the Wollemi Pine
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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.

Pink tip of Wollemi

Newsflash: The Wollemi in Cultivation

Our 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 resinous caps.

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 gallery.

Take a virtual tour to the wild Wollemi Pine population

Rusty Worsman

Behind the Scenes with Rusty Worsman

Rusty 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 times.

“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 Wollemi Pine.”

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

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 Pine.

“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 in darkness."

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

Wentworth Falls

Wollemi Pine Conservation Club: Subscriber Feedback

Wollemi 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 in 2003.

“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.”
Horticulturalist, Canada

“Delightful! Just when you thought there no more surprise the world quietly reveals another treasure.”
Conservationist, USA

“This would be great to plant in our school as it is covered in Senior Science and Biology syllabuses in NSW”
Teacher, Australia

“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

See more frequently asked questions

Joining the Wollemi Pine Conservation Club registers your interest in purchasing a Wollemi Pine when they are released in 2005/6.

Wollemi Pine in pot

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 24th.

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 occasions.

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 indoor plant.

Please email us at 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.

Want to experience the Wollemi Wilderness? Download your own Wollemi wallpaper >> Click Here

Photos: Jaime Plaza (Botanic Gardens Trust) and Blue Mountains Tourism Subsribe Send to a friend Join the Wollemi Pine Conservation Club
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