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Determining its age

To determine the age of the Wollemi Pine, a scientific team cut cross-sections from a fallen tree trunk (a large mature, 35-40 metres tall trunk when it collapsed) at the first discovered site in Wollemi National Park, and sent them to the Australian National University Forestry Department for analysis.

Seasonal growth characteristics of the tree rings were examined under a scanning electron microscope. The sharpness of the latewood-earlywood boundaries, and the knowledge that winter freezing temperatures occur in the canyon, indicate that the rings are annual.

By counting the tree rings - the study of tree rings is called dendrochronology - combined with carbon dating, the best estimate for this sample is probably about 350 years old, meaning that this trunk starting growing around 1650!

However, because of the unusual branching habit of this species, we can’t determine how old the original tree was before this trunk was produced - possibly hundreds or even thousands of years since it was a seedling.

See also 'If Trees Could Talk...'

Papers:

  • Banks J C G, 2002. 'Wollemi pine: tree find of the 20th century', In: Australia's Ever-changing Forests V, Proceedings of the Fifth National Conference on Australian Forest History, Eds J Dargavel, D Gaughwin & B Libbis, CRES, Canberra: pp. 85-89.
  • Heady R D, Banks J G and Evans P D, 2002, 'Wood anatomy of Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis, Araucariaceae)', IAWA Journal 23: 339-357
  • Heady R, 2002. 'Micro-structure of Araucariaceae', In: Australia's Ever-changing Forests V, Proceedings of the Fifth National Conference on Australian Forest History, Eds J Dargavel, D Gaughwin & B Libbis, CRES, Canberra: pp 90-101
  • Brack C and Brookhouse M, 2017. 'Where the old things are: Australia's most ancient trees'. The Conversation 18/4/17

Multiple trunks of Wollemi Pine - a trait known as coppicing or self-coppicing

Cross section of the fallen Wollemi Pine trunk used in the tree aging study (dendrochronology)

Early- and late-wood boundaries in Wollemi Pine tree rings using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). Image: Roger Heady, ANU.

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