Hawkesbury Valley Wollemi Pine
The Hawkesbury Valley is the Home of the Wollemi Pine
What is The Wollemi Pine?
The Wollemi Pine is a conifer that grows to a height of 35 metres with a trunk diameter of over one metre. The leaves vary from bright lime green on younger foliage to an apple green on mature foliage. The trunk is particularly unusual because it is covered with brown, knobbly, spongy bark. The Wollemi’s leaves are broad based and have no mechanism for being shed individually from the tree when they have passed their usual life span. Instead the Wollemi Pine sheds whole branches giving the litter on the forest floor a very distinctive appearance.
Why is it So Important?
The Wollemi Pine is a "living fossil". Its evolutionary line was thought to be long extinct. The ancient conifer family Araucariaceae, to which it belongs, has fossil representation as old as the Triassic Period (over 200 million years ago). The Araucariaceae reached maximum diversity during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, between 200 and 65 million years ago, when it had a worldwide distribution. Range and diversity was greatly reduced at the end of the Cretaceous period, at the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs, when the Araucariaceae became extinct in the Northern Hemisphere. The numbers slowly declined ever since.
The Wollemi Pine is one of the world's rarest plants, with fewer than 40 adult plants known to be in two small groves. The survival of this small pocket of trees is remarkable. The discovery of The Wollemi Pine emphasises the importance of having significant areas for the conservation of natural communities.
The Wollemi Pine's Habitat
A small grove ranging from seedlings to mature trees is growing in The Wollemi National Park, about 150 kilometres northwest of Sydney. The Park, almost 500,000 hectares, contains the largest wilderness area in New South Wales and is a very rugged mountainous region of canyons, cliffs and undisturbed forest. The trees are growing on wet ledges in a deep, sheltered rainforest gorge.
How Was The Wollemi Pine Discovered?
The discovery of the Wollemi Pine in 1994 made international headlines and enquires are still received from around the world.
Its discovery was by chance. In August 1994, a NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service field officer, David Noble, was bushwalking in the Wollemi National Park when he saw a grove of trees that he did not immediately recognise. The unusual forest litter drew his attention. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Senior Naturalist in the Blue Mountains area was called upon to identify the plant. He realised this was an unidentified plant and botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney confirmed that it is a new genus.
A research program, coordinated by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (RBG) is studying the ecology and biology of the habitat and species.
The NPWS is studying the ecosystem and preparing a conservation strategy for the protection of the grove of the Wollemi Pine. The tree's very survival depends on its isolation and by limiting access to the site the NPWS hopes to reduce the threat to the species.
The RBG is investigating the Wollemi Pine botanically and horticulturally. Research is in progress on propagation from seeds, cuttings and tissue culture.