Vanishing Acts: Wollemi Pine

By Casey Hammett

The Wollemi Pine
The Wollemi Pine

The Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) was considered extinct until it was discovered in a remote gorge of Australia’s Wollemi National Park in 1994. Considered by many as the most important botanical find of the century, the tree’s history dates back 200 million years when its family was widespread across the supercontinent of Gondwana.

Surveys indicate that only 80 mature trees remaining in the wild. Such a small population led to the inclusion of the Wollemi Pine as a “critically endangered” species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; the only categories more severe are “extinct in the wild” and “extinct”.

The tree’s specific location remains a secret, but curious tourists pose one of the greatest threats the Wollemi pine. They trample seeds, disturb seedlings, compact soils, and can also introduce weeds and diseases. A root rot fungus now threatens the pines, likely carried in spore form on unauthorized visitors.

To ensure the survival of the Wollemi pine, their habitat remains under strict protection, their population is closely monitored, and propagation is conducted. Thanks to botanic gardens, arboreta, and other growers, more Wollemi pines now exist in cultivation than in the wild, leaving hope that the majestic conifer can flourish again.

Photo Credit: Devon Gardens Trust 

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Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat was developed and produced by The Morton Arboretum in association with the Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna and Flora International and Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Funding for this exhibit comes from The Morton Arboretum and the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services, Museums for America Grant Program.

Support locally comes from LG&E and KU. Additional support provided by Shepherdsville/Bullitt County Tourism.

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