A record of polar Eocene forests is preserved as in situ tree-stump fields and leaf-litter mats in Buchanan Lake Formation sediments on Axel Heiberg Island, in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Stratigraphic examination at the centimetre to metre scale of peat–coal lithology and macrofossil floristics in two levels of these fossil forests reflects small-scale changes in forest composition and swamp hydrology horizontally and temporal variation vertically. Root system structure and tree base stratigraphy suggest that exposed tree stumps may not include only coeval individuals of a single forest stand, but rather also individuals representing different phases of the forest through one cycle of the hydrological development of this Eocene polar forest community. Earlier calculations of stand density and biomass, based upon the assumption that all stumps represent coeval trees, may therefore be greatly overestimated. A mosaic of Alnus – fern bog, mixed coniferous community, and taxodiaceous (Metasequoia–Glyptostrobus) swamp appears to have produced both the leaf mats and the in situ stumps, with the taxodiaceous swamp the dominant peat-accumulating phase.