Plant World

Plant Diversity

What is the relationship between ancient plants and coal formation?

Coal, formed from ancient plant material, is organic. Most of the coal mined today was formed from prehistoric remains of primitive land plants, particularly those of the Carboniferous period, which occurred approximately 300 million years ago. Five main groups of plants contributed to the formation of coal. The first three groups were all seedless, vascular plants: ferns, club mosses, and horsetails. The last two groups were primitive gymnosperms and the now-extinct seed ferns. Forests of these plants were in low-lying, swampy areas that periodically flooded. When these plants died, they decomposed, but as they were covered by water, they did not decompose completely. Over a period of time the decomposed plant material accumulated and consolidated. Layers of sediment formed over the plant material during each flood cycle. Heat and pressure built up in these accumulated layers and converted the plant material to coal. The various types of coal (lignite, bituminous, and anthracite) were formed as a result of the different temperatures and pressures to which the layers were exposed.


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