Southern Beech

The Southern Beech supplies the segue for a series of Southern Hemisphere surprises.

Nothofagus, also known as the southern beeches, is a genus of 43 species of trees and shrubs native to the Southern Hemisphere in southern South America (Chile, Argentina) and Australasia (east and southeast Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and New Caledonia).

The species are ecological dominants in many temperate forests in these regions.

The genus has a rich fossil record of leaves, cupules, and pollen, with fossils extending into the late Cretaceous period and occurring in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and South America.

Every four to six years or so, Nothofagus produces a heavier crop of seeds and is known as the beech mast. In New Zealand, the beech mast causes an increase in the population of introduced mammals such as mice, rats, and stoats.

Tree species such as oak, hickory, and beech produce a hard mast—acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. … The difference between a mast seeding year and a non-mast seeding year can be thousands of acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts, etc.

Many tree species worldwide produce large seed crops at irregular intervals, known as mast seeding. New Zealanders are probably already aware of this because in three of the last six years (2014, 2016 and 2019) the Department of Conservation has had to run extensive pest control operations over very large areas, says University of Canterbury Professor Dave Kelly, School of Biological Sciences, a co-author on the study.

Climate Change Negatively Affects Mast Seeding
Timberbiz – 17 February 2020

The Antarctic beech grows in cool temperate rainforests from the Barrington Tops plateau in New South Wales, north to the Lamington Plateau and Springbrook Plateau, in southern Queensland, between altitudes of 480 m and 1550 m.

Migrating Southern Landmasses
The distribution of the Southern Beech provides further support for the inflationary opening of the Pacific Basin and the Tasman Sea that caused the landmasses to migrate with their resident flora and fauna.


The number of extinct varieties of Southern Beech suggests the trauma of landmass migration [and any associated change in climate] had the greatest impact in Tasmania.

The number of extant varieties of Southern Beech suggests landmass migrations had the least impact in New Guinea even though the beeches haven’t breached the Lydekker Line.


However, there are indications that the New Guinea landmass migration was so recent that the associated extinction event [aka “regeneration failure”] is still unfolding.

Temporal and spatial patterns of regeneration were studied in Nothofagus-dominated forests in the highlands of central Papua New Guinea.

These forests show a variety of size structures, ranging from those suggesting continuous regeneration to those which indicate that regeneration has occurred only after large-scale disturbance.

There does not appear to be a single factor determining regeneration failure.

On some sites seedling numbers are high but recruitment to the canopy is low, due to the ‘vigour’ of competing species in canopy gaps.

On other sites seedlings are rare or absent over a large area, including canopy gaps.

The truncation of stem frequency at large diameters in Nothofagus over a relatively wide geographic range in Papua New Guinea, and the similarities in size structure with similar modal size values (allowing for differences in growth rates among species and sites) suggests that a single major catastrophic event may have been involved.

The area contains volcanic ash layers.

The last widespread ashfall was about 300 years ago and gave rise to legends of an obscured sun (Blong, 1982).

This event may have been responsible for the initiation of those stands with a common size structure noted above either directly, or indirectly via frost damage (La Marche & Hirschboeck, 1984).

Ash (1988) has suggested a maximum life expectancy of 150-200 years, with a maximum longevity of 400-600 years (150-180 cm dbh) (Walker, 1966; Ash, 1988)

The Dynamics of Some Nothofagus-Dominated Rain Forests in Papua New Guinea
Jennifer Read, Geoffrey Hope, and Robert Hill
Journal of Biogeography – 17 – 185-204 – 1990

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Page 69
A time of darkness legend involving several days of complete darkness was known to missionaries in the Finschhafen area as early as the 1920s (Fr Bergmann, pers. Comm.).

In 1938-1940 Johann Gehberger published a story, collected near Wewak, which involved a time of darkness (Gehberger, 1938-40), and in 1937 S.W. Carey mentioned a story widespread in the Manus Group noting that the sun was ‘not seen for many days, nor any light, and everything was covered by a thick layer of ashes’.

Page 193
The historical evidence indicates that the eruption could not have taken place after about 1800 or in the period 1660-1680 to 1700, depending on the time allowed for revegetation.

Combining the historical evidence with the radiocarbon dates we conclude that the eruption and associated events occurred almost certainly in the mid-seventeenth century (say 1630-1670) but we cannot totally deny the possibility that the eruption occurred post-1700.

The Time of Darkness:
Local Legends and Volcanic Reality in Papua New Guinea
R J Blong – 1982 – Australian National University Press, Canberra

The focus here is Arop/Long Island, one in a chain of island volcanoes in the Bismarck Volcanic Arc stretching from the Schouten Group off the Sepik north coast to New Britain. Arop/Long lies over 100 km north-west of the Lapita site on Tuam, and about 50 km north of the mainland.

