This was the biggest botanical excitement of the 1990s. Although this tree (or at least the genus Wollemia ) was known from fossils from 200 million years ago, it was thought to have been long extinct. A small number of trees were found in a remote valley in the temperate rain forest in Australia in December 1994 by David Noble, a botanist and field officer of the Wollemi National Park. It is critically endangered in the wild, but by dint of a remarkable propagating effort hundreds of trees were made available by 2005 and distributed to Botanic Gardens around the world. The first in Ireland was planted in Glasnevin in September 2005. By May 2006 the first batch of trees were available to purchase by the general public. The future of the tree is probably now assured at least in cultivation. Specimens were planted in Northern Ireland at Mount Stewart, Belfast Botanic Gardens and a number of private gardens.
Wollemia has unfortunately collected the common name of Wollemi pine. It is not a pine - not even in the pine family! It is a relative of the monkey puzzle Araucaria araucana and belongs to the family Araucariaceae. Most of the specimens planted in the UK have grown remarkably fast, reminiscent of the success of the monkey puzzle when it was first introduced into the UK in Victorian times. Many have already started to produce male or female cones. The example with female cones shown below is in Mount Usher Garden just south of Dublin. The example with male cones is in the Botanic Gardens in Paris. The Belfast Botanic Gardens tree has produced some male cones
Because of the rarity and cost of the plants when first introduced, extreme measures were taken to protect them. Belfast Botanic Gardens enclosed our tree in a metal cage, whereas the National Trust garden at Mount Stewart managed to hide theirs among a grove of similar-looking relatives from the Araucariaceae family.
|Fast-growing Wollemia nobilis in Logan Botanic Garden (SW Scotland)||Leaves and bark of Wollemia nobilis|
|Female cones of Wollemia nobilis||Male cones of Wollemia nobilis|
Photos taken in Belfast Botanic Gardens, Logan Botanic Garden, Mount Usher, and Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 2014 and 2015. Copyright: Friends of Belfast Botanic Gardens.
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