Palaeobotany is a lifely discipline nestled between geosciences and biosciences. It deals with the evolution of plant life from its beginnings on the one hand, and pays attention to the rocks containing the respective fossils on the other.
Fossil plants may be essential in resolving phylogenies of extant taxa in deep time. Plant macro- and microfossils are frequently applied for stratigraphic purposes and may also be important in palaeoecology and facies analysis, especially in the terrestrial realm. Therefore, plant remains should not be underestimated in their importance for the understanding of sedimentary systems and palaeoclimates. With its regard to deep time, research and collections of the Palaeobotanical Section at Frankfurt am Main should be assigned to “Biodiversity and Earth System Dynamics”.
Palaeobotanical research at Frankfurt is based on extensive collections in combination with a special library (which is not open to the public) and a chemical lab. The optical instrumentation especially comprises a research microscope LEITZ Metallux 3 and a binocular LEICA MZ16 FA, both equipped for epifluorescence. Furthermore, the head of the section is the responsible scientist for a Scanning Electron Microscope JEOL JSM-6490LV.
The oldest material in the collections of the Palaeobotanical Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum goes back to Eduard Rüppell early in the 19th century. The plant fossils were initially kept in the general palaeontological collections. Hermann Theodor Geyler who published repeatedly on plant fossils brought the palaeobotanical material for the first time together in the 1870ies in a separate section. Following his death in 1889 the material returned under the roof of the general geological and palaeontological collections.
Palaeobotany at Senckenberg owes its revival and rise to present importance mostly to the activities of Richard Kräusel. He received his PhD shortly before the 1st World War in Breslau (today Wroczław) by submitting a dissertation on fossil wood, but became a school teacher in Frankfurt am Main after the war in 1920. Being settled in Frankfurt he immediately started multifold palaeobotanical research in close contact to the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft (SNG) which is today the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (SGN). He soon received the teaching license for universities (Habilitation) and started teaching at the Geological-Palaeontological Institute of the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-University (today “Goethe-University”) in 1925. Due to intensified connections to Senckenberg, he was appointed as honorary head of the Palaeobotanical Collections in 1938. Soon after (1941), Kräusel became the head of the newly instituted Palaeobotanical Division. With the return of the herbarium from the university to Senckenberg in 1946 this became the Botanical-Palaeobotanical Division that was led by Richard Kräusel on an honorary base for the rest of his lifetime. For infrastructural reasons the Palaeobotanical Section was transferred to the Division for Palaeontology and Historical Geology in 2005.
Kräusel’s numerous scientific publications and the material he collected and acquired cover most of the earth’s history from the Precambrian to the Quarternary. He worked on Precambrian stromatolites and plant remains from Pleistocene interglacials, but his interest focused especially on fossil floras from the Devonian, the Triassic, the Tertiary, and the area of former Gondwana. He early recognized the importance of cuticular analysis and micro-palaeobotany/(palaeo)palynology and promoted these fields actively.
When Kräusel died in 1966 his research associate Friedemann Schaarschmidt was hired as head of a Palaeobotanical Section until his retirement in 1996. His scientific work and collection activities clearly continued the manifold tradition of his predecessor. As one of the founding members and long-term president and motor of the “Arbeitskreis für Paläobotanik und Palynologie” he turned the Section for some time into a center for the coordination of palaeobotanical activities in Germany. The manyfold tradition was taken over in 1996 and continued to present times by his former PhD-student Volder Wilde. Today, the Palaeobotanical Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum is one of the few permanent institutions of its kind in Germany.