The centre of the island is characterised by a large caldera lake, a volcanic crater produced by the last major eruption c. 290 BP (Blong 1982; Haberle 1998).

This eruption, which would have been equivalent to Krakatoa on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (Smithsonian Institution, Global Volcanism Program), saw a massive depopulation of all macrobiota, including any humans who did not flee (Thornton 2001).

Oral traditions from the north-east coast tell of gardens and houses being ruined by the resulting ashfall and a dramatic time of darkness (Mennis 2006a).

A Lapita presence on Arop/Long Island, Vitiaz Strait, Papua New Guinea?
Dylan Gaffney, Glenn R Summerhayes and Mary Mennis

Debating Lapita Distribution, Chronology, Society and Subsistence
Edited by: Stuart Bedford and Matthew Spriggs – December 2019
Australian National University Press

Long Island is a volcanic island in Papua New Guinea.

Two stratovolcanoes are located on the island: Mount Reaumur and Cerisy Peak.

The 1660 eruption was one of the largest in Papua New Guinea’s recent history with an estimated air-fall volume in excess of 11 cu km, comparable to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, but the Global Volcanism Program gives a much higher estimate of 30 cu km. This cataclysmic event prompted legends of a “Time of Darkness“.

The Obscured Sun
If the academic counter culture is correct then the lack of sunspot observations during the Maunder Minimum implies the sunspots were obscured from view.


In fact, the migration of New Guinea hasn’t quite stopped.

Southern Lignite
Traumatic landmass migration is confirmed by lignite in New Zealand.

Nothofagus palustris sp. nov. is the first record of well-preserved leaves of Nothofagus subgenus Brassospora in New Zealand, and is described from an Oligo–Miocene leaf bed in the Gore Lignite Measures of the South Island.

Phylogenetic assessment shows that the leaves are similar to those of Australian Oligocene and Miocene species and may belong to the same clade of Brassospora.

Most notably, these species share the derived feature of abundant leaf wax, a feature that is now only well developed in two New Guinean species.

This and other evidence allows the possibility that the ancestor of N. palustris reached New Zealand from Australia.

However, it is improbable that N. palustris or a similar species was the common ancestor of the clade of Brassospora that is now confined to New Caledonia. Ecologically, N. palustris is unusual among extant and previously described macrofossil species of Brassospora in being found in a relatively open, swampy habitat.

Nothofagus subgenus Brassospora (Nothofagaceae) leaf fossils from New Zealand: A link to Australia and New Guinea?
Raymond Carpenter, Jennifer Bannister, Daphne Lee, and Gregory Jordan
Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society – 174(4) – April 2014

Well preserved fossil wood in the form of tree stumps, logs, branches, roots and occasionally bark is common throughout the Gore Lignite Measures, southern New Zealand.

Specimens of silicified and lignified wood are described and illustrated from four localities within the Late Oligocene–Early Miocene Gore Lignite Measures, Southland: Newvale Coal Mine; Mataura Coal Mine; Cosy Dell Coal Pit; and Bennett’s Pit.

Cenozoic conifer wood from the Gore Lignite Measures, Southland, New Zealand
Mathew R Vanner, John G Conran, Jennifer M Bannister and Daphne E Lee
New Zealand Journal of Botany – Volume 56 – 2018 – Issue 3

The “ten major seams, or seam groups” of lignite found in the Gore Lignite Measures of New Zealand appear to echo the lignite seams seen in Romania.

The Gore Lignite Measures at the mine contain ten major seams, or seam groups, separated by sandstone and mudstone, overlain by 60 metres of quartzose sandy conglomerate.

The coal mine contains a horizon with many leaf impressions on lignite blocks, with at least five conifer, and a number of angiosperm species.

Petrified wood and kauri amber is common.

The coal measures were formed in a swamp environment. – New Vale Mine (Goodwin Coal Mine), Waimumu, Gore District, Southland Region, South Island, New Zealand


Southern Fossil Wood
Traumatic landmass migration is also confirmed by Fossil Wood fragments found on the Antarctic Peninsula and in marine deposits close to Antarctica.

The forests grew on an emergent volcanic arc and the wood was subsequently buried in fluvial and basinal sediments on the margins of the back-arc basin.

The growth rings in the fossil wood are wide and extremely uniform, indicating that the environment was very favourable for tree growth

Both conifer and angiosperm woods are represented, the angiosperms occurring in late Cretaceous (Campanian of the Naze) and younger rocks.

