THE WOLLEMI PINE




The Wollemi Pine is one of the world's oldest and rarest plants, and dates back to the time of the dinosaurs. It was discovered, on or about 10 September 1994, by David Noble, a field officer of the Wollemi National Park in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains.

Noble had good botanical knowledge, and quickly recognised the trees as unusual and worthy of further investigation. Returning with specimens, and expecting someone to be able to identify the plants, Noble soon found that they were new to science and the species was subsequently named after him. However, further study would be needed to establish its relationship to other conifers.

The initial suspicion was that it had certain characteristics of the 200-million-year-old family Araucariaceae. Comparison with living and fossilised Araucariaceae proved that it was a member of that family, and it has been placed into a new genus with Agathis and Araucaria. Fossils resembling Wollemia are widespread in Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica, but Wollemia nobilis is the sole living member of its genus.

The last known fossils of the genus date from approximately 2 million years ago. It is has therefore been described as a living fossil, or alternatively, a Lazarus taxon.

What does the Wollemi pine look like?

The Wollemi pine is an evergreen tree reaching 25–40 m (80–130 feet) tall. The bark is very distinctive, dark brown and knobbly, quoted as resembling Coco Pops breakfast cereal.

The tree coppices readily, and most specimens are multi-trunked or appear as clumps of trunks thought to derive from old coppice growth, with some consisting of up to 100 stems of differing sizes.

The branching is unique in that nearly all the side branches never have further branching. After a few years, each branch either terminates in a cone (either male or female) or ceases growth. After this, or when the cone becomes mature, the branch dies. New branches then arise from dormant buds on the main trunk. Rarely, a side branch will turn erect and develop into a secondary trunk, which then bears a new set of side branches.

The leaves are flat, linear, 3–8 cm long and 2–5 mm broad. They are arranged spirally on the shoot but twisted at the base to appear in two or four flattened ranks. As the leaves mature, they develop from bright lime-green to a more yellowish-green.

The seed cones are green, 6–12 cm long and 5–10 cm in diameter, and mature about 18–20 months after wind pollination. They disintegrate at maturity to release the seeds which are small and brown, thin and papery with a wing around the edge to aid wind-dispersal. The male (pollen) cones are slender conic, 5–11 cm long and 1–2 cm broad and reddish-brown in colour and are lower on the tree than the seed cones. Wollemi pine seedlings appear to be slow-growing and mature trees are extremely long-lived; some of the older individuals today are estimated to be between 500 and 1000 years old.

With less than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild, the Wollemi Pine is now the focus of extensive research to safeguard its survival.

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THE WOLLEMI PINE

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