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Wollemi pine on display

By: Chris Hosking, Category: At The Museum, Date: 21 Nov 2010

Discovered as recently as 1994, the  Wollemi Pine has been referred to as the 'botanical find of the 20th Century' and 'the equivalent of finding a small living dinosaur on Earth'.

A small live Wollemi Pine is now on display My Photo Studio, part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Talbragar Jurassic fossil site 15

Yong Yi Zhen © Australian Museum

The display

There are four terrariums featuring live displays in My Photo Studio One display includes native cockroaches from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. These native cockroaches differ greatly from the introduced species that most Sydney residents are accustomed to, most native cockroaches actually like to bask in the sunlight and in captivity will sit for hours under a spotlight. Branches and live plants are provided for the cockroaches to climb and bask on, plants have been chosen to reflect the variety found in the Blue Mountains. The Wollemi Pine was chosen because it is endemic (found nowhere else) to the Blue Mountains and is remarkably distinctive.

In order to care for the pines, two specimens will be used and will take turns between being on exhibit and in resting under natural light. The small trees were provided by the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens.

The story so far.... 

For those who haven't heard of the botanic find of the 20th Century or who have forgotten what all the hype was about heres the main story:

The Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis, was named in honour of David Noble; the National Parks and Wildlife Service Officer who discovered a small stand of trees in a deep gorge in the vast wilderness of Wollemi National Park in 1994. Despite its very fern-like foliage, it was soon classified as a species of conifer, belonging to the family Araucariaceae. There are two living genera within the family, Agathis and Araucaria, however the seed-cone of this new plant did not fit into either, therefore a new genus was created Wollemia and soon after its species name noblis was added to form its scientific name.

The Wollemi Pine has a certain prehistoric look, and was beleived to have lived in Australia for a long time. Proof of the plants antiquity came from fossils held in the Australian Museum. One species of fossil plant; Agathis jurassica, (Described by Mary White in 1981) dates to a Jurassic fossil site in Talbragar, New South Wales and has foliage almost identical to those of living Wollemia. Pollen scientists were also able to match the living plants pollen with a variety of fossil pollen prevalent through the sediments of the Jurassic, Cretaceous and through to the last ice age when the species is beleived to have restricted in range due to the drying out of the Australian continent.

The Wollemi Pine may be the single greatest botanical discovery of the 20th Century, however was also one of the most endangered species of plants in the world with only a handful of adult specimens known to exist in the wild. Numerous government agencies have worked together to protect the species and one way has been to cultivate the trees and make them available to the worlds gardeners. This protects the wild pines in three ways; firstly the funds raised through selling the plants goes towards studying and protecting the wild stock. Secondly, the cultivated plants act as an insurance population in case the wild trees suffer another decrease in population. Lastly, having plants legally available prevents black market collectors from having to find and plunder the wild stock. The initial efforts to cultivate the Wollemi Pine were made at the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens and are now available for sale in many garden nurseries.

Further Reading

Woodward, J. 2002. The Wollemi Pine. Text Publishing. Melbourne.

Official website of the Wollemi Pine www.wollemipine.com

Publications about the Wollemi Pine,  www.environment.gov.au Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Tags wollemi, pine, conifer, Wollemia, nobilis, Araucariaceae, Blue, Mountains, David, Noble, Jurassic, agathis,