The conifers are mainly of podocarp and araucarian affinities, forming assemblages similar to the typical southern hemisphere conifer forests of today.

The most common fossil angiosperm wood is that of Nothofagus (southern beech), the living relatives of which are evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved beeches found today in South America and Australasia (Darlington 1965).

The fossil wood specimens range in size from small twigs to large sections over 25 cm in diameter.

However these represent both small branches with central pith and outer bark still attached and rings of small radius of curvature, and also sections of outer parts of large trunks.

Most of the larger samples consist only of the heartwood (the inner secondary xylem) so the maximum size of the trunk is unknown.

The N. Betuloides rainforest trees grow to large sizes (up to 30 m in height and 2 m in trunk diameter) at slow rates. Some are estimated to be 1500-2000 years old.

The tree-rings in the Antarctic fossil wood are more comparable with those in living trees in warm/cool-temperate forests in Australasia.

The growth of selected examples of the podocarp Phyllocladus in southern New Zealand and Tasmania was considered analogous to that of the Cretaceous Alexander Island trees by Jefferson (1982, 1983); both have fairly large rings and high mean sensitivities.

Some of these living trees also have low, complacent mean sensitivities more like the fossil trees from the northern Antarctic Peninsula.

Growth Rings in Cretaceous and Tertiary Wood from Antarctica and their Palaeoclimatic Implications – Jane E Francis
Palaeontology Volume: 29 Part: 4 Pages: 665-684 – December 1986

Small pieces of fossil wood were observed in cores of probable terrestrial sediments of Cretaceous age from Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 120, Site 750.

The wood was present as small blocks of a few millimeters diameter, some with black shiny surfaces and others with a dark brown matte luster, and was incorporated in grey/brown clayey siltstones or soft- pebble conglomerates of lithologic Unit IV.

Fossil wood is common in Cretaceous terrestrial and shallow-marine sediments in Antarctica and, along with pollen, indicates that at that time Antarctica had a much warmer climate and was well vegetated.

Small fragments of fossil wood incorporated in Cretaceous volcaniclastic clay stones from Leg 120, Site 750, on the edge of the Raggatt Basin, consist of charcoalified and coalified conifer wood.

Cretaceous Fossil Wood from the Raggatt Basin,
Southern Kerguelen Plateau (Site 750)
Jane E Francis and Millard F Coffin
Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program – Scientific Results – Vol. 120 – 1992

Fossil Standing Trees were found on Alexander island.

71° 00′ S 70° 00′ W

Alexander Island is the largest island of Antarctica… and … the second largest uninhabited island in the world, after Devon Island.

The surface of Alexander Island is predominantly ice-covered. There exist some exposed nunataks and a few ice-free areas of significant size, including Ablation Point Massif.

The 4 km thick Upper Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous Fossil Bluff Group sedimentary rocks outcrop as a 250 km long by 30 km wide belt along the eastern coast.

This Fossil Bluff Group consists of a basal deep-marine assemblage 2200 m thick, overlain by a mudstone assemblage up to 950 m thick, followed by a shallow-marine assemblage of coarsening upward sandstones.

They were standing in “coarse volcaniclastic sandstone” 17·3 metres thick.

Fossil forests and forest floors have been found in the Lower Cretaceous part of the Fossil Bluff Formation in south-east Alexander Island, Antarctica.

At east Titan Nunatak the standing trees are preserved in a coarse volcaniclastic sandstone unit 17·3 m thick. Text-fig. 5 shows the detailed stratigraphy of this unit, in which at least four of the bedding surfaces exposed in cross-section were forest covered.

The flask-like shape of the basal portion of several of the trees suggests that they survived the influx of sediment. This shape is common in modern conifers when roots and basal parts of trunks have been covered for long periods by standing water or sediment.

Fossil forests from the Lower Cretaceous of Alexander Island, Antarctica
Timothy H Jefferson
Palaeontology Volume: 25 Part: 4 Pages: 681-708 – Nov 1982

“Coarse” implies a particle size ranging from 0.5 to 1.0 mm.


“Volcaniclastic” implies more than 10% volcanic debris.

To be classified as ‘volcaniclastic’, we suggest that a rock or unconsolidated deposit must have more than 10% by volume of volcanic debris. – Definition of volcaniclastic

The “volcaniclastic sandstone” accumulated over [about] 714 years.

Evidently, Alexander island experienced “periods of violent erosion” interspersed with “periods of comparative quiescence” – just like Alaska.

The total of these evidences indicates the alternate and intermittent periods of violent erosion such as would dismember animal remains and splinter trees, interspersed with other periods of comparative quiescence so as to allow the growth of “forests” and peat bogs in the same area.

