Wollemi pines sent to UK

More than 170 young Wollemi pines grown by Botanic Gardens of Sydney were shipped from Australia and have been carefully looked after at Forestry England’s tree nursery at Bedgebury.

Six Wollemi pines will be planted to become part of the living collection at the National Pinetum, while the remaining trees have been distributed to 28 botanic gardens across the UK and Europe. Separate collections of trees have been sent direct from Sydney to five Australian botanic gardens and one in Atlanta in the USA.

The dinosaur tree

Wollemi pines have been dubbed the ‘dinosaur tree’ because fossil records show they were living 200 million years ago alongside the dinosaurs. It was thought they had become extinct between 70 and 90 million years ago until a chance discovery in 1994, when a small group of living trees was found by an Australian explorer and botanist, David Noble, growing in a remote gorge in the Wollemi National Park in New South Wales. This moment is considered one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time. The tree species is now classified as critically endangered on the IUCN’s red list, an important indicator of the world’s biodiversity which sets out the risks of extinction for plant and animal species.

Since its discovery, there has been a concerted effort to insure the species against the loss of the remaining wild trees, with fewer than 100 left growing in a gorge 150 kilometres from Sydney. These wild trees are increasingly vulnerable to threats from diseases and wildfires and narrowly escaped being destroyed by wildfires which burnt more than 10 million hectares of land in eastern Australia in 2019-2020.

Securing the future

Recent advances in genetic techniques have enabled Australian plant science and conservation experts to identify and breed genetically diverse Wollemi pines. For the first time, these genetically diverse collections of saplings are being made available to botanic gardens across the world. Locations have been chosen with a suitable climate, best suited for the trees to survive climate changes ahead. Together they will create a metacollection, a botanical collection shared by separate organisations but cared for collaboratively to research and conserve the species for the future. Growing the trees worldwide in this way preserves the widest range of genetic diversity found in the wild population and aims to safeguard Wollemi pines from becoming extinct.

Working in partnership, teams from Forestry England, Botanic Gardens of Sydney, and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) identified botanic gardens where the climate will best suit the Wollemi pines. They were helped by data from a global citizen science project led by Botanic Gardens of Sydney and Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which asked people to share their knowledge about Wollemi pines already growing in private gardens and parks across the world. Wollemi pines have been grown in private gardens and parks since 2005, though these trees are distinct from the trees forming the metacollection and lack their genetic diversity. As the metacollection becomes established, the teams will continue to monitor the trees as they grow and mature.

Read more at bgci.org.

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