Happy festive season and welcome to the third edition of Wollemi Watch, a quarterly online newsletter for Wollemi Pine enthusiasts the world over.
This edition features a series of exciting updates on how the Wollemi Pine is growing in cultivation in Australia. It highlights the conservation education work by the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, presents feedback from our subscribers in 2003, and answers commonly asked questions about the Wollemi Pine's link to dinosaurs and its suitability as a Christmas Tree.
We hope you enjoy this update and have a relaxing and fun holiday season.
The Wollemi in Cultivation
favourite plants take time to grow, mature and exhibit the range
of exciting features that characterise their species. The Wollemi
Pine is no exception. In favourable outdoor conditions, the Wollemi
Pines are growing at a rate of about ˝ a metre per year. This means
that by the time the plants are released in 2005/6, the original
plants that were cultivated will be up to 4 metres in height. The
bulk of the available plants will be in a range of smaller sizes
from 30cm to 1.5m in height.
Scientists researching the growth of the Wollemi Pines are also
monitoring and trialing the plants to establish their optimum growing
conditions. Based on trials in Australia, it is known that Wollemi
Pines are able to withstand temperatures ranging from -5 to 45 °C.
However, further research is required to establish whether the Wollemi
Pines will withstand below freezing temperatures for extended periods
of time. Trials are in the process of being set up in locations
such as the Northeast/west of the United States to test the Wollemi
Pine's cold hardiness.
It is anticipated that the Wollemi Pine will be much hardier than
expected. This view is partly based on the fact that Wollemi Pine
relatives such as the Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle
Tree currently grow outside in gardens in the Northwest of the United
States and Canada. The
Wollemi Pine has also developed a defensive mechanism for dealing
with cold and frost in that it produces a pale pink protective resinous
cap on its growing tips during winter (see picture to left of article).
When spring arrives the bright new green growth bursts through the
Even though results of cold hardiness trials in the northern hemisphere
are not yet available, it is important to note that the Wollemi
Pine will to be an excellent patio and indoor plant. Similar to
the wild population, the Wollemi Pines in cultivation respond very
well to low light situations. This is great news for those that
experience harsh winters and/or would not have the space to plant
a Wollemi Pine in their backyard. If left in a pot on your patio
or indoors, the Wollemi Pine will grow very slowly and could even
be trained to take a bonsai form.
Finishing the year on an exciting note, Scientists at the Mount
Annan Botanic Garden have announced that the first Wollemi Pine
in cultivation has produced both male and female cones on the same
tree. This tree is approximately seven years old. Further work is
still required to establish when these cones will produce seed.
Researchers have been collecting and storing pollen to test its
viability as well as attempting to hand-pollinate the female cones
in the hope that embryos are formed by late 2004. To see images
of the Wollemi Pine male and female cones,
please visit the photo
a virtual tour to the wild Wollemi Pine population
Behind the Scenes with Rusty Worsman
Worsman is the Community Education Officer at the Mount Tomah Botanic
Garden located in the world heritage listed Blue Mountains in Sydney,
Australia. He is also a member of the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team.
In both of these roles, Rusty is responsible for promoting the protection
and conservation of the Wollemi Pine through education.
The Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, where Rusty is based, boasts a collection
of ex situ Wollemi Pines that have been grown on from cuttings taken
from the wild population. There is also a grove of young Wollemi
Pines that were planted in the Gondwana Forest Walk by the team
that discovered and identified the ancient conifer almost 10 years
ago in the nearby Wollemi National Park. Rusty's job involves running
tours with school groups visiting these Wollemi Pines on display
in the Gardens.
Rusty's work also entails developing educational materials on the
Wollemi Pine and visiting schools to talk about the ancient conifer.
In 2000, Rusty toured schools in the four Australian states of New
South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania conducting
public talks and presentations on the Wollemi Pine. An important
aim of his Wollemi Pine education campaign is to highlight the fragility
of the wild Wollemi Pine site and to discourage people wanting to
visit the site.