Archaeological Aspects of the Alaska Muck Deposits – Frank C Hibben – 1941
New Mexico Anthropologist, Volume 5, Number 4


The “violent erosion” lasted [about] 200 years longer on Alexander island.

The deposition of ice and Alaskan Muck between 900 and 1400 CE.



These extra 200 years may be linked to the opening of the Drake Passage.



The latest hypothesized time for the opening of the Drake Passage is during the early Miocene.

The earliest hypothesized time for the opening of the Drake Passage is around 30 Ma.

Currently, an opening of the Drake Passage during the early Oligocene is favored.

These discoveries led one brave botanist to say “any sort of uniformitarian approach to palaeobotanical interpretation may, therefore, be incorrect”.

Today, no polar land areas are maintained at high temperatures during the polar night by the influence of globally high sea temperatures.

Any sort of uniformitarian approach to palaeobotanical interpretation may, therefore, be incorrect; no vegetation adapted to such an environment exists today.

The remarkable similarity of wood structure between the fossil trees and living trees, and considerations of functional morphology, suggest that this is unlikely.

Fossil forests from the Lower Cretaceous of Alexander Island, Antarctica
Timothy H Jefferson
Palaeontology Volume: 25 Part: 4 Pages: 681-708 – Nov 1982

The brave botanist contemplated a 10° to 15° axial tilt.

The earth’s geographic poles are assumed to have been orientated at the same angle to its axis of rotation around the sun (23·5°) throughout geological time.

Recent theories (e.g. Williams 1974) suggest that may not be the case and that, during the Early Cretaceous, the angle was between ten and fifteen degrees.

This would move the polar circles and all other climatic belts approximately ten degrees poleward in terms of photoperiod.

Fossil forests from the Lower Cretaceous of Alexander Island, Antarctica
Timothy H Jefferson
Palaeontology Volume: 25 Part: 4 Pages: 681-708 – Nov 1982

During the Cretaceous, temperate forests thrived at polar latitudes, as there was a notable difference from current conditions at high latitudes during the Cretaceous polar seasons. The duration of summer sunlight and winter darkness lasted for approximately 5 months each.

This variation in light is thought to have played a critical role in the composition and evolution of polar forests. Fossilized flora evidence suggests the presence of paleoforests up to latitudes of 85° in both Northern and Southern hemispheres.

For regions inside the polar circles, the maximum lengths of the time that the Sun is completely below the horizon varies from zero a few degrees beyond the Arctic Circle and Antarctic Circle to 179 days at the Poles.

The time when any part of the Sun is above the horizon at the poles is 186 days.

But the mainstream has avoided contemplating Anaximander’s Earth.


And they’ve forgotten all about Ptolemy’s burning zone that would account for “large, almost continuous growing trees” at high Southern latitudes.

The Chinese colour coding suggests:

○ Ptolemy’s frozen zone was permanently tilted away from the Sun.

○ Ptolemy’s burning zone was permanently tilted towards the Sun.


Silicified wood is commonly associated with pillow lavas and pahoehoe toes and was described briefly by Gair (1967).

At several localities trees are in growth position with roots within the organic-rich tops of sedimentary interbeds (figure 1).

Trunks range from 0.5 to 1 meter in diameter and up to 4 meters or more in height.

Despite the inundation of the trees by hot lava, charring appears to have been limited (block b of figure 1).

The poorly defined, widely spaced growth rings indicate that temperatures and moisture availability were conducive to growth for most of the year. Such climatic conditions are found today only in warm-temperature, subtropical, or tropical rain forests.

The Early Jurassic paleolatitude of northern Victoria Land was approximately 60° S (Smith, Hurley, and Briden 1981).

The presence of large, almost continuous growing trees at these latitudes supports the evidence from the Permo-Triassic and Lower Cretaceous of Antarctica (Jefferson in press) and the Cretaceous of Australia (Douglas and Williams 1982) for the extension of warm, equable conditions into high southern latitudes during the Mesozoic.

Jurassic Trees Engulfed by Lavas of the Kirkpatrick Basalt Group,
Northern Victoria Land
Timothy H Jefferson, Mary A Siders, and Marta A Haban
Antarctic Journal of the United States – Volume 18 – Number 5 – 1983

Victoria Land is a region of Antarctica which fronts the western side of the Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf, extending southward from about 70° 30′ S to 78° 00′ S, and westward from the Ross Sea to the edge of the Antarctic Plateau.

If these Geologists ever deign to engage their little grey cells then they might realise the Jurassic and Cretaceous are contemporaneous concepts.

It seems the “uniformitarian approach” involves selective memory loss.

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