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Forest Vines to Snow Tussocks: The Story of New Zealand Plants

Tertiary Antarctica

Tertiary Antarctica195

A site near McMurdo Sound (presently at 78°S) yielded a Cretaceous flora of Podocarpaceae, Nothofagus and Proteaceae. Palm pollen is recorded in early Tertiary strata from the same locality, indicating a relatively mild climate, even though the latitude was much the same as the present day. The richest fossil floras of Antarctica are from Seymour Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula at 64°S, where leaves and pollen have been recovered. The date of these deposits is not certain, but it seems likely to be lower Tertiary. The flora is reasonably diverse and of rain forest character, although 23 species cannot be identified and of the remainder 27 are ferns including Cyatheaceae and Schizaeaceae. There is a strong conifer component including the genera Araucaria, Agathis, Dacrydium, Phyllocladus and Podocarpus. Angiosperms include Nothofagus of the fusca and brassii groups and the following families: Cunoniaceae, Lauraceae, Monimiaceae (Laurelia), Myrtaceae, Proteaceae (Knightia), Winteraceae, Loranthaceae, Leguminosae, Aquifoliaceae (includes Ilex, the holly genus), Cruciferae and Cyperaceae (sedges). This assemblage is similar to that produced by the rain forests of Australia in the early Tertiary with the difference that there are no 'tropical' taxa, such as Anacolosa and Cupania.

The most recent record of vegetation in Antarctica comes from pollen in Ross Sea deposits of the late Oligocene age. At this stage an ice sheet was beginning to form. The assemblages were dominated by Nothofagus pollen (with the fusca group most common) plus lesser amounts of Proteaceae, Myrtaceae and Podocarpaceae.