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Meet the Wollemi Pine

The Wollemi Pine dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.

How old is the Wollemi Pine? 

Scientists believe that the Wollemi Pine ancestors may have existed in the wet forests of much of eastern Australia from the Jurassic period, 200 million years ago, through the Cretaceous period. Based on the fossil record scientists thought the tree had become extinct 2 million years ago. However, in 1994 an exciting discovery was made...  

Fossilised Wollemi Pine leaf
A fossilised Wollemi Pine leaf

Who discovered the Wollemi Pine?  

In September 1994 while on a canyoning trip, David Noble, an officer with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, discovered some trees he didn’t quite recognise. In a deep, narrow canyon of the rugged Wollemi National Park 150km northwest of Sydney, he had discovered what we now call Wollemia nobilis or the Wollemi Pine. This ‘dinosaur’ tree’s scientific name comes from the national park where it was found, and David Noble’s name. 

Wollemi is an Aboriginal word meaning "look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out"

Watch this video to learn about the hype the discovery of the Wollemi created all over the world and how, even in England these plants were being sold to gardeners.

How did the Wollemi Pine survive 200 million years of change?  

All the species from two hundred million years ago no longer exist today. They have either: 

  1. Evolved: over time, changing environments prompted adaptations in a plant or animal that allowed them to survive. These changes would slowly add up, and new species would form to survive new environments. 
  2. Gone extinct: animals or plants that did not develop positive adaptations to the changing world would not survive through time.

How the Wollemi survived!

Less than 100 Wollemi Pine trees were secluded deep inside their secret sandstone canyon, in a ferny warm temperate rainforest environment. This special place provided all the right conditions for the trees to survive for millenia. Since the first discovery, two more small groves have been discovered nearby. Wollemi Pines were once widespread across Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began its movement north. Australia’s climate changed, slowly becoming warmer and drier, eventually reducing their habitat down to just one canyon in the Wollemi wilderness.  

Some of the abiotic factors that have assisted in the survival of the Wollemi Pine
 
Wollemi Pines in their natural environment
 

Wollemi Pines have an amazing survival adaptation that allows them to sprout multiple trunks from one large root system, called coppicing. At the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, scientists are studying this ancient plant to ensure its survival. Soon after discovery, a plan was made to increase the number of trees of this rare species by propagating many plants so that people could buy them from the nursery and have their very own Dinosaur Tree growing in their backyard!
 

The multiple trunks of the Wollemi Pine

Activities - Meet the Wollemi

1. Timeline of the Wollemi

Re-create the timeline for the Wollemi Pine. Use this activity sheet to help.

2. Discovering hidden things

Just like the Wollemi Pines, there are many little secrets or things we don’t notice all around us in our school yards, our backyards, to out in the natural world. 

  1. Explore your playground or back yard to find something you have never seen before.
  2. For 30 secs draw what it is you see on a piece of paper. 
  3. Put your drawing down so you can't see it.
  4. Now focus totally on your object for 30 secs.
  5. Spend time adding more detail to your drawing.

Share your drawings with your friends. Discuss how the extra time to observe your object changed your drawing. Discuss how the Aboriginal word "Wollemi" is an appropriate name for this hidden gem.

3. Research

What is paleontology?  Conduct some research and choose your favourite extinct Australian species. Present it as an information poster. A great place to start your research is here

 

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