The Wollemi pine, otherwise known as the Wollemia Nobilis, was thought to have been extinct until it was discovered growing deep in the wilderness of Australia in 1994.
Considered one of the planet’s last living creatures, the Wollemi pine has captured the imagination of scientists and conservationists all over the world, leading to more than 100 attempts to find other surviving populations of this remarkable plant.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about this endangered species and what you can do to help preserve it!
1. What is the Wollemi Pine?
The Wollemi pine is a rare species of tree that was only discovered in 1994. These trees were given a unique name to signify their importance and uniqueness. The name Wollemi is derived from two words, Wolle and Miel. Wolle refers to a common species of Australian Possum called Phascolarctos cinereus, while Miel refers to another tree in New South Wales found in tall wet forests.
David Noble: The discoverer
In 1994, a bushwalker named David Noble was on a bushwalk in Australia’s New South Wales when he stumbled upon what he thought was a very odd-looking tree.
A closer look at the Royal Botanic Gardens revealed that it was an unknown species of tree. Due to its size and age, it has been estimated that it could have been anywhere between 50,000 and 60,000 years old.
The wild Wollemi pine is a type of prehistoric plant that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years. Because of its long dormant period, it is sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
It can grow to heights of up to 35 meters and has deep green needles that are bright lime green. It is classified as a threatened species because it can take up to 10 years for a Wollemia Nobilis tree to produce its first female cone, which will then grow into an adult tree.
Because it’s classified as a critically endangered species, efforts are being made by organizations like National Parks and Wildlife Services in Australia and The Royal Botanic Gardens to ensure its survival.
2. Where does it grow?
Wollemi National park
Wollemi pines can be found in a remote area of New South Wales, Australia. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has designated the area as a national park, called the Wollemi National Park. The park also constitutes to be a member of the Gondwana Rainforests.
There are plans to extend it, too. The area is still largely unexplored, and many scientists believe there may be other unusual species of plants and animals just waiting to be discovered in Wollemi National Park.
Although it is sometimes called a dinosaur tree, there is no evidence that it survived from prehistory. Instead, it was believed to have been growing in a remote part of Australia for millions of years before anyone discovered it.
3. How old are they?
Wollemi pines are thought to be one of the oldest species on earth, with evidence to suggest that they are at least 200 million years old. It was not until 1997 that they were able to successfully collect seeds from these ancient trees.
The Wollemi pine is extremely slow growing, taking approximately 10 years to reach about 5 meters in height. As a result of their limited numbers, they are considered to be one of Australia’s most endangered and vulnerable species of tree. Due to these long growth cycles, it is estimated that they take around 20-30 years before they reach sexual maturity and can produce seeds.
They even survived the Ice Age?
The oldest known specimens are estimated to be around 40,000 years old and it is thought that they have only been able to survive due to their unique history on earth. The last Ice Age and the resulting climate change forced them into hiding and it is believed that they have survived by being one of Earth’s most isolated species.
The Wollemi pine has a very limited ability to disperse across large distances due to low seed production rates and its inability to disperse using wind or animal pollination.
It is thought that they originally evolved around 220 million years ago during a period known as ‘the Great American Interchange’ when Australia was connected to South America. The Wollemi pine is one of three species of fossilized trees that have been discovered in NSW, with evidence suggesting that these groups of trees once covered much of eastern Australia.
The Wollemi pines were hidden for so long because of where they grow. Rather than expanding on a mountaintop or in a forest, they grow deep within a rugged canyon that is difficult to reach.
This is due to isolation from other species and competition from other plants. Although it was discovered in 1994, there has never been an official count made of how many pine trees are left today. Some estimate less than 100 mature pine trees are remaining, but no one knows for sure.
Under Federal Protection
The species has been protected in its natural habitat since 1994 and is now protected under federal law as it is one of the most endangered plants in the world. There are currently efforts to increase their numbers with a small number of trees being planted in local botanical gardens so that they can be protected until they are strong enough to survive on their own.
Despite these efforts, many scientists believe that due to the large-scale habitat destruction that has taken place in Australia over recent decades, it is unlikely that we will ever see them return to their former glory.
4. Where did they come from?
It is believed that the Wollemi Pines are a relic from the time of Gondwana which was around 100 million years ago. This long-dead supercontinent formed when Australia, Antarctica, India, and South America were still joined together. The trees are thought to have survived because they grew in deep gorges where they were sheltered from extreme climate changes.
Was well preserved by nature
There are even theories that they have been growing in Australia for 160 million years! The trees remained undiscovered until 1994 when bushwalkers stumbled across them in a remote gorge in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
When botanists were able to examine these very unusual trees more closely, they were astounded by how primitive they were and also how healthy and strong they were. This was something new to science—never before had a tree as old as 20 million years have been found that was so well preserved!
5. How many species are there?
There are thought to be only a few thousand of these trees in the wild, with some estimates as low as 300. From an evolutionary perspective, they are living fossils. The last known relatives of the Wollemi pine died out around 200 million years ago, making them one of the most ancient species on Earth. Their closest relatives constitute pines like the Norfolk Island pine.
The entire population of wild trees grows in an area about 30 km long and around 7.5 km wide near a town called Lithgow, west of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. Most of these trees grow within a few kilometres of each other, with many on rocky outcrops accessible by walking paths only.
Unique in Appearance
The appearance of Wollemi pines is unique when compared to other species of pine tree and indeed to any other conifer native to NSW.
They have rough bark which peels off into small strips revealing patches of pale green beneath and their needles (leaves) are soft with apple green to the touch unlike those of the mountain ash or red cedar for example. They grow alongside tree ferns, rocks, etc.
