Fossil plants of the Dolomites

a brief history of the studies in the area

Triassic macrofloras of the Dolomites are rare, and the majority of literature data is mostly devoted to the Ladinian plants. The first Ladinian plant remain from the Dolomites has been illustrated by Wissmann and Münster (1841); it has been a not better defined “fern fragment”. Later, several authors mentioned and figured plant fossils from the so called “Buchensteiner Schichten” and “Wengener Schichten” of the Dolomites (Mojsisovics, 1879; Ogilvie Gordon, 1927, 1934; Mutschlechner, 1932; P. Leonardi, 1953, 1968; G. Leonardi, 1964; Calligaris, 1983, 1986; Jung et al., 1995)

Mojsisovic (1879) published for the first time a list of 19 fossil plants from Idrija in Slovenia and Corvara (Badia Valley), probably determined by A. Stur: Equisetites arenaceus, E. meriani, Neuropteris cf. ruetimeyeri, N. gaillardoti, N. elegans, Sagenopteris lipoldi, Pecopteris triasica, P. gracilis, Chiropteris lipoldi, C. pinnata, Thinnfeldia richthofeni, Pterophyllum giganteum, P. jaegeri, Asplenites cf. roesserti, Danaeopsis marantacea, Taeniopteris sp., Voltzia sp., Lycopodites sp. Unfortunately the author did not indicate which species came from which locality.

Later, Marie Ogivie Gordon (1927) listed and figured for the first time an entire plate of fossil plants from Corvara: Taeniopteris angustifolia, Zamites sp. indet., Nilssonia sp. indet., Voltzia sp.; from Gröden Frenelopsis hoheneggeri, Voltzia cf. recubariensis, Voltzia sp. indet., and from the Buchenstein strata from Puflatsch (actually also Wengen Formation) Pecopteris sp. indet., Zamites sp. indet., Nilssonia sp. indet., Pterophyllum brevipenne and Voltzia recubariensis. Mutschlechner (1932) mentioned Zamites sp., Voltzia sp and pinnules of indeterminated ferns from Ciablun.

The first detailed work of fossil plants has been published by Piero Leonardi (1953). He discussed the plant remains found so far and included some new material, mainly from the Zoldo Valley and from Gröden. This paper includes also for the first time some new species, i.e. Cycadeoidea (?) moroderiCladophlebis leuthardiiCladophlebis rütimeyeri var. heeri and Voltzia zoldana. Part of the material has been collected by a local collector, Heinrich Moroder (Ortisei).  G. Leonardi (1964), also described plant fossils, but from the Sappada area.

The complete list of the so far described plant fossils from the Dolomites was done by Loriga (in Leonardi, 1968); according to it in the Ladinian of the Dolomites is composed of equisetaleans, ferns, pteridosperms, bennettitalean, ?cordaitales and coniferales.

Calligaris (1986, 1990) described several specimens of EquisetitesNeuropteridum, Pecopteris, Cladophlebis, Yuccites,Voltzia and Pagiophyllum and enstablished the new cycad species (Braiescycas leonardii) from Prags.

In the last few years several papers gave a more complete and updated description of the Ladinian floras of the Dolomites (Wachtler & Van Konijnenburg – van Cittert, 2000; Kustatscher et al., 2004, 2006; Kustatscher & Van Konijnenburg – van Cittert et al., 2005, 2007). Also several new species were enstablished, i.e. Sphenozamites wengensis, Bjuvia dolomitica, Voltzia dolomitica, Voltzia ladinica, Voltzia pragsensis.

Rare are the descriptions of fossil plants of Anisian age. In most cases there are only vague mentionings of “plant remains” such as by Mojsisovics (1879) in the “Muschelkalk” of Kühwiesenkopf and near Colle S. Lucia. Also Ogilvie Gordon (1934) mentions fossil plants from the upper Anisian of Monte Rite and Rodella. The first figures of fossil plants have been given by Bechstädt & Brandner (1970), which describe the following species: Danaeopsis marantacea, Neuropteridium sp., coniferal shoots, Voltzia cf. coburghensis and Voltzia sp. In the last few years several papers described new species of Anisian fossil plants from the NE-Dolomites (Broglio-Loriga et al., 2002; Van Konijnenburg – van Cittert et al., 2006; Kustatscher et al., 2007, 2009, 2010a, 2010b; Todesco et al., 2008).


Bechstädt, T.H. & Brandner, R. (1970): Das Anis zwischen St. Vigil und dem Höhlensteintal (Pragser und Olanger Dolomiten, Südtirol). – Festband des Geologischen Institutes, 300-Jahr-Feier Universität Innsbruck, 9-103.

