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The 'veriform species' that Ellie Sattler discovers in Jurassic Park

Without a doubt, one of the great cinematographic wonders that Jurassic Park brought us in 1993 it was to see huge living dinosaurs . The dream of many came true in a huge theme zoo park, on a small island located about 190 km west of Costa Rica, as impressive as it is fictional.

After a long jet flight from Choteau, Montana, to San Jose, and a helicopter ride to the island, visitors split into two SUVs and head into the jungle, passing through a gigantic barbed wire fence. Minutes later, the vehicles stop to majestically show off the first ‘extinct’ dinosaur that visitors see. And they infect us with their emotion.

However, before getting to see the dinosaur , Dr. Ellie Sattler , paleobotanist, displaying her great powers of observation, says something about a leaf that she holds in her hands and analyzes with a critical eye.

Alan, it can’t be. This species of ‘veriform’ became extinct
in the Cretaceous period. I mean it’s impossible that…

Ellie SattlerJurassic Park

At that moment she is interrupted by Dr. Grant, who has been left speechless by the shocking image of a live Brachiosaurus, and who clumsily tries to get his partner’s attention with his hand, without losing sight of the animal.

But back to that plant.

What is “that kind of ‘veriform'”?

Let’s start from the beginning. There is no fossil with the name ‘veriform’ . This is a literary fiction, and I use that expression, and not ‘cinematic’, deliberately, because it first appears in Michael Crichton’s novel.

In the book, ‘veriform’ is given a full binomial scientific name, as if an actual species: Serenna veriformans . They classify it as a tree fern from the Jurassic period—in fact, Ed Regis’s character calls it a “Jurassic fern.” Dr. Sattler warns that its spores contain an alkaloid from the β-carboline group, which can be toxic. They attribute a toxicity 50 times higher than that of the oleander ( Nerium oleander ).

In this assumption, the fictitious species Serenna veriformans would be a prehistoric member of a very real group of plants: the Cyatheales . It is a group of ferns that had a great diversification during the Triassic and Jurassic, but with very few species alive today. Many of them maintain an appearance similar to that of the better known ferns, with an underground rhizome and leafy leaves that come directly from the ground. However, four of the modern families in this group, the Cybotiaceae, the Dichsoniaceae, the Metaxiaceae, and the Cyatheaceae , retain that arborescent character , which is unique. No other modern group of ferns takes on an arboreal form.

However, during the Triassic period, tree ferns were very common, forming part of the landscape, along with horsetail trees and early gymnosperms. Flowering plants – angiosperms – did not yet exist, it would take more than a million centuries for them to emerge and become the dominant organisms, relegating gymnosperms to the less than 1000 modern species, and the less than 800 species of modern tree ferns. Currently, tree horsetails are only found fossilized in rocks.

The ‘veriform’ of the film

In Steven Spielberg’s film, however, the ‘veriform’ plant that Sattler collects is not a fern . This is clearly a fairly modern-looking angiosperm that, according to Sattler, became extinct in the Cretaceous period.

The ‘veriform’ is, in the film, the first prehistoric species brought to life from extinction discovered by the group of visitors before seeing the first dinosaur , although only Dr. Sattler seems surprised by the existence of an extinct species 66 million from years ago. Perhaps because plants always go more unnoticed.

We cannot talk much more about this species, because, apart from that fictitious name, no other details are mentioned nor does the entire plant appear on screen. All we have is a leaf. However, if you look closely, it looks like a plant from the Araceae family . It is even very possible that they used some species of the genus Colocasia or Alocasia to perform the scene.

The oldest fossil species that can be classified within the Araceae family is Mayoa portugallica , which lived in the early Cretaceous, between 120 and 110 million years ago, in what is now Portugal. So, in film fiction, it’s plausible that the species Dr. Sattler finds went extinct in the late Cretaceous period , with most of the dinosaurs.

Where does the leaf that Ellie carries come from?

In the film we see the cars go through the electrified fences, and after a conversation between John Hammond and Donald Gennaro, they focus again on the SUV where the paleontologists are going, with the blade in the hands of the doctor. At no time do we see Sattler pick up the blade from anywhere.

However, that scene was part of the original script. Though the scene was cut from the film and doesn’t appear among the deleted scenes in multiple edits of the films over the last 29 years, we do know that it was made: it does appear briefly in the original 1993 Jurassic Park trailer .

She looks to her right, fascinated by the thick plant life
surrounding tropics. He bows his head, as if something is
wrong in the picture. Reach out and grab a branch
leafy as they pass, tearing it from the tree.

Translation of the original Jurassic Park screenplay (Koepp, 1992)

A little later, in the original script, you can read the scene where the cars stop. There, the word that Ellie uses to talk about the species is “vermiform”; although, it is probably a typo, since something vermiform is something that has the shape of a worm, and the plant in question does not meet that qualification. However, both the actress who played the role of Dr. Sattler,

Laura Dern, as the voice actress Beatriz García in the Spanish dubbed version, both employ the novel’s term, ‘veriforme’ (‘ veriforman ‘ in English).


Crichton, M. 1992. Jurassic Park. Plaza & Janes.

Friis, E. M. et al. 2004. Araceae from the Early Cretaceous of Portugal: Evidence on the emergence of monocotyledons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(47), 16565-16570. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0407174101

Koepp, D. 1992. Jurassic Park screenplay.

Smith, A. R. et al. 2006. A classification for extant ferns. Taxon, 55(3), 705-731.

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