now-extinct species of a "scale tree", or lycopsid, was preserved 310 million years ago when it fell along a stream bank and was buried by sand. Scale trees and their relatives lived in vast swamps that eventually formed most of the coal that is mined in the Appalachians and Midwestern United States today.

This Museum gratefully acknowledges the generous support of
The Rus Family,
The Vermeer Manufacturing Co. (Pella, Iowa) and
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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