The discovery of new specimens of Palaeonitella cranii (Kidston & Lang) Pia in the Early Devonian Rhynie chert permits the classification of this charophyte alga. This relatively small charophyte is composed of multicellular furcating branchlets with antheridia attached to the parent plant by a pedicel. The non-calcified gyrogonites, which are not seen in life position, are composed of six sinistrally spiralling cells and have six coronula cells arranged in a single layer around an apical pore.
Because the oogonia of P. cranii have six sinistrally spiralling cells and an apical pore, Palaeonitella has been assigned to the Palaeocharaceae. The shape and form of the oogonia is reminiscent of the extant Chareae, but the morphology of the thalli is indicative of the Nitelleae. This suggests that P. cranii, although retaining some characteristics of the Nitelleae, has some of the characteristics of the Chareae, supporting existing molecular studies which place the Nitelleae at the base of the Characeae.
Palaeonitella cranii inhabited the freshwater alkaline pools and streams which formed on sinter aprons created by hot spring activity. Extant charophytes exist in a similar environment (pH 8·66–8·9, temperature 25–30°C in summer) in pools and channels fed by hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.
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