In an previous post, I talked about colonies of iron bacteria in the pools of the Rito Frijoles in Bandelier National Monument. Easily overlooked, these distant echos of primitive life make their living in ways that seem to have no connection with the fragrant Ponderosa pines that tower over the creek, singing in the sunshine.
But there are other diminutive plants here, tucked into crevices in the rocks or sharing a damp stream side in the canyon, dreaming of a period in life's history when they dominated the Earth's forests in ways that would far overshadow the Ponderosa pines.
These are plants whose ancestors date from the Age of Coal, 300 million years ago. Reproducing by spores in a complex two-step dance, rather than by seeds, they depend on a steady supply of moisture to thrive.
Here's a picture of young horsetail ferns (genus Equisetum) in Frijoles Creek:
In cooler places, along the north-facing rocky slopes of Frijoles Canyon, you might notice these unusual growths:
The great coal swamps of the late Paleozoic Era are gone. Only a few poor and battered relatives of the gigantic plants that once filled them remain in nooks and crannies around the planet.
On our Geology Walk near Santa Fe, we can find fossils of some of these Carboniferous plants as impressions in the sand swept off the ancient deltas of the rising Ancestral Rocky Mountains. I'm fascinated by this thread of life, persisting through extinction after extinction, and the rise of superior forms, still visible to any who take the trouble to look.