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A rare species of conifer, dubbed the ‘dinosaur tree’, which lived through two major ice ages and is now under threat from Australian wildfires, has been planted at RHS Garden Wisley and Rosemoor, as part of an international conservation effort to save them from extinction.
The critically endangered Wollemi pine, which can reach up to 40 metres high and has fern-like green leaves that grow in dense clusters, existed 200 million years ago during the Jurassic period when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Described as a ‘living fossil’, it was thought they had become extinct 70-90 million years ago, until 1994 when Australian botanist David Noble stumbled across a cluster of living trees whilst trekking through a remote gorge in the Wollemi National Park in New South Wales.
The discovery was hailed as one of the most important of its kind and a significant effort was made to preserve these wild trees in the Blue Mountains. The deep valley where they were growing had helped buffer them from climate extremes.
However, despite surviving geological climate change, including several ice ages, the trees were nearly destroyed by manmade climate change when wildfires swept through eastern Australia in 2019-20 and nearly wiped them out.
Due to the ever-increasing risk of wildfires, and the spread of pests and diseases, Botanic Gardens of Sydney teamed-up with Forestry England and organised a planting initiative that aimed to create a rich, genetically diverse population of these wild trees around the world.
RHS Wisley and RHS Rosemoor are among 28 botanic gardens across the UK and Europe chosen to receive part of a collection of 170 young Wollemi pine trees that were shipped over from Botanic Gardens of Sydney and cared-for at a Forestry England tree nursery.
RHS Director of Horticulture and Gardens, Tim Upson, said: “We are thrilled to be part of the extraordinary story of the Wollemi pine which has travelled all the way over from the Blue Mountains of Australia – a long lost-relative of the monkey puzzle tree, the Wollemi is a true survivor.
“Six Wollemi pines around 3 or 4 foot high have been planted at RHS Garden Wisley and another six at RHS Garden Rosemoor – both are suitable but different climates with it being much wetter in Devon. They will be cared for and carefully monitored by the curatorial teams and allowed to grow to full maturity.”
Separate collections were sent direct from Sydney to five Australian gardens and one in Atlanta, USA.
On Monday, botanist and broadcaster James Wong launched the initiative at Bedgebury National Pinetum where he helped plant six Wollemi pines. For more information, Click Here
Photo: Botanic Gardens of Sydney
This story was published on: 03/11/2023
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