Introducing Skippy the Bush, a Wollemi Pine.
*”It’s the equivalent of finding a Tyrannosaurus rex in your back yard,” said Jimmy Turner
, Director of Horticultural Research at Dallas Arboretum. It’s either a triumph of marketing or a millstone round the neck of botanists who think the Wollemi Pine
should have a place in the Anthropocene as well as the Jurassic era.
The first fossils of a Wollemi Pine-like tree date from around 200 million years ago at the start of the Jurassic. The last are from around two million years ago and it had been thought to be extinct. In 1996 David Noble, a NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services Officer, was in Wollemi National Park and found what looked like an odd tree. He took a fallen branch to botanists who first thought it was a fern. When Noble said it was from a tree it started a research programme that eventually found this was a whole new genus of plant similar to the trees that were common in the time of the dinosaurs.
The situation today is that fewer than 100 mature trees survive in the wild. When it comes to being endangered the Wollemi Pine makes the Giant Panda population look positively healthy. It’s closer to the Kakapo. It seems to me extraordinary that you can now buy something critically endangered for the back garden. The big advantage the Wollemi Pine has over the Kakapo is that it has more options for reproduction. A Kakapo like nearly all other animals needs a partner of the same species to reproduce, or the attempt ends in failure.
In a recent paper (Annals of Botany 107: 909–916; 2011) Tomlinson and Huggett indicated that reiterative branches in the pine Wollemi nobilis develop from groups of seemingly differentiated cells in axillary positions, not from ‘axillary meristems’, i.e. cells that retain a meristematic appearance. Burrows contends that previously published information indicates that axillary meristems are present in both main stem and branch leaf axils of W. nobilis and that this is also the situation in investigated species in the other genera of the Araucariaceae (Agathis and Araucaria). Tomlinson and Huggett provide a response to this critique.
I was in London earlier this week for an editorial meeting with many of the Annals of Botany members. As part of it, I took my first trip to Kew. So long as you’re not thinking, you can take a pleasant stroll around the gardens in two or three hours. There’s some nice shaded paths beneath the trees and some well-sculpted displays. If you stop and start thinking “Hey! Almost every one of these trees is different from its neighbours, how much effort is it to keep them all growing and healthy?” then you’ll need days. I took a few photos there and had the odd experience of one coming out as I expected it too. Usually I take dozens and try and find one I can rescue into something viewable.
A Wollemi Pine at Kew Gardens.
This is a Wollemi Pine. It’s found in Australia, but not very often as there’s fewer than 100 of them in the wild. It was also, till 1994, thought to be extinct as it was only known from fossils. It wasn’t till less than 20 years ago a stand of them was found 60 miles out of Sydney. Professor Carrick Chambers, director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, said at the time of the discovery that it was “the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth”.
You can find out why it’s in a cage at Kew, or buy one for yourself at the official website.