Forty-four million years ago, central Oregon was a hot, wet, semitropical place filled with a wide diversity of plants.
Imagine a semitropical forest in the present day and a climate where there is no summer or winter, but where many of the trees seasonally lose their leaves. This is an ancient Oregon forest.
We know this based on more than 175 species of fruits and nuts that are preserved in the fossil deposits known as the Clarno Nut Beds. None of the species found here still exist. Many of the plants recovered from this assemblage have modern relatives such as walnuts, chestnuts, oaks, bananas, magnolias, and palms.
This semitropical forest echoed with the buzzing of insects; the squawks and cries of birds; and the footfalls of mammals. Most of these beasts are only vaguely familiar to us: creodonts – large meat-eaters similar to wolves or hyaenas but related to neither; Hyrachyus – a distant relative of the tapir; and brontotheres – large rhino-like plant eaters. In the swampy lakes lived crocodiles, catfish, and other organisms.