the Wollemi Pine

Scientists Cultivate Jurassic Tree Seedling

SYDNEY (AP) Only a day after announcing the discovery of a real-life Jurassic Park, where pine trees thought extinct for 150 million years still thrive, scientists have unveiled the sequel:
It's the son - or seedling of the Jurassic Bark.

For the last two weeks, horticulturists at the Mount Annan Botanic Garden have mounted a secret, feverish effort to propagate seeds from the prehistoric pines, found only last August and christened the Wollemi Pines, after the park they were found in.

On Thursday, they announced the good news: It's a seedling!

Forty seeds recovered from the grove of Wollemi Pines have been incubating in a special plant nutrient solution and one has sprouted, said Cathy Offord, the research officer at the gardens.

The institution is also experimenting with branches and leaves brought back from the secret site of the Wollemi Pines to see if they reproduce by sending out runners or shoots.

"Because it is a new genus, we have no prior knowledge of how to propagate the plant," Offord said.

Now the Mount Annan Botanic Garden is hoping, like the fictional founder of the fantasy Juranic Park, to get rich by propagating prehistoric pot plants.

"Let's face it, everyone is going to want one of these plants from the age of the dinosaurs," said Mark Savio, curator of the gardens.

Modern cultivation techniques could use tissue cultures to propagate thousands of plants a year from a single bud.

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On Wednesday, Carrick Chambers, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, said the discovery of the 39 Wollemi Pines "is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth."

"It really is a living fossil," said Barbara Briggs, the institution's scientific director.

The trees were found in August in an almost inaccessible part of Wollemi National Park, about 200 km west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains.

The biggest tree towers 40 meters with a 3-meter girth, indicating it is at least 150 years old, said Nicholas Harord, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry.

They are covered in dense, waxy foliage and have distinctive nobby bark that makes them look like they are coated with bubbly brown chocolate.

So far only 23 adult trees and 16 juveniles have been found, making it one of the world's rarest plants. Their exact location is being kept secret to protect them while botanists take seed samples to propagate them.

Its home is a tiny 5,000-sq.meter grove of rain forest in the 500,000-heetare park, found by National Parks and Wildlife Service officer David Noble on a weekend hiking holiday.

Briggs hailed it as one of Australia's most outstanding scientific discoveries of the century, comparable to the living fossil finds of the dawn redwood tree in China in 1944, and the coelacanth fish in 1938 off Madagascar.

The closest relatives of the Wollemi Pines died out in the Jurassic era, 195 million to 140 million years ago, and the Cretaceous era, 140 million to 65 million years ago. The Wollemi pine had been thought extinct for 150 million years.

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