Research on a Petrified Forest concluded

Research on a Petrified Forest (Concluded)

HOW can stumps floating upright in water and being left in the mud in. that position be explained? Yet, this is a requirement if the growth in the place of these stumps is questioned. Would hollow stumps that have their centers of gravity in the base of the trunk adjust to a horizontal position as their tissues become saturated with water?

-Geoscience Research Institute, Berrien Springs, Michigan at the time this article was written

HOW can stumps floating upright in water and being left in the mud in. that position be explained? Yet, this is a requirement if the growth in the place of these stumps is questioned. Would hollow stumps that have their centers of gravity in the base of the trunk adjust to a horizontal position as their tissues become saturated with water?

Actually, trees and logs floating in a vertical stance are not rare in certain areas. I have seen water-logged timbers that broke away from the log booms and drifted for some time in the waters of Puget Sound in the Northwest, floating upright with the top barely visible at the surface of the water. Loggers from British Columbia and Alaska say trees or stumps ripped out of the ground by ocean storms or logging operations often float upright. This phenomenon has also been observed in the Bay of Fundy, where the fossil stumps are located. I have noticed and photographed recent stumps sitting upright along the beach or among piles of driftwood where they were left by the high tides or storms.

A search of the literature is productive for reports of upright drifting trees also. Francis (1961, p. 28) in his reference work on coal reports, says: "It is natural for short stems attached to the heavy roots of trees to float upright, with the roots downwards, when transported by deep water, particularly if the roots enclose a ball of clay or gravel."

The excellent little volume by Ager (1963, p. 85) makes the following comment: "E. D. McKee (personal communication, 1963) has told of palm trees being swept from a Pacific atoll during hurricanes and coming to rest in considerable depths of water in an upright position because of their heavy, stone-laden roots, so that even trees in position of life may not be completely beyond question."

A situation that most closely approaches what one might expect during part of the Genesis flood is reported in volume one of the famous Challenger Expedition Reports. While sailing along the coast of New Guinea they ran into long lines of drift wood brought down perhaps by flooding rivers. "Much of the wood was floating suspended vertically in the water, and most curiously, logs and short branch pieces thus floating often occurred in separate groups apart from the horizontally floating timbers. The sunken ends of the wood were not weighted by any attached masses of soil or other load of any kind; possibly the water penetrates certain kinds of wood more easily in one direction with regard to its growth than the other, hence one end becomes water-logged before the other" (Challenger, 1885, p. 459). Missionaries from the Amazon region say that trees floating in vertical orientation during flood season is a common sight in the Amazon River. One seldom sees trees with roots floating in water because logging activities leave the roots and stumps in the ground. Apparently the upright floating of stumps with roots is not unexpected, although the opportunity for such a situation does not arise often today in North America. The Genesis flood would produce ideal conditions for large numbers of trees and stumps with root systems to float for varying durations of time in the sea.

Back in 1886 a Frenchman named Henry Fayol experimented with floating trees and plants. His research, which extended over several years, can hardly be improved upon. He recorded that the proportion of trees that floated upright as compared with those that were horizontal roughly approximated the proportions of vertical and prone trees found in the coal measures of France.

My own floatation experiments with living horsetails revealed that a cluster of stems joined together at the base would float upright when thrown into a tank of water. The roots, solid rootstocks, and associated soil that cannot be dislodged readily, cause the lower end to be heavier and to sink down. It was observed that individual stems of horsetails which initially floated horizontally on the water's surface, after some days swung into an upright position suspended from the surface of the water. As saturation increased, they sank and rested on the bottom in a vertical position. Eventually a few days later they fell over, to lie horizontally on the bottom of the tank. If sediments were building up around the stems while they were upright, they would not have had opportunity to fall over. Fayol did the same experiment years ago and got the same results.

Thus it is quite reasonable for the vertical trees in the Nova Scotia sediments to have been drifted in the sea and to have been buried in the erect position in mud and sand. The observations listed above strongly support this hypothesis.

That the sea was involved is suggested by the little Spirorbis tubeworm. Thick beds of mussels are also noticeable at Joggins. Spirorbis is attached to the mussel shells. Both animals are strong evidences of the sediments being deposited by the sea and not by rivers and streams. Scales of fishes and the teeth of sharks add to this marine picture.

Calcium carbonate (lime) permeates many of the sandstones and shales that are exposed on the Bay of Fundy and near Sydney along the outer coast. In addition, occasional beds of limestone are seen. An oceanic source is the most reasonable explanation for the lime.

