Looking at the plant kingdom on a macro-evolutionary scale, it has been an extraordinary journey from green algae, the common ancestor of all plants, to our modern, plant dominated landscapes. The ancient forests of Earth were much different than those that we are accustomed to now. For starters, they contained no flowering trees such maples, oaks, birches and many of the other trees that we associate with forests today. Flowering plants did not arise until approximately 200 million years after the first forests. Instead, these landscapes were dominated by spore bearing tree-like ferns, fern relatives, and the earliest examples of the most ancient seed plants: the gymnosperms. Gymnosperm comes from the Greek composite word meaning ‘naked seed’, referring to the unenclosed seeds and ovules that differentiate this group from flowering plants. Conifers, cycads and gingkos are all examples of gymnosperms which still exist today.
Our Ancient Forest is comprised of gymnosperms from various parts of the world. It includes a large Gingko tree (Gingko biloba), which hails from China and is the only living species of an entire botanical division, the gingkophyta. Coniferous gymnosperms are also present, including several species of Podocarpus and a pair of towering Montezuma cypresses (Taxodium mucronatum). Several species of cycad, another ancient lineage of gymnosperms can also be seen in this area. The ancient forest is located adjacent to the Fern section, together providing a modern approximation of the ancient landscapes of our planet.