By George Black
Publication by way of Black, George, Chinchilla, Norma S., Jamail, Milton
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The Devonian is known as one of the key time periods for plant evolution, and this dramatic expansion in the variety of plant life occurred over a period of about fifty million years—unfathomably long by our own perception but, geologically speaking, relatively brief. One of the most recognizable and graceful groups of plants existing today are the ferns. 28 Although they evolved after the club mosses and horsetails, fernlike fossils are present by the end of the Devonian (ca. 360 MYA). Among the evolved characteristics that helped ferns to be hugely successful were their leaves, which were broad and feathery, presenting a large surface area to the sun and thereby maximizing their ability to photosynthesize.
19 Within its network of passages, underground canals, chambers, and sumps lies the magnificent Belize Chamber. 20 The presence of artifacts within the accessible areas of the cave proves that the ancient Maya once used it as a source of water and as a sacred place for conducting rituals. The cave was rediscovered only as late as 1984, and since that time it has been the focus of numerous caving and scientific expeditions. Biologists, for example, have discovered the skeletons of extinct animals within it, including a species of vampire bat (Desmodus draculae) and a female cub of a species of bear (Tremarctos floridanus).
Represented by over thirty-one species in Belize, this is one of the defining tree groups of the Chiquibul Forest. With their jointed stems, spikelike inflorescence, and often peppery-smelling leaves, the Piperaceae are also an important component of the Chiquibul’s vegetation, although most species are shrubs or herbs. Some angiosperm plant groups started to appear in the fossil record only relatively recently in the Paleogene period (66–23 MYA). One good example is provided by the families belonging to the order Zingiberales.