We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Prototaxites?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Prototaxites (pro-tow-TAX-i-tees) is a giant cylindrical fungus that dominated the landscapes of the late Silurian and the first half of the Devonian Period, living 420 to 370 million years ago. Prototaxites grew up to 8 m (26 ft) in height, with a diameter of up to 1 m (3.2 ft). The first research on Prototaxites was published in 1859 by Canadian scientist John William Dawson, using specimens found along the shores of Gaspé Bay in Quebec, Canada as a basis. His initial interpretation was that the organism was an early conifer being rotted by a fungus, beginning a century-and-a-half debate on the nature of the organism that was only resolved in 2007.

In the early period of its dominance, Prototaxites would have been the only organism on land over a couple feet in height, as vascular plants were just starting out, and had not yet evolved true wood or leaves. It would have been spooky to view the late Silurian landscape, with nothing but a series of tall fungal monoliths towering over short plants harboring the first land animals — tiny arthropods, worms, and millipedes. This world was very different than that of today.

The fossil is a tall cylinder composed of interwoven tubes just 50 microns (millionths of a meter, or thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter. Lack of obvious vascular tissue ruled it out as a plant, but there was great debate about what exactly it was. Any proposal sounded crazy — how could a fungus, lichen, or algae be 26 ft tall? We still don't know, but a complete absence of large herbivores and a lack of competition from plants must have helped. Some have proposed that it was to spread its spores more easily, but fungi only a couple inches tall, such as mushrooms, seem to have no trouble spreading their spores.

Lacking the ability to photosynthesize, Prototaxites must have gotten its nutrients from extending its feeding tubes (hyphae) onto the surrounding ground. It is thought to have consumed cryptobiotic soil (also called biocrust), soil that contains bacteria, lichens, mosses, and other fungi. Today, cryptobiotic soil is only found in deserts, but during the Silurian and Devonian, it would have been much more common, providing ample food for this humongous fungus.

Some paleontologists consider Prototaxites to be among the strangest organisms that ever lived. It certainly displays the apex of fungi evolution before plants and animals took over the land.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.