The Catskills in the state of New York are famous for being the home of the world's first resort hotel, a choice vacation district, and a chain of posh holiday accommodations in an area known as the Borscht Belt.
Now the tiny mountain region can add that it's the home to the world's oldest fossilized trees to its legacy.
A report in the latest edition of Current Biology has revealed that scientists unearthed a bunch of these rock-hard remnants in a quarry near the town of Cairo. They're reportedly the latest evidence in a series of discoveries linked to the oldest forest ever discovered, according to American and British scholars who've been working in the area the past 10 years.
The trees they discovered, many of them holding what was presumably their original shape, date back 380 million years ago in what biologists call the Devonian period, a time when vegetation started taking root on the earth's surface. It's a pivotal period according to scientists, given that the preceding Silurian period was a time most noted for marine evolution, including some species that eventually started to live on land.
Researchers conclude that the structure of the trees remained intact due to the sudden nature of their demise, most likely a flash flood at the time, as evidenced by a large number of marine fossils also found in the area. They also notice that the trees had a very sophisticated root system similar to seed plants on the earth today. One scientist remarked that before this discovery, they didn't think that such roots systems dated back that far.
Additionally, some researchers believe that the discovered tree fossils were part of a forest so vast it extends past Pennsylvania, possibly as far as Maryland and Delaware, although additional digs will have to be undertaken to confirm that theory.
While the discovery is gathering additional insight into the evolution of vegetation going back that far, their work may have more current applications. Their work into how trees converted carbon dioxide back then compared with how they perform that task today may tap into solutions to mitigate the current climate change crisis.