Growth habit of the late Paleozoic rhizomorphic tree-lycopsid family Diaphorodendraceae: Phylogenetic, evolutionary, and paleoecological significance

William A. Dimichele, Scott D. Elrick, Richard M. Bateman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Premise of the study: Rhizomorphic lycopsids evolved the tree habit independently of all other land plants. Newly discovered specimens allow radical revision of our understanding of the growth architectures of the extinct Paleozoic sister-genera Synchysidendron and Diaphorodendron. Methods: Detailed descriptions of six remarkable adpression specimens from the Pennsylvanian of the USA and three casts from the late Mississippian of Scotland are used to revise and reanalyze a previously published morphological cladistic matrix and to reinterpret their remarkable growth forms. Key results: Contrary to previous assertions, Synchysidendron resembled Diaphorodendron in having a distinct and relatively complex growth habit that emphasized serially homologous, closely spaced, deciduous lateral branches at the expense of reduced monocarpic crown branches. Lateral branches originated through several strongly anisotomous dichotomies before producing during extended periods large numbers of Achlamydocarpon strobili. The comparatively large diameter of abscission scars remaining on the main trunk and the emergence of branches above the horizontal plane suggest that the lateral branch systems were robust. Lateral branches were borne in two opposite rows on the main trunk and continued upward into an isotomously branched, determinate crown; their striking distichous arrangement caused preferred orientation of fallen trunks on bedding planes. Conclusions: This discovery identifi es the plagiotropic growth habit, dominated by serial lateral branches, as ubiquitous in the Diaphorodendraceae and also as unequivocally primitive within Isoetales s.l., a conclusion supported by both the revised morphological cladistic analysis and relative fi rst appearances of taxa in the fossil record. Previously assumed complete homology between crown branching in Lepidodendraceae and that of all earlier-divergent genera requires reassessment. Saltational phenotypic transitions via modifi cation of key developmental switches remains the most credible explanation for architectural evolution in the group. The resulting architecture allowed Diaphorodendraceae to co-dominate disturbed, clastic, equatorial wetlands from the Asbian to the Early Permian.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1604-1625
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Arborescent lycopsids
  • Diaphorodendron
  • Evolutionary-developmental change
  • Growth architecture
  • Isoetales s.l.
  • Lateral branching
  • Lycophyte
  • Paedomorphosis
  • Pennsylvanian
  • Saltation
  • Scotland
  • Synchysidendron
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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