30 May 2019

Living fossils: Wakehurst's Wollemi pines

Meet our ancient trees which have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

By Joanna Wenham and Ellen McHale

Wollemi pines, Coates wood, Wakehurst

A living fossil 

Wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis) were thought to be extinct for two million years. 

But in 1994 a group of researchers were exploring the canyons of Wollemi in the Australian Blue Mountains, where they discovered a small group of them growing.

These trees were the last remaining plants of a species that once formed vast forests in Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica at the time of the dinosaurs.  

Wollemi pines, Coates wood, Wakehurst
Wollemi pines growing in Coates wood, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew

A new home at Wakehurst 

To conserve the newly discovered species, the trees were propagated and distributed to botanic gardens around the world. 

Wakehurst has 15 of the first ever Wollemi pines introduced to the UK. 
 

Wollemi pines, Wakehurst
Wollemi pine branches at Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew
Wollemi pines, Wakehurst
A Wollemi pine trunk at Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew

Settling in 

For the first three years of their lives, the Wollemi pines were grown in the safety of Wakehurst's nursery. 

They were individually surveyed and checked. Every centimetre of growth was recorded, along with the colour of their foliage and any signs of disease.   

They were planted in Coates Wood, where they're happily growing at a rate of 30cm a year. 

Wakehurst has some of the tallest trees, which have grown to the impressive height of over 8m. 

Wollemi pine, Wakehurst
Seeds on a Wollemi pine at Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew
The branches of a Wollemi pine at Wakehurst
The branches of a Wollemi pine at Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew
Wollemi pine, Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew
Wollemi pine, Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew

Baby Wollemi 

A few years ago our Wollemi pines started to flower, and this autumn we were able to collect the seeds.

We sowed the seeds in the nursery, and over 20 seedlings are now growing well.

We hope to collect more seeds this year and add to the seeds stored in the Millennium Seed Bank, which will protect this incredible species for the future.

Wollemi pine seedlings growing in the Wakehurst nursery
Wollemi pine seedlings in the Wakehurst nursery, RBG Kew
Wollemi seedlings, Wakehurst
Wollemi pine seedlings growing in the Wakehurst nursery, RBG Kew
Caring for Wollemi seedlings in the Wakehurst nursery
A horticulturalist caring for Wollemi seedlings in the Wakehurst nursery, RBG Kew
Wollemi pine, Wakehurst, Ellen McHale/RBG Kew

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