Scientific Name: Wollemia nobilis
Common Names: Wollemi Pine
Plant Type: Tree
Environment: Needs plenty of water and can tolerate salt spray. Grows very well in shade but can also tolerate full sun; Prefers acidic soil, and responds well to fertilizer.
Bloom: Both male and female cones on the same plant (monoecious)
Uses: Tree to 120', so it will need plenty of space in any garden or yard
Other: Propagation by cutting is most successful as almost every adult found in the wild is genetically identical and only about 10% of seeds are viable. There are less than 100 trees known in the wild, but conservation efforts by the Australian authorities have estimated that around two million trees per year are being produced annually. Relatives of the Wollemia nobilis include Araucaria araucana(monkey puzzle tree), A. heterophylla (Norfolk Island pine) and Agathis species (kauri pines).
The Blue Mountains of Australia, 100 miles from Sydney, are filled with hundreds of narrow plunging canyons. These breathtaking canyons are made of sandstone and reach depths of about one thousand feet culminating in pools of icy water. In 1994, at the bottom of one of these canyons, David Noble, an officer of the New South Wales National Parks, found a grove of "odd looking trees with knobby chocolate-colored bark", and ranks of "ferny" leaves growing in spirals. Some of these specimens were over 120 feet tall with ten foot wide trunks; many growing with multiple trunks. He was unaware at the time of his discovery of what was eventually to be considered a "living fossil," thought to be extinct for over 100 million years. Professor Carrick Chambers, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney was quoted as saying this discovery was "the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth." Many botanists considered it the most exciting discovery since the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) nearly 70 years earlier in China. Wollemi is an aboriginal word defined as "watch out and look around you." David Noble's last name will be forever enshrined as that of the species.
Wollemi pine is not a true pine but a member of the Araucaria family. During the Jurassic age, many species of these massive evergreen trees ranged worldwide until the large extinction event that destroyed most large life forms on Earth. The entire family, Araucariaceae, is now restricted to Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, New Guinea, small islands in the South Pacific, and the tip of South America. The survival of many of the species in this family is thought to be attributed to the narrow canyons and the presence of water in these regions; providing refuge from the ravages of forest fires and volcanic activity.
Conservationists kept the location of the Wollemi pines concealed to avoid rogue plant collectors who might be eager to collect and possibly decimate the population. To improve their chances of survival, the Royal Botanical Garden of Sydney propagated cuttings and distributed them across the world to nurseries and botanical gardens before announcing the discovery. Our plants at SFBG were received in 2004 from Wollemi Australia Pty. Ltd. and can be found in the Ancient Plant Garden.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS:
Photos by Docent Joanne Taylor; text by Docent Kathy McNeil; profile by Associate Curator David Kruse-Pickler