The appearance of in-place growth of the rootlike Stigmaria was and is used as an argument for growth levels or soil levels and, consequently, as an argument for time. Perhaps even more than the upright trees this evidence clinched the argument in favor of uniformity and time. Enumerated below are seven points against this view points derived from recent research in Nova Scotia.

1. Rootlets from the Stigmaria extend into the surrounding rock in parallel growth. Rootlets attach to the Stigmaria root in an orderly and regular pattern and rootlets may arise parallel to one another along many feet of a section of Stigmaria. The roots and rootlets of most plants spread out into the soil at random and each root or rootlet is quite independent of the others; that is, it does not grow parallel to, at right angles to, or in any other orientation to the other roots. It makes its own way in its own direction through the soil. This is not true with the Stigmaria rootlets. They often spread out into the rocks in "growth" that is parallel.

It is not uncommon to see several feet of Stigmaria exposed in the cliff in a longitudinal section, and extending upward and downward from the root are the root lets, in parallel and regular alignment with one another as though one were seeing a longitudinal section through the middle of a gigantic bottle brush. Where the cliff exposes a cross section of a Stigmaria, the rootlets spread out in all directions like beams of light from a star.

This feature along with the next three makes questionable the interpretation that these plant structures are roots.

2. Rootlets of Stigmaria extend upward as well as downward. One universal characteristic of true roots and rootlets is their negative response to light and positive response to gravity. This positive geotropism means that roots will grow downward generally. But upward growth is one of the obvious characteristics of the Stigmaria rootlets. This growth feature is sufficient alone to cast grave doubts on the interpretation that Stigmaria and their rootlets are true roots.

3. Stigmaria do not have the taper that would be expected of roots. Investigators have found sections of Stigmaria many feet long with no noticeable change in diameter from one end to the other. I found exposed along one cliff a length of Stigmaria which had a diameter of four inches by two and a half inches at one end and exactly the same dimensions at the other end sixty feet distant!

4. Stigmaria have features similar to the rhizomes or creeping stems of living representatives. Since Stigmaria and rootlets are attached to trees whose affinity to the club mosses is not questioned, it follows that some answers to the function of the Stigmaria and rootlets might be obtained by the examination of living specimens of club mosses. The first time I looked at a living club moss (Lycopodium) after studying the Stigmaria and rootlets, I was stunned by what appeared to be an obvious answer to the Stigmaria rootlet problem. Lycopodium is a vine-like plant that grows along the ground and sends up shoots on the ends of which are the club-like fruiting bodies. The portion of the plant that extends between the upright shoots may be called a creeping stem or a rhizome if it is underground. Occasionally, at irregular intervals, roots penetrate down into the ground. Some prostrate stems of Lycopodium run along just at the surface of the ground or slightly below in the leaf mold and humus. A feature that caught my attention immediately was the creeping stems which were covered with stiff scale-like leaves. Although these stiff leaves on the living Lycopodium were not as long and slender in relation to the stem from which they arose, as the rootlets are to the Stigmaria, yet the analogy seemed to be obvious. If this is a correct analogy, the rootlets of the Stigmaria are not rootlets at all but slender leaf-like appendages attached to the rhizomes or creeping stems, called, Stigmaria. This concept of the Stigmaria and rootlets is not entirely new. Several paleobotanists have referred to this possibility. These gigantic rhizomes may have extended from one tree to another originally. As yet no example of the extending of Stigmaria from one petrified tree to another has been found, but this is actually an argument against in situ growth. Trees still attached together by rhizomes could hardly have been eroded out and washed about in water unless the action were most gentle and of short duration.

5. Stigmaria sections have parallel orientation in the sediments. All who have had any experience with growing plants know that the roots spread out at random into the soil unless there is some obstruction that prevents the roots from growing in certain directions. Random orientation should therefore be characteristic of plants growing in sand or soil. With this in mind, compass measurements were taken of Stigmaria. In two sets of samples of approximately twenty specimens each, 90 to 95 percent were aligned in a dominant orientation. Thus out of twenty only one or two were out of alignment with the others. This in itself would argue strongly against these Stigmaria being in position of growth; but when it is noticed that the direction of current which laid down the crossbedded sandstone in which the Stigmaria were buried moved in a direction in agreement with the orientation of the Stigmaria, a doubly strong case is established. The owner of an orchard who found that the roots of his apple trees grew, with rare exceptions, north and south or other opposite directions, would certainly be puzzled, and with good reason. This is not a feature of normal plant growth. If the roots were broken off from the trunks of the apple trees and deposited elsewhere by a current of water, their consistent orientation would not be such a puzzle. Apparently this is what has happened to the Stigmaria.

