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Cherry blossom fossils display at Georgia College

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March 07, 2012
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One of spring’s most iconic flowers blossoms at Georgia College’s Natural History Museum and Planetarium — in fossil form.

Fifty-million-year-old cherry blossom fossils now Environmental scientist Melanie DeVore points out the location of the fossil finds in Washington state.Environmental scientist Melanie DeVore points out the location of the fossil finds in Washington state.add historical hue to the museum’s fossil plant collection.

“These fossils give us our first glimpse of tree species found today right here in Georgia,” said Dr. Melanie DeVore, Georgia College’s Georgia Power Endowed Professorship for Environmental Science.

Cherry blossom gazers flock to Washington, D.C., and to Macon annually to admire the lightest-of-pink flowers dominating the curvy branches of the smooth-barked trees.

“Macon is home to many beautiful cherry blossoms,” said DeVore, a plant biologist and teacher. “Our community can now discover new stories about the cherry flower through the oldest-known examples showcased at our Georgia College museum.”

The opportunity to explore the ancient flora came after amateur diggers unearthed the fossils at Stonerose Interpretive Center & Eocene Fossil Site in Republic, Wash.

“What’s significant about these fossils found in Republic is that many of the fossil trees represented in the rock record there are similar to deciduous species found in the Eastern United States,” DeVore said. “So there is a direct connection to us.”

During the past four years DeVore, Georgia College and Arizona State alumnus Witt Taylor and their colleagues John C. Benedict and Kathleen B. Pigg, both of Arizona State University, studied and researched the fossils, relating them to their living relatives. The scholars’ work has published in “International Journal of Plant Sciences.”

“We looked carefully at each of these fossil flowers and found one that had fossil pollen,” DeVore said.
“So we can say that this is indeed a cherry. These fossils are from the genus Prunus, which includes peaches, almonds, nectarines plums and, of course, cherries.”

DeVore arranged for Stonerose to loan the cherry fossils to Georgia College for display in the Natural History Museum and Planetarium through 2013.

The cherry blossom fossils areCherry blossom fossils on display at Georgia College.Cherry blossom fossils on display at Georgia College. among more than 50 different fossil plantspecimens on display in the museum.

However, the museum’s entire fossil plant collection includes several thousand plant fossils that rotate on display throughout the academic year, said Rick Joslyn, Georgia College museum interpreter.

“The magnificent flora fossils we have in the museum tell us many different stories,” said Joslyn. “The cherry blossom fossils connect with our existing collection, allowing visitors to understand these fossils’ role in evolutionary climate change and engage them in a comparative study with species that live today.”

Georgia College’s Natural History Museum and Planetarium is free and open to the public 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the first Saturday of each month.

Call 478-445-2395 for information.

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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For more information, contact University Communications at (478) 445-4477.