The location of the Wollemi Pines in the wild is a closely guarded
secret to protect the Pines from any possible damage such as human
interference. Rusty has not even seen the Wollemi Pines in the wild
even though he has been involved in the Wollemi Pine project for
over 8 years. In Rusty's opinion, ensuring the wild population remains
secure from unexpected visitors is critical to safeguarding the
survival of the ancient species.
“If there were illegal visitors to the site, rare seedlings could
be trampled and root systems harmed. Those scientists that visit
the site to monitor the population take great care to ensure no
damage occurs at the site,” said Rusty.
Rusty's dedication to protecting the Wollemi Pine also extends to
his treatment of those he takes on tour. Due to the fact that the
Wollemi Pine is so valuable and rare, the Recovery Team has a policy
that any Wollemi Pines on tour must be secure and monitored at all
“I have had a few strange looks when I have stayed at country pubs
(motels) while I was on tour and I headed off to my room to bed
with a tree under my arm.”
“There was also the time when we travelled to Queensland by air
and the Pine had to be packaged in a special box to protect it during
the flight. We had all the big burly security guards in the cargo
area of the airport trying to peer into airholes in the box. It
was probably the first time they had ever been interested in a tree
in their lives.”
According to Rusty, there are not many plants these days that can
be used to enhance the enthusiasm of children on topics of conservation.
He believes the Wollemi Pine is one plant that captivates the interest
of children and offers many exciting lessons for teachers including
the links the Wollemi Pine has with fossils and dinosaurs.
“Teachers have said to me that it is the first time that a supposedly
difficult child has listened and/or participated constructively
on an excursion or in the class room. It makes teaching a lot easier
if the children are having fun. And kids love learning about the
Efforts are underway to develop materials on the Wollemi Pine for
schools in Australia and internationally. If you would like to offer
advice and contribute to this process, please contact email@example.com.
Stay tuned to hear more about people like Rusty who are working
to conserve and protect the Wollemi Pine for current and future
generations to enjoy.
Was the Wollemi Pine Dinosaur food?
Fossil evidence of the Wollemi Pine, or at least its ancestors,
goes back to the mid-Cretaceous, and possibly even the early Cretaceous
period some 110 million years ago. There are also fossil records
of dinosaurs in Australia at that time before they became extinct
globally around 65 million years ago. So is there a link between
the Wollemi Pine and dinosaurs in Australia? Dr Tom Rich, Curator
of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Museum Victoria in Melbourne,
says it is likely that dinosaurs crossed paths with the Wollemi
“The herbivorous dinosaurs in Australia would have existed at the
same time as the Wollemi Pine. In particular, the Queensland dinosaurs,
Muttaburrasaurus and Minmi are good candidates to have eaten the
Wollemi Pine. Also in Victoria, there is a diversity of smaller
herbivorous dinosaurs called Hypsilophodontids that include Leaellynasaura,
Qantassaurus, and Atlascopcosaurus which would have potentially
browsed on the Wollemi pine.”
Dr Rich and his wife Patricia, a vertebrate paleontologist at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, have uncovered dinosaur fossils from about 105 to 115 million years ago. By looking at fossil pollen samples from sediment layers laid down over thousands to millions of years, they have been able to get an environmental snapshot of southeastern Australia during that time period. The average temperature ranged between -6 to +3 degrees Celsius (21 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit), similar to the climate in Alaska today.
Almost half of the dinosaur fossils found in South Eastern Australia
are Hypsilophodontids which are small, speedy dinosaurs that ran
around on two feet. The smallest probably stood somewhere between
18 inches to two feet (40 to 60 centimeters) tall. Hypsilophodontids
flourished for 100 million years and have been found all over the
world, but were still somewhat rare—except in Australia.