Broglio Loriga, C., Cirilli, S., De Zanche, V., Di Bari, D., Gianolla, P., Laghi, G.F., Lowrie, W., Manfrin, S., Mastradrea, A., Mietto, P., Muttoni, G., Neri, C., Posenato, R., Reichichi, M., Rettori, R. & Roghi, G. (1999): The Prati di Stuores/Wiesen Section (Dolomites, Italy): a candidate global Stratotype section and Point for the base of the Carnian stage. – Riv. It. Paleont. Strat., 105/1: 37-78.

Calligaris, R. (1986): Geologia della Val di Braies e segnalazione di nuovo località fossilifere a vegetali nel Ladinico superiore. – Atti Museo Civ. St. Nat., 24/1: 1-64.

Jung, W., Selmeier, A., Schaarschmidt, F., Velitzelos, E. & Dernbach, U. (1995): Versteinerte Wälder. – 188 pp., Ed. D’Oro, Heppenheim.

Kustatscher, E. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2005): The Ladinian Flora (Middle Triassic) of the Dolomites: palaeoenvironmental reconstructions and palaeoclimatic considerations. – Geo.Alp, 2: 31-51.

Kustatscher, E. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2007): Taxonomical and palaeogeographic considerations on the seedfern genus Ptilozamites. – Neues Jahrbuch der Geologie und Paläontologie, 243(1): 71-100.

Kustatscher, E., Hemlsey, A.R. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert J.H.A. (2009): Lugardonia paradoxa, a new fertile strobilus with unknown affinities from the Anisian flora of Kühwiesenkopf, the Dolomites, Italy. – Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 156: 90–97.

Kustatscher E., Meller, B. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2006): Old treasures newly discovered: Scytophyllum bergeri from the Ladinian of the Dolomites in the historical collections of the Geologische Bundesanstalt Wien. – Geo.Alp 3: 47-54.

Kustatscher, E., Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. & Roghi, G. (2010): Macrofloras and palynomorphs as possible proxies for palaeoclimatic and palaeoecological studies: A case study of Kühwiesenkopf / Monte Prà della Vacca (Olang Dolomites, N-Italy). – Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 291(1-2): 71-80.

Kustatscher, E., Wachtler, M. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2007): Horsetails and seedferns from the middle Triassic (Ansian) locality Kühwiesenkopf/Monte Prà della Vacca (Dolomites, N-Italy). – Palaeontology, 50(5): 1277-1298.

Kustatscher, E., Wachtler, M., & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2010): Lycophytes from the Middle Triassic (Anisian) locality Kühwiesenkopf (Monte Prà della Vacca) in the Dolomites (Northern Italy). – Palaeontology, 53(3): 595-626.

Leonardi, G. (1964): Note stratigrafico-sedimentologiche sul Ladinico della conca di Sappada (Belluno). – Ann. Univ. Ferrara (n. s.), sez. 9, Sci. Geol. Mine., 3 (10): 187-209.

Leonardi, P. (1953): Flora continentale Ladinica delle Dolomiti. – Mem. Ist. Geol. Min., 18: 1-22.

Leonardi, P. (1968): Le Dolomiti. Geologia dei monti tra Isarco e Piave. – 1019 pp., Ed. Manfrini, Rovereto.

Mojsisovics, E. (1879): Die Dolomit-Riffe von Südtirol und Venetien: Beiträge zur Bildungsgeschichte der Alpen. – 551 pp., A. Hölder Verlag, Wien.

Mutschlechner, G. (1932): Geologie der St. Vigiler Dolomiten. – Jb. Geol. Bundesanst., 82: 163-273.

Ogilvie Gordon, M.M. (1927): Das Grödner-, Fassa- und Enneberggebiet in den Südtiroler Dolomiten. – Abh. Geol. Bundesanst., 24(2): 1-376.

Ogilvie Gordon, M.M. (1934): Geologie von Cortina d’Ampezzo und Cadore. – Jahrb. Geol. Bundesanst., 84: 60-215.

Todesco, R., Wachtler, M., Kustatscher, E., & Avanzini, M. (2008): Preliminary report on a new vertebrate track and flora site from Piz da Peres (Anisian-Illyrian): Olanger Dolomites, Northern Italy. – Geo.Alp, 5: 121-137.

Van Konijnenburg–van Cittert, J.H.A, Kustatscher, E. & Wachtler, M. (2006): Middle Triassic (Anisian) Ferns from the locality Kühwiesenkopf (Monte Prà della Vacca) in the Dolomites (Northern Italy). – Palaeontology, 49(5): 943-968.

Wachtler, M. & Van Konijnenburg-van Cittert, J.H.A. (2000): The fossil flora of the Wengen Formation (Ladinian) in the Dolomites (Italy). – Beiträge zur Paläontologie, 25: 105-141.

Wissmann, H.L. & Münster, G. Graf von (1841): Beiträge zur Geognosie und Petrefactenkunde des südöstlichen Tirol’s vorzüglich der Schichten von St. Cassian. – pp. 152, Buchner’sche Buchhandlung, Bayreuth.