The Wollemi pine was thought to have been extinct for two million years until 1994 when NSW National Parks and Wildlife Officer David Noble came across a cluster of unusual trees in a rainforest gorge in the Wollemi National Park in Australia.
About Kew's Wollemi pine trees
In 1997, Sydney Botanic Garden presented Kew with two seedlings and 30 seeds of Wollemi pine. The seeds are now stored safely in the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst and the seedlings are planted in the Temperate House.
In 2005, Sir David Attenborough planted this tree at Kew Gardens, the first planted outdoors outside of Australia, and another specimen was planted in the Southern Hemisphere Garden at Wakehurst. Both are now growing into healthy young trees.
Take a closer look
- Wollemi pines reproduce both sexually, through wind-pollination, and vegetatively, which leads to numerous trunks developing on a single tree. Some say the trunk’s knobbly dark brown bark looks like coco pops.
- Visit at different times of year and you'll notice this tree’s foliage change. It also varies with age. New frond-like foliage is apple green, but turns bluish over time. Older foliage has two rows of leaves on the branches, similar to a stegosaurus’ back. During colder months the foliage is tinged with bronze.
With so few wild specimens to study, scientists still have a lot to learn about the Wollemi pine. Female cones are observed year-round but male cones mature in late September and early October.
Seedlings appear to be slow-growing and mature trees are extremely long-lived. Some of the older individuals today are estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 years old.
Cultivation and uses
Less than 100 mature trees now grow in the wild, and their location is a closely guarded secret to protect them from collectors. Since its discovery in 1994, and once hardiness trials proved they could cope with the UK's climate, the Wollemi pine has become a prized ornamental.
Specimens of the tree are on sale in Kew’s shop at the Victoria Gate, with royalties from sales going to support conservation of the Wollemi pine and other rare plant species.
- Scientific name: Wollemia nobilis
- Family: Araucariaceae
- Place of origin: Wollemi National Park, Blue Mountains, Australia
- Conservation status: Critically Endangered
- Date planted: 2005
- Height: 3.1 m. With so few living trees we know very little about them – but from the few wild specimens it seems they can grow to at least 40 m.