Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassConiferopsida
OrderConiferales
FamilyAraucariaceae
GenusWollemia (1)
SizeHeight: 35 m (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR - D) on the IUCN Red List 2002 (1).

The Wollemi pine has been dubbed a 'living fossil' as it represents the only remaining member of an ancient genus dating back to the time of the dinosaurs, over 150 million years ago (2). This fascinating tree was only discovered as recently as 1994, and has caused great excitement in the botanical world. These conifers are tall trees with slender crowns; mature individuals often have many trunks that emerge from the base with some consisting of up to 100 stems of differing sizes (3). The bark has a bumpy surface caused by numerous spongy nodules covering the trunk of older trees. As the leaves mature, they develop from bright lime-green to a more yellowish-green (2). Both male and female cones are borne on each tree, with female ones on higher branches; the narrow male cones are reddish-brown in colour, whilst female cones are more rounded and mature from green to brown (3). The small, brown seeds that are produced are thin and papery with a wing around the edge to aid wind-dispersal (3).

Wollemi pines have an extremely limited distribution, being known from just two, barely separated sites within Wollemi National Park in New South Wales, Australia (3). As of 1998, the population numbered just 40 adult trees and around 200 seedlings (3).

Inhabits deep sandstone gorges were there is warm, temperate rainforest vegetation (3).

Wollemi pines reproduce both sexually, through wind-pollination, and vegetatively, resulting in numerous trunks arising on a single tree (3). It may be that only the oldest trunks are able to produce seeds; female cones are observed year-round but male cones mature in late September and early October, releasing their pollen over the next few months (3).

Seedlings appear to be slow-growing (3) and mature trees are extremely long-lived; some of the older individuals today are estimated to be between 500 and 1000 years old (2).

The remaining population of Wollemi pines may represent a relict of the previous extent of this species; it is thought that these trees may have been undergoing a slow, natural decline for thousands of years (3). The species is today threatened by the small size and limited range of its population, which is intrinsically at risk from any chance event that may occur, such as fire or the spread of disease (3).

The Wollemi pine is protected in Australia and the population is located within the Wollemi Pine National Park. A Recovery Plan has been drawn up, outlining strategies for the management of this fragile population; the overall objective is to ensure that this species remains viable in the long-term (3). Such a fascinating tree may have much to reveal about ancient species that were previously known only from fossils. Its discovery underlines the vital role that habitat conservation has to play in the preservation of biodiversity (3).

For more on the Wollemi pine see the Species Recovery Plan:
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/wollemia-nobilis.html

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2003)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney (April, 2003)
    http://www.rbgsyd.gov.au/information_about_plants/wollemi_pine/facts_&_figures
  3. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (1998) Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) Recovery Plan. NPWS, Sydney. Available at:
    http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/npws.nsf/Content/Home