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Lilly Pilly Fossils Reveal Snowless Snowy Mountains

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Leaf fossils of the iconic Australian tree, the lilly pilly, have been discovered high in the Snowy Mountains, revealing a past history of warmer rainforest vegetation and a lack of snow.

Lilly pilly trees (Syzygium) occur naturally in tropical to subtropical rainforests throughout Australasia, southern Asia and Africa – not mountain slopes covered by winter snow. They are commonly planted in streets and gardens across Australia, where they are prized for their glossy green leaves, white flowers, and red or pink edible fruits.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide recovered fossilised lilly pilly leaves from old gold mining pits near the historic town of Kiandra, 1400 metres above sea level in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. The fossils were preserved in ancient lake sediments, overlain by basalt rock, deposited by lava flows that erupted during some of the last stages of uplift that produced the Eastern Highlands about 20 million years ago.

“The lilly pilly was a traditional food source for Aboriginal peoples and early European settlers, and is still an important food source for many native animals and birds, as well as used for making cakes and jams,” says lead researcher Mr Myall Tarran, a PhD candidate in the University’s School of Biological Sciences. “But despite being such an important and iconic plant, no convincing fossils have...

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