Thanks again to Ruth for today’s write-up:
A living fossil found in Australia! The genus Wollemia was only known to scientists as a fossil until 1994, when David Noble, a hiker and officer of Wollemi National Park, discovered a grove of Wollemi pines nestled in a sandstone gorge in the Blue Mountains of eastern Australia. Amazingly, this gorge is only 150 km from Sydney, Australia! Fewer than 100 individuals were discovered.
Since the discovery of Wollemia nobilis, seeds have been collected and plants grown with the intent to release the plant into cultivation and thus distribute it widely to ensure the survival of the species. You too can be a part of this extraordinary conservation project (if interested just type “Wollemi pine” into any search engine to find vendors).
As a member of the Auracariaceae, the Wollemi pine is not actually a pine at all, but rather a close relative of the monkey-puzzle (Araucaria araucana) and kauri (Agathis spp.). Wollemia, Agathis and Araucaria are the only three remaining genera of this ancient family (unless a new discovery changes things again!). The fossil record dates the Araucariaceae back to the Jurassic period (approximately 200 Ma ago) where it reached its peak diversity and existed nearly worldwide. The Wollemi pine is dated back to the Cretaceous period (approximately 140 Ma ago) from the fossil record. Along with the passing of the dinosaurs, the Araucariaceae vanished from the northern hemisphere and members of the family are now found in only the southern hemisphere unless cultivated. Wollemi pines have a wild habit of growth. They often have multiple trunks making them bushy but will grow to 40 meters (130 feet) in the wild. In cultivation, one can expect a much shorter height.
The photo accompanying this article is of the male cone from a Wollemi nobilis in the UBC Botanical Garden collections. This plant is under quarantine until mid-2009 as it was imported with soil. UBC Botanical Garden received this plant via Dr. Susan Murch — it is grown from one of the original cuttings of the oldest living Wollemi pine, “King Billy“. Daniel Mosquin took this exquisite photograph, Thanks Daniel!