Plants cover our planet, providing us with much of the oxygen we breathe, producing fruits and timber, and helping to stabilize and provide the basis for nearly all of the terrestrial environments that we admire across the world. They range from the smallest of the mossess, to the giant sequoias, blanketing so much of our planet that it is hard to imagine a world without them. However, evolutionary biologists think that once upon a time, plants not only didn’t exist, but when they finally showed up, they were almost unrecognizable compared to the modern plants we are familiar with.
The earliest evidence of plants on land dates to about 470 million years ago in the form of spores. However, beginning about 433 million years ago, full-bodied plant fossils begin to appear. Cooksonia is one of the earliest, but plenty of other exotic sounding species such as Baragwanathia, Asteroxylon and Drepanophycus appear during the next 20-30 million years.
If you’re unimpressed by these, I wouldn’t be surprised. They were small, quite simple, and very similar in form. Absent are the pine cones, flowers, woody trunks, fruits, seeds and even large leaves we’re accustomed to seeing in today’s plants. But this is exactly what evolutionary biologists would predict to find from the earliest plants.
We think plants originated from photosynthesizing aquatic algae, perhaps not too dissimilar from pond scum you might see as a green layer covering standing bodies of water. As this algae colonized land, however, it took on more rigid forms that could grow up from the ground while maintaining a firm hold to the soil.
As these early plants spread around the globe and diversified, however, more complex forms would arise, with full leaves, seeds, woody trunks, cones, flowers and fruits appearing over the next several hundred million years. Alas, these early forms are no longer with us, merely relegated to the history books as the great-great-great… grandparents of apple trees, orchids and sego palms.
Questions for Creationists
Where did the earliest plants, such as Cooksonia, Agalophyton, and Rhynia go? If the Creator created them right alongside pine trees, grasses, and ferns, why don’t we see them anymore? Furthermore, why do we never find their fossils alongside any such modern plants, nor do they appear alongside any amphibians, reptiles, mammals, or birds, modern or otherwise? Why don’t find them around early human dwellings?