Plant Fossils

composite image of fossilized fern and living fern
A fossilized fern at right, a living fern at left.

NPS Photo

Flowering Plants (Angiosperms)

Some of the trees and plants that lived in Denali in the Late Cretaceous had flowers. These are called angiosperms. They produce a wide variety of leaf types. Researchers have found at least 23 different leaf fossils in Denali, and many of them appear very similar to leaves we see around the park now.

Conifers (Gymnosperms)

Conifers, plants that have needles rather than leaves, are called gymnosperms. Conifer cones (like pine cones) and needles are common fossils in the Cantwell Formation. Spruce and pine trees seen today are modern forms of conifer trees.

Ferns (Pteridophytes)

Pteridophytes are plants that reproduce using spores rather than seeds and are the oldest type of plants on Earth. The first pteridophytes lived over 400 million years ago!
Ferns are a type of pteridophyte that existed 70 million years ago, and we still see throughout the park today.

Horsetails (Pteridophytes)

Horsetails (also known as equisetum) are another type of pteridophyte that existed 70 million years ago, and still exist in the park. Today these plants grow close to the ground, but in the age of dinosaurs horsetails could grow up to 100 feet tall. Most of the fossilized horsetails in Denali are under three feet. Horestails fossilize well because they contain a lot of silica, a mineral that makes the plant harder and more durable than most other plants.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


(907) 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am—4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

Contact Us