There’s a chance that you’ve never heard of a Wollemi pine tree before, and there is good reason for that. This is a tree species that was only discovered in 1994, there are only 100 adult trees known to exist at this point in time, and they are one of the worlds oldest and rarest plants.
The Wollemi pine is a plant genus of conifer that was only established in 1994. Part of the botanical family araucariaceae, the Wollemi pine’s most closest related living relatives are the Norfolk Island pine, the Bunya pine, the hoop pine, the monkey puzzle tree, and the Kauri pine.
These trees are sometimes referred to as “the dinosaur tree”. This is because there is a fossil record that dates back to over 90 million years ago show that the trees alive today are pretty much identical to how they lived back then. It is estimated that Wollemi pines existed during the Jurassic period, some 200 million years ago. It’s a living fossil!
Trees are cool. That’s why we compiled a crazy list of 101 Types of Trees from all around the world. There you can learn tons more about different types of pine trees, more kinds of conifers, evergreens, fruit trees, common trees, and trees that are even rarer than this one!
What do Wollemi Pine Trees Look Like?
Wollemi pine trees prefer to live in rainforest conditions, and so this means that their root system will only grow in the very top layers of the soil.
When a tree grows in a region that receives a lot of annual precipitation, the roots do not need to grow in the direction of a water source, as the soil is usually completely saturated. Therefore, roots will grow laterally and wide spreading, which helps keep the tree stable and upright.
Wollemi pines are a tall evergreen tree, usually reaching heights between 25 and 40 meters. When growing in the wild they will be closer to 40 meters, whereas if they are growing as a landscape tree they will be closer to 20 meters. These trees will usually have a trunk diameter of 1 meter.
The Wollemi pine tree is unusual in more ways than one. One of the most interesting features of this tree is its growing pattern. They spontaneously sprouts multiple trunks from the base trunk, in a fashion known as self coppicing.
This means that all of side branches of the tree do not have any further branches. A branch will grow from the trunk, and after a few years of growth, the branch will either terminate itself from growing, or grow a cone at the end of the branch. However, once a cone is mature, the branch will then die off.
From here, new branches will emerge from dormant buds that live along the trunk of the tree. These growing buds are a spectacularly wonderful adaptation to help prevent against damage from forest fires and other natural disasters.
*Author’s note here; I have written over 75 articles about trees now, and not a single one comes even close to having as strange of a growth pattern as this.
Wollemi pine trees have very characteristic bark. The bark is a very dark brown color and is very knobbly. Folks have likened the bark to bubbly bark chocolate, or like Rice Krispies covered in chocolate.
Wollemi pine trees are evergreen, meaning that the possess leaves that remain green, and persist all year long. These trees have needle-like leaves.
Wollemi pine needles are flat and between 1 and 3 inches in length. They are arrange spirally along shoots and are twisted at the base, which gives the tree the appearance of growing in ranks.
A needle will start out its life being a bright lime green color, and will eventually mature into a yellow green color. Another easy way to identify a Wollemi pine is through the contrast between the darker green older growth which persists as the new lime green growth emerges.
How do Wollemi Pine Trees Reproduce?
This is a coniferous tree, meaning that is possesses cones instead of flowers as reproductive parts.
Wollemi pine trees are monoecious, meaning that they possess both male cones (pollen cones) and female cones (seed cones). Cones are fertilized through wind pollination, meaning that cone scales open up to disperse pollen which will then land in the scales of a seed cone.
Pollen cones are red/brown, slender, conic, and 3-6 inches long. Male cones occur lower down on the tree, whereas seed cones occur higher up on the tree. This ensures that trees will be fertilized by another trees’ cones — ensuring higher genetic diversity.
Seed cones are green, ovoid, and 2-5 inches long. A seed cone will be fully mature about 18-20 months after wind pollination. Once it is mature, a cone will disintegrate in order to release seeds.
A Wollemi pine seed is very small and brown and each seed is covered in a light brown papery wing, which helps the seed in wind dispersal.
When were Wollemi Pine Trees Discovered?
The Wollemi tree was discovered in 1994 by a man named David Noble. David noble is a wildlife service officer who worked for the NSW National Park, and was one day trekking through the park when he spotted the unusual nature of the Wollemi pine tree.
David Noble was the discoverer of a new lineage of tree, which is in itself quite a monumental event. This discovery was made all the more incredible when it was discovered that the genus consisted of one of the most rare trees on the planet, with remarkable ancient lineage to top it off. This is a prehistoric tree!
When determining the age of some of the Wollemi pine trees, it was determined that the trunks and branches had significant ages discrepancies. (When referring back to the growth pattern of the Wollemi pine, this makes sense as this tree terminates its own branches.)
However, when dendrologists (tree scientists) were dating a specimen, they found that though branches were only a few decades old, trunks were closer to 400 years old, and root systems where over 1000 years old. This means that some of the roots of Wollemi pines have been around since the Roman empire.
Wollemi pines are endlessly interesting trees!
Where do Wollemi Pine Trees Grow?
Seeing as there are only 100 known Wollemi pine trees (of a wild population) on the planet, they have more of a growing cove rather than a growing range. Their growing cove is in a rainforest gorge wilderness area that is 93 miles away from Sydney, Australia.
They are native plants to the Wollemi National Park (or sometimes referred to as Wollemi Wilderness) in New South Wales in a very remote area of steep sandstone gorges. This area is called Gospers Mountain, and it is an undisturbed temperate rainforest area.
What are the Growing Conditions of Wollemi Pine Trees?
The Wollemi pine tends to favor moist and acidic soils. They live in an area of Australia that is very moist, and therefore will only tolerate consistently moist soils.
These trees can tolerate both full sun and full shade conditions, which is quite unusual for an evergreen conifer.
Though it was first assumed that Wollemi pines were only able to exist in very warm temperate rainforest conditions, studies have been done to prove that they are more adaptable and cold hardy than anticipated.
Though they will still only exist in a humid distribution, they are able to tolerate temperatures ranging anywhere from 23 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are Wollemi Pine Trees Endangered?
Wollemi pines trees are categorized as being critically endangered and are now legally protected in Australia. With an already tiny population, it was a devastating blow to discover that these trees were infected by a virulent water mould called phytophtora cinnamoni.
This water mould is thought to have been introduced to their area by unauthorized people who visited the undisturbed forest site.
The tree became even further endangered by the 2019 Australian bushfire that decimated a horrifying portion of Australian wildlife.
However, conservation efforts have been slowly bringing the Wollemi pine population to more safe numbers, and is considered as being one of the most effective and dramatic efforts in history.
The greatest way in which these trees are being repopulated is actually thrown seed harvesting, and by people growing Wollemi pines as garden and landscape trees. They are such special trees, that they even hold a place in the Royal Botanic Garden.