Wolemia szlachetna

Do you know what is the oldest and rarest tree in the world? You never find out!

Few weeks ago, one of our readers has sent us an interesting mail, where he described his recent discovery about Wollemi Pine- the oldest and rarest tree in the world. Instead of looking for such a tree somewhere in the virgin forest, he simply went to one of the wine stores in the United Kingdom, where he discovered it. Check it out!


Forestry education in the wine store:)

Yes, itis true. The whole story started in the wine store, somewhere in the United Kingdom. Our reader went there, and found a very special bottle of wine, and his further forestry investigation has begun.

Wollemi vine. Photo credit: Jack.t

Wollemi Pine – accidental discovery

When he started to investigate what kind of tree is on the wine label, he found a short description on the back side both about the wine, and tree itself. The mysterious tree species was the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), which turned out to be one of the world’s oldest plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Moreover, there are only less than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild, what makes Wollemi Pine also the rarest tree in the world.

READ ALSO: Tropical forest found in Norway

Interestingly, Wollemia was only known through fossil records. However, in 1994, in a temperate rainforest wilderness area 200km west of Sydney within the 500,000 hectare Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains, David Noble a field officer of the Wollemi National Park in Blackheath, found Wollemia during his his adventurous bushwalking and rock climbing. Because he had a good botanical knowledge, he quickly recognised the trees as unusual and worthy of further investigation. Thanks to this discovery, the species was named after him (nobilis). Concerning the first part of the name, i.e. Wollemi – it is an Aboriginal word meaning “look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out”.

Wollemi Pine, which is not a pine!

In fact, Wollemia nobilis is not a pine, although in both botanical and popular literature the tree has been almost universally referred to as the Wollemi Pine. Wollemia is closer related to Agathis and Araucaria in the 200 million year old family Araucariaceae, rather than to a true pine (genus Pinus) or the pine family (Pinaceae).

How does the Wollemi Pine look like?

Wollemia nobilis is an evergreen tree reaching 25–40 m (82–131 ft) tall. The largest wild Wollemi Pine is located in the rainforest gorge (Australia), and is 40m tall with a main trunk of 63cm in width. Wollemia grows very fast in light, favours acid soils and temperatures from – 5 to 45°C (23 to 113°F). However, trials in the USA and Japan have indicated that Wollemia is able to survive temperatures as cold as -12°C (10.4 °F).

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Bark of Wollemi Pine. Author of the photo: Peter Woodard

The bark of Wolemia nobilis is very distinctive, bubbly dark brown and resemble, to some extent, Coco Pops breakfast cereal (photo on the right). Regarding the leaves, they are are flat linear, 3–8 cm long and 2–5 mm broad. Leaves are arranged spirally on the shoot but twisted at the base to appear in two or four flattened ranks.

The Wollemi Pine’s closest living relatives are the Norfolk Island Pine, Bunya Pine, Hoop Pine, Monkey Puzzle Pine (all Araicaroa species)and Kauri Pine (Agathis species).

The age of Wollemi

One of the most intersting characteristics of Wollemi pine is that it can sprout multiple trunks (called coppicing). Therefore, for instance, some of the older adult Wollemi Pines such as “The Bill Tree” may only be up to 400 years old but the tree’s roots could have been more than 1000 years old.

READ ALSO: The growth before death: a better understanding of tree mortality using tree ring data

Before trees were discovered in the wild, in 1994, Wollemia was only known through fossil records. One of the oldest known Wollemi Pine fossil is dated back 90 million years, what gave a base to scientists to create a hypothesis that the Pines were able also to exist in the Jurrassic period (200 million years ago).

Conservation of Wollemi Pine

Because there are only around 100 adult trees in the wild, it has become a secret where these unique trees are exactly located. National Parks and Wildlife Service in Australia have put regulations in place to minimise visits to the site and have developed a conservation strategy to protect the Pines from any human activity.  The Wollemi Pine has also been listed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as well as the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

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Wollemia nobilis cone and leaves. Photo credit: Velela

The second strategy to conserve Wollemi Pine is to cultivate and spread the species worldwide through. According to experts, by growing Wollemia nobilis in the gardens and parks in different places in the world can be a successful strategy to protect this rare species from teh loss in the wild.

Here you have a list of places, where you can see the Wollemi Pine live:

Australia:

  • Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney, NSW)
  • Mount Annan Botanic Gardens (south-west Sydney, NSW)
  • Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens (Blue Mountains, NSW)
  • Taronga Park Zoo (Sydney, NSW)
  • Botanic Gardens (Adelaide and Mt Lofty, SA)
  • Australian National Botanic Garden (Canberra, ACT)
  • Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden (Hobart, TAS)
  • Kings Park and Botanic Garden (Perth, WA)
  • Southbank Parklands (Brisbane, QLD)

    A Wollemi Pine sapling. Author of the photo: John Dalton
  • Roma Street Parkland (Brisbane, QLD)

Other countries:

  • Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (London, UK)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (Scotland)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Glasnevin (Dublin, Ireland)
  • Belgium National Botanic Gardens (Brussels, Belgium)
  • Hortus Botanicus (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
  • Vienna Botanic Gardens (Vienna, Austria)
  • Frankfurt Pamengarten (Frankfurt, Germany)
  • Disneyland Tokyo (Japan)
  • Taiwan National Museum (Taipei, Taiwan)
  • Kingsbrae Garden (St Andrews, NB, Canada)

And here are websites, where you can buy your own Wollemi Pine and take care of it.

  • Australia: Australian residents can contact one of the selected stockists nationally
  • UK: Residents of the UK can place their order now for the first release Wollemi Pines. Visit the UK web site for further details.
  • Europe: Web sites have now been launched for Western Europe, but it seems there are some problems to open them. I think it is the best to contact main distributors in Australia. They should have shipping ready for Germany and the Netherlands, and Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldovia, Russia, and Ukraine). At least they listed these languages at their website.
  • Japan: First release Wollemi Pines are set to be available from September 2006, similarily you should contact main distributors.

Personaly, before I buy one, definitely I have to find first my Wollemia in the wine store:) Looking at our reader photo, it has to taste great! Hunting has begun!


Sources: The Wollemi Pine website and Wikipedia – Wollemia
Main photo credit: Wollemia nobilis in Kew Gardens (London), next to evolution house. Author: Architeuthis Dux

2 thoughts on “Do you know what is the oldest and rarest tree in the world? You never find out!

    1. Thank you Robert for this information. Definitely, I will look for one when I will be next time in any botanic garden.

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