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16 Dec 2019

I Spy A Wollemi Pine

Have you seen a Wollemi Pine growing in a park or garden? Help scientists understand more about this prehistoric pine to protect its future by filling out a quick citizen science survey. Read more about the Wollemi Pine and the purpose of the project below or jump straight to completing the I Spy A Wollemi Pine survey.

About our living fossil

The Wollemi Pine is a critically endangered native Australian tree. It was thought to be extinct for 60 million years until it was rediscovered in 1994 growing in a remote canyon in the Blue Mountains just 150km west of Sydney. It was dubbed the botanical discovery of the century and to explain why, here are some interesting facts: 

  • Wollemi Pine pollen cannot be distinguished from pollen found in the fossils of the Dillwynites genus, from the mid-Cretaceous period
  • There are fewer than 100 mature Wollemi Pines growing in their secret location in the wild in the Blue Mountains
  • The tallest Wollemi Pine in the wild is 43 metres
  • Most Wollemi Pines in the wild have more than one trunk (some have more than 20 trunks) and this unique survival trick is called ‘self-coppicing’
  • Wollemi Pines have very low genetic diversity and researchers at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and Deakin University in Victoria are currently sequencing its entire genome
  • The Araucaria species ‘Monkey-puzzle pine’, and ‘Norfolk Island pine’ are among the Wollemi Pine’s closest relatives

Read more facts in our FAQ section or listen to the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney's Branch Out podcast episode below.

From the wild to the world

Soon after the amazing discovery, the world fell in love with this ‘dinosaur tree’ and efforts to propagate Wollemi Pines began. The first trees were released to the public at a Sotheby’s auction in 2005, and in 2006 they became available at a small number of nurseries.

The curious conifer then became available to many parts of the world, and from there, its popularity grew even more. The prehistoric pine can now be found growing in parks, gardens and backyards all around the world. We’ve even heard stories of Wollemi Pines doing particularly well in locations as far from its home as northern England!

In recent years, some Wollemi Pines in cultivation have also begun to produce seeds, leading to a new market in seed-grown (rather than cutting-grown) plants. This is an exciting development for researchers too, as increased availability of seed means more scope for research on seed storage and germination, as well as seedling growth and survival.

Why does it matter where Wollemi Pines grow?

As a Principal Research Scientist based at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, I have been researching the Wollemi Pine for over 20 years. Together with the help of Dr Heidi Zimmer, who recently completed her PhD research into the ecology of the Wollemi Pine, we have launched the I Spy A Wollemi Pine citizen science survey.

We want to investigate where exactly Wollemi Pines are growing across Australia, and worldwide. Identifying the hottest, coldest, wettest and driest places where Wollemi Pines can grow will give us important insights into the environmental tolerances of this special tree, which will in turn help us manage it in a changing climate. We hope that this citizen science project will also raise awareness of the importance of botanic gardens in threatened plant conservation.

Play ‘I Spy’ and be a part of conserving our curious conifer

So, if you’ve seen a Wollemi Pine growing in a park or a garden, please take five to ten minutes to fill out the I Spy A Wollemi Pine survey. We also encourage you to share it with your colleagues, family and friends via email and on social media.

You can also learn more about Wollemi Pine research projects or see a Wollemi Pine growing at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

Category: Science
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