The Wollemi Pine is the only species in the third living genus (Wollemia) of the conifer family Araucariaceae. It has features in common with the other living genera Agathis and Araucaria as well as with Cretaceous and early Tertiary fossil groups such as Araucarioides.
Habitat and Growing Conditions
The Wollemi Pine grows to a height of 40 metres in its natural habitat with a trunk diameter of over one metre. The Pines have grown in temperatures from -5 to 45°C and are expected to withstand even cooler temperatures. They are fast growing, respond well to light and favour acid soils. The Wollemi Pines produced from seeds and cuttings from the wild population are growing rapidly and averaging about half a metre in height a year.
The Pine's habit of spontaneously sprouting multiple trunks from its base (known as self-coppicing) has proved a vital defense in withstanding damage through fire and other natural disasters. Another unusual characteristic of the Pine, common to the Araucaria genus, is its habit of shedding whole branches rather than individual leaves. The distinct bark which resembles bubbling chocolate is also unique to the Wollemi Pine.
Research has not yet revealed genetic variation within or between the Wollemi Pine populations. In fact, there is very low genetic variation within the whole family of Araucariaceae. Scientists believe that this may prove that it is possible to have exceptionally low variability and yet survive the ravages of bush fires, the ice age, dinosaurs, and the movement of continents.
Like its closest living relatives, the Wollemi Pine is bisexual with both female and male reproductive cones on the same tree. The male and female cones are found at the very tips of the branches, with the majority of the female cones at the top of the trees.
A fungus found on the leaves of some of the Wollemi Pines in the wild produces small quantities of a chemical known as Taxol - an anti cancer agent. However, the amount of Taxol found on the Wollemi Pines is too small to be used for medicinal purposes. Previously, Taxol has been found on other tree species, mostly from the Taxis genus (e.g. Yew Trees).
The aim of releasing the Wollemi Pine is to safeguard its long term survival by removing the threat of visits to the wild population.
Nearly 1 year ago, 15 Wollemi Pines were planted in three different secret locations in the arboretum at Kew Gardens to test how the trees discovered in Australia would fair in the UK climate.