Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis,
Family: Araucariaceae - south eastern Australia,
Wollemi National Park. A monotypic genus of the southern
hemisphere, conifer family which includes the genera
Araucaria and Agathis.
Hailed as one of the botanical finds of
the century, there stands a group of ancient pine trees
located 150 km north-west of Sydney, in the Wollemi National
Park. These trees, called the Wollemi Pines, belonged to a
new genus of plants previously known only in fossils that
date back some 150 million years, to the age of dinosaurs.
Wollemi National Park contains the largest wilderness in New
South Wales. Erosion and weathering of the sandstone over
the millions of years, have created in the park hundreds of
remote gorges, some only a few metres wide and hundreds of
metres deep. It is in one of these gorges whilst on a
bushwalk, in August 1994
that David Noble, a National Parks and Wildlife Service
officer, found the Pines growing on a
ledge, in a sheltered rainforest gully.
The Wollemi Pine is a conifer that grows up to 35 m high and
with a trunk diameter of more than one metre. Its leaves
are bright lime green when young and turn to a yellow-green
as the leaves mature. The bark of the Wollemi Pine has a
look much like bubbling chocolate. This is very different to
the bark of other species in the same family Araucariaceae.
The Wollemi Pine, like its relatives, is bisexual with both
reproductive cones on the same tree. The male and female
cones grown on separate braches at the tips, with the male
cones always below the female cones, on older stems.
Why have they survived? It is believed that the gorge in
which they grow, is well protected from fire and the climate
in the gorge is similar to that of 60 million years ago,
when the Wollemi Pine flourished. With only 38 known adult
trees established in two groves, the National Parks and
Wildlife Service has developed a Species Recovery Plan, that
includes minimising the visits to the Pines and guarding
them against natural disaster such as fire, trampling by
human feet, diseases and harvesting by collectors.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are currently studying and
propagating the Wollemi Pine to ensure their survival. A
collection of plants are being grown form seeds and cuttings
at the Mount Annan Botanic Garden. It has already been
discovered that the Pine contains the anti-cancer chemical
taxol, previously associated mainly with the Yew trees from
the Northern Hemisphere.
Some plants are
on show at the Royal Botanic Gardens Mount Tomah, Mount Annan and Sydney.
National Parks and Wildlife Service