"We think there were so many here because they were well-adapted
to the high latitudes. Their optic lobes are enlarged compared to
dinosaurs found closer to the Equator, which would enable them to
see better in the dark. It is likely that these polar dinosaurs
living in South Eastern Australia spent about three months a year
It is still unclear why these dinosaurs became extinct at the end
of the Cretaceous Period with speculation that the climate became
considerably colder. What we do know is that the Wollemi Pine outlived
these dinosaurs as well survived the ravages of bush fires, ice
ages and the movement of continents. With today's efforts to conserve
and protect the remaining Wollemi Pines in the wild, it is hoped
that these ancient trees will continue to exist and go on to outlive
us as well.
See more on polar dinosaurs in Australia
Pine Conservation Club: Subscriber Feedback
Pine enthusiasts worldwide have been signing up to the Wollemi Pine
Conservation Club to register their interest in acquiring a Wollemi
Pine. Here are just a few of the comments that we have received
“To know where we are going as a planet we need to understand where
we come from. Wollemi Pine is the link between the past and the
present. It should now be part of our future.”
Home Gardener, Canada
“I want my Wollemi, to celebrate the birth of my first child.”
Australia, Home Gardener
“I'd also like a Pterodactyl once the tree attains maturity!”
Home Gardener, USA
“The Wollemi Pine has been confined so long in such a narrow area.
Let it visit Italy. It might like it and survive well and meet friends”
Home Gardener, Italy
“As a horticulturist I am very excited about the info I have heard
about this beautiful plant. Thank you for preserving such an amazingly
old species before it is too late! We all need to take responsibility
to preserve our flora and fauna.”
“Delightful! Just when you thought there no more surprise the world
quietly reveals another treasure.”
“This would be great to plant in our school as it is covered in
Senior Science and Biology syllabuses in NSW”
“Fantastic project! It would be a superb achievement to conserve
the species and propagate it the world over. Would love to have
one in this part of the UK and get others informed and interested.
Very best wishes and good luck.”
UK, Home Gardener
“I am interested to receive a Wollemi Pine Seedling to give as a
gift to my father. He has been a passionate and dedicated gardener
for over 20 years and I know that he would love to help conserve
the species of an endangered tree.”
Home Gardener, Canada
“Your work on the Wollemi Pine is of great service to our understanding
of earth's natural history and will hopefully raise awareness on
the importance of preserving the fragile natural environment common
to us all.”
Home Gardener, Switzerland
more frequently asked questions
the Wollemi Pine Conservation Club registers your interest
in purchasing a Wollemi Pine when they are released in 2005/6.
Fact File: The Perfect Christmas Tree
The first recorded reference to the Christmas tree dates back to
the 16th century. In Strasbourg, Germany (now part of France), families
decorated fir trees with coloured paper, fruits and sweets. The
tradition later spread through Europe and the United States where
the selecting of the tree was seen as a family event which involved
travelling to a nearby forest to choose the perfect tree.
The concept of using a tree to symbolise life, is older than Christianity
and not exclusive to any one religion. Long before there was a Christmas,
Egyptians brought green palm branches into their homes on the shortest
day of the year in December as a symbol of life's triumph over death.
In the Middle Ages, the Paradise tree - an evergreen hung with red
apples - was the symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December
The trend in recent years is to use living Christmas trees rather
than artificial or cut trees. That is, a tree with roots, to be
used indoors for Christmas decoration and either kept in a pot to
be reused every year or later planted outdoors for landscaping.
The trend is driven by people that like to watch their tree grow
with their family and see it as a reminder of special Christmas
The Wollemi Pine has been hailed by horticulturalists as the perfect
Christmas tree. It has a natural conical shape and very flexible
leaves that can support Christmas decorations. A large 1.5 to 2
metre Wollemi Pine can also be kept in a pot if it remains in the
partial shade. It can be used year after year as the family's Christmas
Tree and for the rest of the year it makes a fantastic patio and
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
to tell us about other trees/plants that you think can be likened
to the Wollemi Pine in terms of their ancient heritage and/or amazing
story of discovery.
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