Birds nests and missing fossils
Local quarrymen called these cycads ‘bird’s nests’ and it’s easy to see why. Portland Museum contains an internationally-important collection of these plants, but therein lies a mystery. They were all found at least a century ago – today, cycad finds are very rare. This may be due to the increased mechanisation of quarrying, meaning there is much less chance of spotting a cycad when the top layer, which includes the fossil forest, is removed to reach the Portland Limestone below.
We have retained the name ‘cycad’ here because it is so popular and commonly used but strictly speaking they belong to a group known as the ‘Bennettitales’, which are a parallel branch to the cycads. Cycads and Bennettitales belong to the Gymnosperms which also includes conifer trees and the Ginkgo tree, which is another ‘classic’ living fossil that can be found in parks and gardens across the UK today.
Find out more on the wood and plants page.