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Fossil Flora of Kerguelen Island

Nature volume 162, page 309 (21 August 1948) | Download Citation



THE biological interest of Kerguelen Island (latitude 49° S., longitude 69° E.) has been well known to botanists since 1847, when the young Joseph Hooker, as junior surgeon in Ross‘s famous voyage to the Antarctic in the Erebus and Terror, contributed a description1 of the botany of this island gained as the result of the expedition‘s first winter in the southern hemisphere (May–July, 1840). The extreme poverty of the flora was its most noticeable feature, only eighteen species of flowering plants having been found by Hooker, and of these only eight covered any considerable expanse of ground. These included the remarkable endemic crucifer, Pringlea antiscorbutica (the Kerguelen Island cabbage), and a peculiar umbellifer related to the ‘balsam bog' of the Falkland Islands. In comparable latitudes in the northern hemisphere much richer floras Were known to occur, the vegetation of Spitsbergen, for example, containing records in 1847 of forty-five species of flowering plants on a comparable area. This, coupled with the isolated position of the island in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean, almost equidistant from South Africa and from Australia, the presence of the endemics and the vegetational affinity with 1he even more distant Falkland Islands (off Cape Horn), are all problems of lively plant-geographical interest to us as to Hooker. Problems of equal interest are those raised by the very marked changes of climate which have occurred in these now desolate latitudes in fairly recent geological time. Hooker himself was profoundly impressed by seeing not only coal but also fossilized tree trunks of considerable size (one is specifically mentioned by Ross as 7 ft. in circumference), although the existing vegetation cannot boast even a shrub, still less a tree, and this circumstance was certainly one of the more powerful reasons which predisposed him to the immediate acceptance of the idea of evolution when it came.

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  1. 1.

    , "A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions during the Years 1839–43" (London, 1847).

  2. 2.

    , Ann. Bot., 35, 609 (1921).

  3. 3.

    , and , Ann. Bot., 48, 715 (1934).

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