Prehistoric plants have been around and keeping our planet alive for an estimated 500 million years. This is around the same time that the first land animals started to appear. Find out some of the most interesting prehistoric plants you can grow and enjoy at home.

1. Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia gigantea)

Dutchman's pipe prehistoric plant

These interesting-looking prehistoric flowers are thought to have first emerged in the Cretaceous period. That’s between 142 and 65 million years ago.

Historically, they were used as medicine in Brazil. But I don’t recommend you do so as they are now known to be poisonous.

Growing as a woody climber, their flowers are up to 30 cm deep and emerge in the summer.

They prefer loam soil to any other alternatives and can only be grown outside during the summer in the UK.

2. Black pepper (Piper nigrum)

Black pepper

These flavoursome plants are native to Southwestern India but developed in the early Amazon rainforest.

The very first fossils found of this plant were in Colombia. Thought to originate during the Cretaceous period, they truly have a rich history.

In the right conditions, preferably warmer climates if you can provide them, you can grow these at home.

Then you can produce your own spicy peppercorns to add some flavour to your meals.

3. Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)

Staghorn fern

Popularly grown as houseplants in the UK, these interesting fern plants are native to Jawa and New Caledonia.

Named for their characteristic antler-shaped foliage, these plants are epiphytic.

This means they don’t need soil to grow, and root themselves to tree crevices.

Make sure you can give it a humid environment, and it will grow slowly but reliably. Ensure you water them regularly and mist them daily.

4. King Protea (Protea cynaroides)

King protea

Ancestors of this flower go back as far as 65 million years. At the time, South Africa was a tropical rainforest!

Now they are found natively in South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

King Protea is the largest of the protea species, producing the biggest flowers.

However, there are plenty of protea plants that you can grow which aren’t nearly as large.

Their flowers are actually bracts, which are modified leaves to protect the smaller flowers within.

5. Horsetail restio (Elegia capensis)

Horsetail restio

Millions of years ago, this plant grew on a supercontinent named ‘Gondwana’. They have been around since between 145 and 100 million years ago.

It is thought that the dinosaurs Triceratops and Ankylosaurus would have enjoyed making horsetail restios a lovely snack.

Awarded the RHS Garden of Merit, these perennial evergreens produce wispy modified branches on nodes.

They produce brown and yellow reedy flowers in the spring and brown nutlets in the autumn.

6. Hard fern (Blechnum spicant)

Blechnum spicant

These ferns are truly prehistoric. They are even older than the dinosaurs themselves, first growing over 350 million years ago.

As one of the first plants to grow on land, they were crucial in producing the oxygen needed for life to develop.

Otherwise known as ‘deer fern’, the tufted foliage grows to about 50cm, standing upright.

They prefer clay or loam soil, and plenty of moisture, and are hardy in the UK.

7. Sago cycad (Cycas revoluta)

Sago cycad

Another prehistoric pre-dinosaur plant, the ancestors of the Sago cycad first emerged over 270 million years ago.

Otherwise known as the ‘Japanese sago palm’, these plants are quite poisonous, and can be very dangerous if ingested.

Some specimens of this plant in the wild are thought to be over 1000 years old.

One Cycad specimen in Kew Gardens which arrived in 1775 is now over 248 years old.

8. Magnolia


The original magnolias were pollinated by beetles, as they existed many years before bees.

Them and their ancestors first emerged in the Cretaceous period, between 142 and 65 million years ago.

It is worth knowing if growing magnolias they prefer either neutral or slightly acidic soil.

If your soil is more alkaline, consider growing your magnolia in a container, or treating your soil.

9. Soft tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica)

Dicksonia antarctica

These delicious fern plants could be eaten in volumes of approximately 500 kg per day by vegetarian dinosaurs.

This wouldn’t be too impactful on the plant, as they are thought to have reached heights of 15 metres tall.

When grown domestically in the UK, they are more likely to reach no more than 4 metres tall in between 20 and 50 years.

Native to eastern Australia, these ferns prefer full or partial shade, and to be grown in moist but well-drained soil like loam or sand.

10. Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis)

Wollemi pine

These trees are truly ancient, with fossils from the Jurassic era (approximately 200 million years ago) proving that they were thriving.

This was the same time that the Stegosaurus and Iguanadon were roaming the earth.

It was thought that the Wollemi pine was extinct, until one was discovered in 1994 in a remote area of the Australian rainforest.

There are fewer than 100 of these trees in Wollemi National Park, Australia. Some of these trees are thought to be between 500 and 1000 years old, so they are long-lived.

11. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

Dawn redwood

These fast-growing confers can reach impressive heights of 60 metres.

They were around during the Cretaceous period, so brushed leaves with Tyrannosaurus Rex amongst others.

Another tree feared extinct, explorers discovered a forest of them in China in 1940s, saving the species.

It is one of few conifers which are deciduous, with their leaves turning a wonderful copper/bronze shade in autumn.

12. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Ginkgo biloba

These trees are tough, and another truly prehistoric example.

Otherwise known as the ‘living fossil’, its ancestors date back 270 million years, to Permian times.

They almost went extinct in the wild, except there were Chinese monastery gardens maintaining some of them, which is why we can still enjoy them today.

What else is interesting about Ginko biloba, is that they are the only living connection between ferns and conifers.

So consider growing a few of these plants at him to give you a little taste of living in Prehistoric times. With some lovely foliage and the rare yet wonderful flowers, they are well worth growing.

Find out more about growing ferns:

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