The Devonian Period (417-365mya) was a dynamic interval of time in Earth’s history. At the beginning of the Devonian, life on land consisted primarily of algae, non-vascular and one or two types very simple vascular plants that were restricted to wet areas close to streams and ponds. By the end of the period we have the development of complex terrestrial ecosystems with upland forests, tall (>10m) trees of various types. The rocks that comprise the Catskill Mountains of New York State contain an incomparable record of time through this multifaceted interval of Earth history and contain many ‘firsts’ in the plant fossil record, including the oldest known liverworts, and the many elements of the Gilboa Forest deposit (Middle Devonian) of southern Schoharie County that preserves portions hundreds of large trees in growth position. Recent fieldwork and research in the last ten years has led to the description for the first time of a complete specimen of one of the famed ‘Gilboa Trees’ (Stein et al.
2007), drastically changing our understanding of the oldest big tree in the world, along with the discovery of the world’s oldest liverworts (Hernick et al
. 2007). Much work remains to be done describing plant fossils from the rocks of the Catskills along intensive searching of lower units than those from which current specimens are known.
In the summer of 2013, the Geology Department at SUNY New Paltz was donated a sizable collection (141 samples) of fossil plant specimens that were collected from the area around West Shokan, NY. The rocks from which these samples were collected is slightly, yet importantly, older than those from which the bulk of the known large plant fossils (i.e.: the Gilboa deposit) have heretofore been described from NYS. This collection is one of few known from the interval below the Gilboa deposit that contains numerable specimens of well-preserved plant material and represents an important window into the early history of large plant life on land. Preliminary examination of specimens reveals numerous examples of external molds and abundant carbonized primary and secondary branch and trunk sections, likely attributable to lycopsids and/or cladoxylopsids.