Canadian fossil palms
Palms (Fam. Arecaceae) are iconic of tropical environments, but formerly were widespread across North America during past times of globally warm climates (Wing & Greenwood 1993; Greenwood & Wing 1995). Fossil palms from Canadian sites have been known since Sir. J.W. Dawson (1883) when he described a feather palm (Geonomites imperialis (Dawson) Bell) from Upper Cretaceous rocks on Vancouver Island (see also Johnson & Hebda 2015), and a fan palm (Sabalites campbelli) from Eocene rocks from Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, British Columbia (Newberry, 1863; Dawson 1895). The Sabalites from the Eocene of Vancouver has now been described as a new species, S. dawsonii (Greenwood & Conran 2020).
The feather palm from Vancouver Is. is occasionally listed as a species of Phoenicites – and this would be correct based on current usage of Phoenicites – however, Dawson’s fossil was transferred to Geonomites by Bell (1956), and this Cretaceous palm species has not been validly taxonomically transferred to Phoenicites.
Much later, Diane Erwin and Ruth Stockey (1994) described the 3-dimensionally preserved small swamp palm, Uhlia allenbyensis from the early Eocene Princeton Chert, BC.
There have been anecdotal references to these early records, but also mention made of Cretaceous and Paleocene palms from Alberta and Saskatchewan, including palm fruits (Ficus ceratops / Spinifructis antiquus) and leaf fossils (e.g., McIver 2002; Aulenback 2009; Bamforth et al. 2014). Many of these Canadian fossil palms remain undescribed, and reviews of the palm fossil record solely list the Dawson (1883) Cretaceous record, and Uhlia allenbyensis.
Working with Christopher West and Australian colleague John Conran (e.g., Greenwood & Conran 2000 & 2020; Conran & Rozefelds 2003), I am describing the Cretaceous to Eocene fossil palms from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan (e.g., Greenwood & West 2017; Greenwood & Conran 2020). Recent work on the Paleocene Kanaka Creek flora near Vancouver has revealed additional palm leaf fossils (Mathewes et al. 2020).
The research on the Alberta and Saskatchewan palm fossils (Campanian to Paleocene) is supported by colleagues at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, the Royal Alberta Museum, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and the University of Alberta Paleontology Museum. Work on the BC palms is been aided by colleagues at the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa, and the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC. Ian Miller at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in Colorado is assisting with Campanian-aged fossil palms from MT, ND, SD, CO, UT and WY that maybe conspecific with the Campanian to Maastrichtian palms from AB and SK.
In addition, working with Tammo Reichgelt (University of Connecticut) we are precisely determining the climatic limits for the natural distribution of palms globally, to refine the so-called ‘palm line’ (Wing & Greenwood 1993; Greenwood & Wing 1995; Reichgelt et al. 2018) used to constrain Paleogene climate estimates of temperature.
This research is funded by a NSERC Discovery Grant.
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