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Wollemi Pine Conservation Program

It’s rare, it’s endangered, it’s strange looking, and at first we didn’t know all that much about it. We have learnt so much about this unique and ancient plant over more than twenty years of research. However, there’s still a great deal to learn about the Wollemi Pine, not least to ensure its survival.

‘Dinosaur tree’ or ‘living fossil’, the Wollemi Pine is certainly one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time.

In September 1994, modern day explorer 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, he discovered what we now call Wollemia nobilis or the Wollemi Pine.

The dramatic discovery of an evolutionary line thought to be long extinct is even more remarkable with these tall and striking trees growing in a largely undisturbed wilderness area only 150 km from Sydney, the largest city in Australia. 

How marvellous and exciting that we should have discovered this rare survivor from such an ancient past
Sir David Attenborough
The discovery of the Wollemi Pine is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on earth
Professor Carrick Chambers
The Wollemi Pine is a unique reminder that the world is full of undiscovered wonders, that there is a lot more to know about our planet, and a lot to protect
Professor Tim Entwisle

Dr Cathy Offord collecting cuttings to establish an ex situ (off site) collection of Wollemi Pine plants.

Botanist Dr Ken Hill with Wollemi Pine leaves and fossil.

Searching for genetic variation in the Wollemi Pine.

The ex situ collection of Wollemi Pines is maintained by skilled horticultural staff.

Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) bark with its unique 'bubbly' texture.

Cross section of a fallen Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) trunk showing growth rings and used to determine the age of the trunk.

Cuttings of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) struck from (L-R) adult phase lateral, juvenile phase upright and juvenile phase lateral material.

Diseased cutting of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) resulting from experiments where plants were inoculated with pathogenic fungi.

Partially dissected female cone of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), showing details of scale and seeds.

Female (seed) cones of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) take 18 months to ripen after they begin growing in mid-summer.

Female (seed) cone of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) in spring 2004 during monitoring of cone development.

Royal Botanic Gardens photographer Jaime Plaza photographing the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) in the wild. Notice the sharp drop off the cliff and the rope to secure Jaime!

Male (pollen) cone of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). The male cone releases masses of wind-borne pollen in late spring to fertilise the egg cells in the female cones.

The many trunks formed by the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) due to the unusual habit of self-coppicing, means it is only possible to determine the age of individual trunks and not the trees

Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) produces both male and female cones on the same tree, on the tips of separate branches. They become sexually mature as early as 7 years of age.

Seed traps have been used to collect seeds of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) for ex situ growth and conservation via seedbanking at the Australian PlantBank.

Upright (orthotropic) branches of the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) develop from buds along the trunk, leading to a branching crown.

The last fossil record of the Wollemi Pine is dated at about two million years ago and so the Pine was thought to be extinct, until its chance rediscovery in 1994.

Seeds of the Wollemi Pine are, on average, 11mm long, 8.5mm wide and 1.5mm thick. Seeds have been banked at the Australian PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.

The magnificent and critically endangered Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) in the wild.

Potted cuttings of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) were grown in a glasshouse under fog to encourage root development.

Seeds of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) germinating in a petri dish. Experiments indicate that seeds germinate most rapidly at temperatures between 24°C and 30°C.

Through the millions of years of population decline, the Wollemi Pine has adopted a secondary reproductive strategy - self-coppicing - to cope with disturbance.

The Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) was discovered in a deep, narrow canyon of the rugged Wollemi National Park in 1994.

The Wollemi Pines grow in warm temperate rainforest in deep canyons dominated by Coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum) and Sassafras (Doryphora sassafras ).

Wollemi Pine wood anatomy using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). An oblique view of the corner of a small block of the wood of Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis). Image: Roger Heady, ANU.

Wollemi Pine wood anatomy using SEM. Magnified view of the cut ends of two tracheids (cells in xylem which transport water and mineral salts) as seen in transverse section. Image: Roger Heady, ANU.

Magnified view of part of a growth ring of Wollemi Pine using SEM. Smaller (latewood) cells (R) were produced in winter and larger (earlywood) cells (L) were produced in spring. Image: Roger Heady ANU

Wollemi Pine wood anatomy using SEM. Ray cells (which channel nutrients) are aligned vertically and tracheids (which channel water) are aligned horizontally. Image: Roger Heady, ANU.

Tangential LS of Wollemi Pine wood using SEM to show cut ends of rays. Tracheids aligned vertically, some with rows of circular-shaped bordered pits lining the walls. Image: Roger Heady, ANU.

These pages were compiled by staff and students of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, primarily Patricia Meagher, Cathy Offord and Heidi Zimmer, with editing by Hannah McPherson and Amelia Martyn Yenson.