The fossil record of land plants is an obvious source of information on the dynamics of mass extinctions in the geological past. In conjunction with the end-Permian ecological crisis, ≈250 million years ago, palynological data from East Greenland reveal some unanticipated patterns. We document the significant time lag between terrestrial ecosystem collapse and selective extinction among characteristic Late Permian plants. Furthermore, ecological crisis resulted in an initial increase in plant diversity, instead of a decrease. Paradoxically, these floral patterns correspond to a "dead zone" in the end-Permian faunal record, characterized by a paucity of marine invertebrate megafossils. The time-delayed, end-Permian plant extinctions resemble modeled "extinction debt" responses of multispecies metapopulations to progressive habitat destruction.