6. Stigmaria are found in limestone, crude coal composed mostly of mussel shells, and other odd sediments which would not be considered suitable soils for the growth of roots.

7. Isolated sections of Stigmaria with rootlets radiating outward are frequently found. Such sections, with abrupt terminations at both ends and unattached to trees, could hardly be in position of growth, yet rootlets protrude from these Stigmaria sections into the sediments. The most notice able examples were those found inside the stumps referred to earlier. It would appear that the radiating rootlets were stiff and maintained their arrangement on the Stigmaria even though dropped into and moved around by soft sediments.

These seven observations and others that space does not permit enumerating cause me to reject the in situ growth of the Stigmaria. We are dealing with water-laid sediments in which Stigmaria have been strewn.

One short section of cliff near Sydney Mines constitutes a good case history which includes several of the arguments against the trees and Stigmaria being in position of growth. A large, upright petrified tree was located on the cliff a short distance from where compass measurements established the parallel orientation of Stigmaria with each other and with dominant currents as determined by ripple marks and crossbedding. Thus if the Stigmaria were not in growth position, it is doubtful that the tree would be. This tree had other interesting features. It passed through a bed of shale several feet thick which was abundantly supplied with exquisitely preserved fern leaves. These delicate fossils, none of which evidenced signs of decay, indicate the rapid dropping of sediments. The upper three feet of the tree was filled with sediments so heavily mixed with organic matter that it approached that of crude coal. But there was no similar bed of crude coal around or above the tree. There was, however, directly above the broken top a two- or three-inch seam of this dark-gray deposit. Apparently the last three feet of the hollow tree were filled with this material when it was washed out over the ground. It accumulated within the natural trap of the hollow tree to a depth of three feet, but on the surrounding surface it lay only inches deep. In this case it is obvious that the thin organic layer lying directly over the tree cannot be a growth level but was a water-laid deposit.

A tentative model of the events producing the fossil forests of Nova Scotia, based on a catastrophic flood hypothesis, is as follows:

Plants were torn up by the erosion of an invading and rising flood. As the stumps floated in the water they became saturated and slowly swung into an upright position. Clusters of horsetails washed out into the sea also, and floated vertically until they became saturated and sank. While plant flotsam was drifting, tubeworms and mussels fastened themselves to the floating mass, and fishes swam among the debris. Eventually the stumps sank down into the mud or sand at the bottom or were stranded on a mud flat or sand beach when the tide retreated. Continuing fallout of sediments from the water above or tidal movements and wave action caused sediments to accumulate around and in the stumps.

Today these trees, long buried, have been exposed in the sea cliffs by the cur rents and waves of the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. Now as I wander along these beaches and cliffs and ponder their past history I am not as puzzled as formerly. The study of this area has made much more understandable the statement, "The waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth" (Gen. 7:18).


Ager, Derek V. 1963. Principles of paleoecology. New York. McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc. 371 pp.

Broadhurst, F. JVC. 1964. Some aspects of the paleoecology of non-marine faunas and rates of sedimentation in the Lancashire coal measures. Am. Jour. Sci. 262:858-869.

Brown, Richard. 1846. On a group of erect fossil trees in the Sidney coal fields of Cape Breton. Quart. I. Geol. Soc. London. 2:393-396.

______ 1850. Section of the lower coal-measures of the Sidney coal fields, in the island of Cape Breton. Ibid.. London 6;115-133.

Challenger Expedition. 1885. Report of the scientific results of the voyage of the H.M.S. "Challenger" during the years 1873-76 under the command of Captain Nares and Captain Thompson. Narrative vol. 1. H. M. Stationery Office, London.

Dawson, J. W. 1854. On the coal-measures of the South Joggins, Nova Scotia. Quart. J. Geol. Soc., London, 10(1):1-41.

______ 1891. Acadian geology. 4th ed. Macmillan and Co., London. 833 pp.

Fayol, Henry. 1886. Etudes sur le terrain houiller de commentry. Livre Ptremier; lithologie et stratigranhie. Bull. de la Soc. de 1'industrie minerale, 2e serie, 153 > 4, Saint-Etienne. 543 pp.

Francis Wilfrid. 1961. Coal, its formation and composition. Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.. London. 806 pp.

Lyell, Charles. 1843. On the upright fossil trees found at different levels in the coal strata of Cumberland. Nova Scotia. Proc. Geo. Soc. London 4:176-178.

Stevenson John I 1911-1913. Formation of coal beds. Proc. Am. Phi Soc., vols 50-52. Published in one volume by the New Era Printing Company, Lancaster, Pa. 530 pp.

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-Geoscience Research Institute, Berrien Springs, Michigan at the time this article was written

March 1969

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