They also have distinctive curved thorns which make identification easier. In their natural habitat, they can grow up to 40 meters tall but in cultivation, this may reach 60 meters or more if allowed space.
Both the sexes (male and female cones) are present on the same tree. Many people visit the National Park annually just to see this remarkable plant in its natural environment but others come too because it has such importance from an evolutionary point of view.
6. How fast do they grow?
Although it can take up to 20 years for Wollemi pines to reach full maturity, trees as young as three years old can be transplanted into your garden or outdoor space.
They grow naturally only in a small area of two national parks in Australia, but they have been extensively cultivated and are grown around the world. They thrive under ideal conditions in moist, cool areas with good air circulation, where temperatures average about 55–70 °F (13–21 °C) during their dormant period and don’t exceed 80 °F (27 °C) at any time.
They prefer acidic soil that ranges from slightly to moderately alkaline with good drainage and should be fertilized year-round with an organic fertilizer like cottonseed meal. They are drought-tolerant and can tolerate short periods of freezing temperatures, but they need protection from extreme heat.
Cuttings usually propagate them due to their rarity and endangered status. Given that it takes a long time for them to mature, you may want to consider purchasing a small tree rather than growing your cutting. This will ensure that you have more mature trees in your garden as soon as possible so you can reap all of their health benefits!
A two-year-old Wollemi pine only reaches a height of 12–16 inches (30–40 cm), so if you purchase one or have one grown for you, keep in mind that it takes time to grow completely.
Watering and other crucial parameters
It is crucial to water your Wollemi pine regularly while it is growing, with a thorough watering at least once every seven days. During their dormant period, they need less water but should still be watered every two or three weeks.
To encourage optimum growth and development, use compost to supplement your soil as well as an acidic fertilizer that’s specifically designed for use with conifers. For example, you can sprinkle 10–15 drops of slow-release fertilizer into each tree’s root ball in late fall and early spring before new growth appears. Water thoroughly after applying fertilizer and never add it directly on top of dry bark or trunk; always moisten it first by soaking it in a bucket first.
7. Are these trees still in existence?
Yes! It is a living fossil, and there are still some trees in existence. The last known wild populations of these trees were found near Sydney, Australia. Earlier, scientists discovered a stand of six tall pine-like trees in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. After careful study and analysis, they were found to be a new species that was identified as the Wollemi pine.
The name Wollemi came from a local Aboriginal word meaning ancient. The trees were thought to be millions of years old and it was such a shock to have found such an incredible tree. It is hard to believe that they have remained hidden in those mountains for all of these years, completely unknown.
And now that we know about them, we need to make sure they don’t go extinct. As more and more people learn about the Wollemi pine, it has been difficult to maintain their natural habitat because so many people want to see them. It is important to be respectful when seeing these special trees so that others can also enjoy them for generations.
8. Where can you see them?
Blue Mountains National Park
For such an amazing plant, it’s surprising that it has taken so long to make them available to everyone. The Blue Mountains National Park where they were discovered was declared in 1984 and is home to a wonderful range of natural attractions. Within it are gorges, mountains, and waterfalls, as well as many other beautiful plants including those typical of eucalyptus forests. There are about 900 types of eucalyptus trees alone in these woods.
Private nurseries and landowners
The Wollemi Pines have been planted at several different sites within these forests by Blue Mountains Forests Grow and private owners who have bought their trees from nurseries or through special programs set up by New South Wales Forestry Corporation
Localities near New South Wales
For now, only a few thousand of these trees have been planted in their natural home—it would be devastating if they were to become extinct again! There are eucalyptus forests all over Australia so even if you don’t live in New South Wales, you might be lucky enough to find one nearby.
If not, you can always visit and see a Wollemi Pine at some of Australia’s many botanic gardens. Some even host special activities related to these beautiful trees.
9. How do you know if you found a Wollemi tree?
By their geometry and appearance
Wollemi Pines are a rare type of tree, and one way to tell if you have found a Wollemi is to measure the trunk circumference. If it is between 4 cm and 8 cm, it may be a Wollemi pine. Another way to tell if you found a Wollemi tree is by looking for the distinctive ‘warty’ bark on the trunk. Warty means rough in appearance or feeling and this characteristic helps identify this type of tree.
By DNA testing
A more scientific way to identify Wollemi trees is with DNA testing. Since there are so few specimens left in the world, many people would like to know how many individuals exist at each location. DNA sampling has been used successfully in other areas of conservation work and we hope that scientists will also use it here as well
If you have found a Wollemi pine and want to report it, please contact ecologists in NSW National Parks by phoning or emailing them. They will also be very interested in taking your photograph so they can add it to their records. We hope you share any special places where you find these trees with others too!
Grow at Home
While it is illegal to dig up or take a Wollemi pine from public land, you can still have one in your backyard. You can help spread their seeds in local bushland by putting them on your garden compost heap and adding fresh mulch. This will keep the seeds safe until they germinate into a new Wollemi tree.
As well as being a great way to share Wollemi pines with others, mulching your garden is also a good way to help save water and reduce weeds. If you want more information on how you can plant and protect Wollemi pine, check out ‘Plant it 2020‘, an initiative by local councils to promote community gardening in their area. You can also search for Ancient Wollemi pines resurgent to know more about Wollemia Nobilis.
We hope this blog has given you a new perspective on the Wollemi pine. This fascinating tree can be found in an area of less than one square mile, making it one of the rarest trees in the world.
Luckily, due to global warming and its ability to adapt, we may not see it go extinct anytime soon. So while they might not be around forever, they are still worth our attention and care because they are a part of our natural history.