- © 2001 Cambridge University Press
The leaf longevity and seasonal timing of leaf abscission within a plant community is closely related to climate, a phenomenon referred to as leaf phenology. In this paper the leaf phenology of some mid-Cretaceous (late Albian) forests which grew at latitude of 75° S on Alexander Island, Antarctica, is analysed. Five independent techniques for determining leaf longevity are applied to the fossil remains of each of the canopy-forming trees. These techniques utilize: (1) the anatomical character of growth rings in trunk woods, (2) leaf trace persistence in juvenile branch and stem woods, (3) leaf physiognomy, (4) comparison with nearest living relatives, and (5) leaf taphonomy. The application of techniques 1–5 suggests that the araucarian and podocarp conifers, which comprised more than 90 % of the canopy-forming vegetation, were evergreen with leaf retention times in excess of 5–13 years. The application of techniques 3–5 to rare taxodioid conifers indicates the existence of both evergreen and deciduous habits in this group, whilst both ginkgos and taeniopterids, which are locally abundant, are interpreted as possessing a deciduous habit. The polar forests of Alexander Island were therefore dominantly evergreen. Preliminary analysis of five other mid-Cretaceous polar forests suggests the presence of dominantly evergreen vegetation in Australia and Antarctica, and mixed evergreen–deciduous vegetation in Alaska, northern Russia and New Zealand. Cold month mean temperature probably exerted the largest influence on the leaf phenology at each of these forest sites.