For over a century the nature of prototaxites has been a source of mystery and debate among scientists. Growing over 20 feet tall and a yard wide, the organism grew straight up like a tree trunk, but had no leaves or branches. Prototaxites fossils from between 420 and 350 million years ago have been found throughout the world. Speculation as to whether prototaxites was a lichen, algae or fungus has divided researchers since the first fossil was found over 100 years ago. After advanced chemical analysis, the verdict is finally in: prototaxites was a huge friggin fungus. University of Chicago paleobotantist C. Kevin Boyce explained the period prototaxis proliferated in as “a very strange place.”
Prototaxites lived before plant eating organisms had evolved and scientists speculate that its enormous size enabled it to spread its spores over wider, marsh like, areas.
Artist’s rendering of protaxites in a marsh environment.