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Plants in the Age of Dinosaurs

A variety of ferns growing in a nursery.
A graphic that reads, "Plants in the Age of Dinosaurs" with a green plant and dinosaur illustrations.
In Plants in the Age of Dinosaurs—a new self-guided exhibition that runs from Saturday, May 25, 2024 through Monday, September 30, 2024—visitors will learn more about the plants in our collection with roots that go back to prehistoric times. 

Ever wonder what you might have in common with a dinosaur?   

If you answered that you both need plants to survive, you’d be right! Vegetation powered the dinosaurs that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Plants have evolved quite a bit since then, but their all-important role supporting life on earth remains the same.   

Join Morris Arboretum & Gardens as we travel back to the Mesozoic era, a time 252 to 66 million years ago (MYA) that saw the dominance of reptiles and conifers, the rise of dinosaurs, and the emergence of flowering plants.   

  • EQUIP yourself with a themed map and scavenger hunt from the Gift Shop—can you spot the dinosaurs hiding among the plants?   

  • ADVENTURE to 10 special garden sites that uncover the wonders of prehistory.  

  • EXPLORE our website for dino-themed events happening all year!   

Exhibition Highlights

The major plant in the early Mesozoic landscape, conifers (cone bearing plants like pine or spruce) dominated the landscape millions of years before flowering plants came on the scene.

Palm fossils date back to 145 million years ago. Some fossil beds contain palm fossils alongside baby dinosaur fossils which help scientists understand how they may have lived.

About 140 million years ago, flowering plants evolved during the last Jurassic period. They dramatically changed the Earth's landscape and became part of the HUGE boom in number and types of dinosaurs. 

Fossilized dino poop (coprolites) and gut content (cololites) help tell the story of what plants dinosaurs ate and how they ate them.

Ginkgo trees are one of the most ancient tree types on Earth. While no plants or animals are exactly the same as they were in the distant past, some organisms, like ginkgo, have such similar characteristics to their earliest ancestors that they are known as “living fossils”.

A timeline the dinosaur era.
Step into the Mesozoic Era, a captivating epoch that unfolded over 180 million years and left an indelible mark on our planet.

This "Age of Reptiles" not only showcased colossal dinosaurs but also witnessed significant developments in plant life. In the Triassic period, the landscape featured ferns, cycads, and conifers, pioneering the way for more complex plant ecosystems. As the era progressed into the Jurassic, lush forests emerged, adorned with towering conifers, ferns, and the first appearance of flowering plants.  

The Cretaceous period saw a botanical revolution, with diverse flowering plants dominating landscapes, coexisting with the formidable dinosaurs. These plants played a crucial role in shaping ecosystems and providing sustenance for the varied Mesozoic fauna. Explore this ancient world where not only mighty reptiles but also the evolution of plant life painted a canvas of biodiversity, making the Mesozoic Era a captivating journey through time.