Sequence stratigraphic analysis of Pennsylvanian coal-bearing strata suggests that glacial-interglacial fluctuations at high latitudes drove cyclic changes in tropical biomes. A literature review of plant assemblages in this paleoclimatic context suggests that coal forests dominated during humid interglacial phases, but were replaced by seasonally dry vegetation during glacial phases. After each glacial event, coal forests reassembled with largely the same species composition. This remarkable stasis implies that coal-forest refugia existed across the equatorial landscape during glacial phases, expanding to repopulate lowlands during and following deglaciation. One possibility is that refugia comprised small pockets of wetland forest strung out along valleys at some sites, but data are currently insufficient to test this hypothesis. The model presented here, if accepted, dramatically alters our understanding of the coal forests and helps explain aspects of their dynamics.