Origins and Relationships of the Mixed Mesophytic Forest of Oregon-Idaho, China, and Kentucky: Review and Synthesis

Jerry M. Baskin, Carol C. Baskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The Arcto-Tertiary Geoflora concept of Ralph Chaney, that the Mixed Mesophytic Forest of eastern Asia and eastern North America are relicts of a Northern Hemisphere high-latitude circumglobal deciduous forest of the Late Cretaceous-Early Tertiary that migrated south to the temperate zone as an intact unit, was shown by Wolfe and others to be invalid. To explain the origin and development of these disjunct forests, Wolfe and Tiffney developed the boreotropical hypothesis. Accordingly, a paratropical (near-tropical) rainforest flora containing a mixture of tropical, paratropical, and temperate genera developed at several places in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere in the Eocene and spread around the globe via the Bering and North Atlantic land bridges and shores of the Tethys Seaway. Further, the Mixed Mesophytic Forest of eastern Asia and eastern North America developed independently after disruption of the boreotropical flora by subsequent changes in climate and geography, thus accounting for differences in the flora and physiognomy of the present-day Mixed Mesophytic Forest in the two areas. The fruit and seed flora of the Middle Eocene Clarno Nut Beds of Oregon are representative of the boreotropical forest. In response to climatic cooling during the Eocene-Oligocene transition, this broad-leaved evergreen rainforest was replaced by a temperate broad-leaved deciduous (Mixed Mesophytic) forest, which remained present in the Pacific Northwest through most of the Miocene. The Early Oligocene Bridge Creek flora of Oregon, the Middle Miocene Succor Creek flora of eastern Oregon and adjacent Idaho, and the Middle Miocene Clarkia and Musselshell Creek floras of northern Idaho are good examples of the Mixed Mesophytic Forest. These Oligocene-Miocene fossil floras include important genera in the present-day Mixed Mesophytic Forest of eastern Asia and eastern North America, as well as those that today occur only in eastern Asia or only in eastern North America. Using Graham as the primary source of, and guide to, information on microfossil and megafossil plant paleoassemblages and paleoclimates in eastern North America, we chart the Late Cretaceous-Tertiary sequence of vegetation and climate for Kentucky. Further, we briefly review the palynofloral provinces in which Kentucky was situated during the Middle and Early Cretaceous. In contrast to the Mixed Mesophytic Forest flora (a component of the boreotropical forest) of the Middle Eocene Clarno Nut Beds, the Middle Eocene Claiborne flora of Tennessee and Kentucky represents a semideciduous tropical dry forest dominated by Leguminosae taxa that have strong phylogenetic and biogeographical relationships with the Old World and tropical South America. Apparently, this dry forest developed from a Paleocene-Early Eocene tropical rainforest following a decrease in amount and an increase in seasonality of rainfall. The Mixed Mesophytic Forest developed from this seasonally dry forest following the Eocene as a result of an increase in the amount of rainfall and a decrease in its seasonality. The hypothesis that closely related disjunct taxa between eastern Asia and eastern and western North America represent relicts of a circumglobal Mixed Mesophytic Forest in the Miocene is supported by fossil and molecular phylogenetic data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-552
Number of pages28
JournalAnnals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 27 2016


  • Arcto-Tertiary Geoflora concept
  • China
  • Mixed Mesophytic Forest
  • North America
  • biogeography
  • boreotropical hypothesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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