The Upper Carboniferous flora of Ibbenbüren (Germany)

DickenbergThe number of places in Europe with coal mining has decreased considerably in the course of time, but in Ibbenbüren (Germany) the mine is still active, though it will also be closed in 2018. However, the circumstances for collectors of Carboniferous plants have declined during the past years. Previously one could rather simply collect fossils in the weekend at the waste heap of Dickenberg (click on the photo), but nowadays the site has been sealed off hermetically. Only through organised excursions there are still some possibilities.

As a lot of people have still fossils from Ibbenbüren in their possession, I thought it convenient to give a overview of the occurring plants. In the meantime I have got crates with specimens from five collectors. Together with my own collection they give a reasonable picture of the flora of this finding place.


During the Late Carboniferous large parts of Northwest and Central Europe consisted of lowlands covered with swamps. In these swamps peat was formed. Peatforming in lowlands only occurs when the increase of the peat layers is keeping pace with the descent of the soil. From time to time this equilibrium was disturbed and the swamps were flooded. The swamps drowned and got covered with a layer of erosional material (sand and clay). As a consequence of the pressure the peat layers settled down. After some time the depression got filled up, the descent of the soil slowed down or the sea level was lowering, and at the clay layer a new swamp came into existence. Read more

Coal mining

Coal has been extracted in this area from the fifteenth century on. At first this happened through 'Stollen', more or less horizontal galleries, following the layers from where they came to the surface. In the seventeenth century people started to dig vertical shafts and during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century the mining was intensified strongly.
Museum IbbenbürenThe production in the Westfeld (Dickenberg) was terminated in 1979. The Nordschacht near Mettingen in the Ostfeld (Schafberg) is the main productive shaft at the moment. This one originates from the fifties and it is with 1620 m the deepest coal mine in the world. The large quantities of gaz, coming from these layers, are burned and  converted into electricity.
Water in the mine has always been very problematic. Many millions of cubic meters had to and have to be removed each year. In the past particularly the superficial layers had to deal with water problems because they were most vulnerable to rainfall. In 1894 the mine got completely inundated and it took years before the extraction of coal could be resumed.
Most of the coal is burned directly in the power station; part of it is sold on the market. Because of the high level of carbon the coal is also used for water treatment.
In the course of time there have also been several small quarries and mines. The most important of these were Zeche Mathilde and Grube Mieke.

In the fine museum at Ibbenbüren (click on the photo above) the (eventful) history of the coal mining is pictured beautifully.

The flora

The coal swamp of IbbenbürenThere is only scarse literature on the plant fossils of Ibbenbüren. In the book Geologie des Osnabrücker Berglandes (Klassen et al., 1984, in German) the geology and the coal mining are rather extensively treated, but only few pages are dedicated to the flora. The main publication is the one by Bode (1927), in which the plants of the known layers of that time are listed.
All together Bode mentions nearly a hundred species, some of which have been renamed in the meantime. In my collection I have about seventy species, of which a couple have not been mentioned by Bode. This is quite understandable, because the mining had not yet reached the layers of the Westfalian B in 1927.
Most of the species are described briefly and illustrated below. For more information on the plants see the identification books by Josten (1991), Cleal & Thomas (1994) and Remy & Remy (1977).

Click on the picture on the right to see a fine impression of the atmosphere of the coal swamp of Ibbenbüren.

Choose one of the groups of plants below to continue:



Ferns and seed ferns

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Bode, H., 1927. Palaeobotanisch-stratigraphische Studien im Ibbenbürener Carbon. Preußischen Geologischen Landesanstalt, Berlijn.

Cleal C.J. & B.A. Thomas, 1994. Plant fossils of the British Coal Measures. The Palaeontological Association, Londen.

Gothan W. & Remy W., 1957. Steinkohlenpflanzen. Essen.

Josten K.-H., 1991. Die Steinkohlen-Floren Nordwestdeutschlands. Geologisches Landesamt Nordrhein-Westfalen, Krefeld.

Klassen H. 1984. Geologie des Osnabrücker Berglandes. Naturwissenschaftliches Museum, Osnabrück.

Remy W & Remy R, 1977. Die Floren des Erdaltertums. Glückauf, Essen

Stewart, W.N. & G.W. Rothwell, 1993. Paleobotany and the evolution of plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Taylor, T.N., E.L. Taylor & M. Krings, 2009. Paleobotany: The Biology and Evolution of Fossil Plants [2nd Ed]. New York: Academic Press.