Fantastic Fossilized Forest Found near our Hometown

Scott Elrick, a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey, presented "Snapshot in Time – Geologic Secrets of the Danville, Illinois, Fossilized Forrest" for the Champaign County Master Gardeners monthly program for October. Just south and west of Danville, Illinois and only 30 miles east of Champaign lays a 300 million year old fossil forest. The forest was discovered in the Vermilion Grove coal mines and represents the Pennsylvanian era, one of the earliest peat-forming rain forests. Four square miles of tropical wilderness makes this one of the largest fossilized forests ever discovered.

Now, any common-day Illinoisan would ask "how on earth could there be a rain forest in the land of corn and soybean?" It turns out that Illinois actually once lay on the equator. Over 300 million years ago, a major earthquake caused the forest to drop below sea level and buried the entire forest in mud and sand. The mud actually preserved the majority of foliage and turned it to coal.

Scott and his fellow researchers were able to look up at perfectly preserved trees and ferns in the mine celling. They were able to see what plant species were present and their distribution across the landscape. Here are several of the plants that they found in the forest:


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Seed Fern

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Tree Fern

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Unfortunately for us, the fossilized forest was destroyed as the mine ceiling fell, so no one is able to revisit the mines. However, a new series of fossilized forests have been discovered in Southern Illinois which cumulatively will be bigger than the one found in Danville.

For more information about the Danville Fossilized Forest, read the following published articles:

Giant Fossil Rain Forest Discovered in Illinois – National Geographic News

The World's Largest Fossil Wilderness –

An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues on Climate Change – The New York Times

82. Fossils of a 300-Million-Year-Old Forest Found – Discover

Pennsylvanian Age Mire Forest – Illinois Geological Survey

300 million years ago Danville's underground forest reveals the ancient past – Illinois Times

**All images are were taken by the Illinois Geological Survey and are posted on their website at

Want to attend more of our monthly programs in the future? Visit our unit Master Gardener calendar to see what programs are being featured in Champaign, Danville, and Onarga.