Thomas F. McLoughlin’s A Guide to Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) Age Plant Fossils of Southwest Virginia is a narrow-focus book aimed at rock hounds, fossil collectors and students of paleobotany. Although primarily intended as a guide to identifying Carboniferous Period (360 to 286 million years ago) plant fossils commonly found in the coal fields of Virginia, McLoughlin also provides helpful instructions for the neophyte collector, including discussion of the tools and methodology used for collecting, as well as how to find fossils.
McGloughlin spent 28 years as a coal mine inspector for the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration, during which time he collected fossils in the mines and elsewhere. He also taught college geology for 26 years, and his expertise is evident in his precisely detailed descriptions and explanations.
The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of plant fossils representing specimens from Aborescent Lycopods and Cordiates to Kettlebottoms and Sphenophyllum. Each sample is meticulously notated with the location of its finding. It also offers a section on the marine fossil fauna found adjacent to plant fossils. This section however, lacks the thoughtful introduction that prefaces the other chapters and seems to be mostly an afterthought.
Also disappointing are the book’s many typos and punctuation errors, as well as occasional missteps with run-on sentences, dangling clauses, and subject-verb agreement.
With the exception of these problems, however, the book comprises a highly competent presentation of a specialized subject area. Neophytes should take note that some of the language is quite technical (“The distinguishing feature of a well preserved [sic] leaf-cushion of a genus Lepidodendron is a rhomboidal or fusiform cushion that is elongated longitudinally…”). But the author offers interesting information on what plant life looked like millions of years ago and his book should be a welcome addition to any geologist’s or fossil collector’s library, particularly those interested in southwestern Virginia.
Also available as an ebook.
Regional interest: Southwestern Virginia