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Rare Wollemi pine in residence

The Wollemi pine, Wollemia nobilis, a Jurassic Age survivor known only through fossils until 1994, is perhaps the world’s rarest tree. Only about 100 exist in the wild, in a wilderness area of Australia.

After a bushwalker rappelled down a rock canyon and saw a grove of mature trees with bubbly, bumpy bark and fern-like foliage, botanists declared this find a new genus in the same family as the Monkey Puzzle and Norfolk Island pine trees.

To protect the few remaining trees, their location remains a secret. But propagation efforts begun by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney to collect seeds and make cuttings have expanded into a program of distributing the tree worldwide to prevent its extinction.

Two young trees now live at Haverford College Arboretum.

The Arboretum acquired them through the National Geographic Society, sole source of the tree in this country. Each specimen is less than a foot high, but their branches spread nearly two feet wide and are lined with flat, dark green needles. The tree is naturally multi-stemmed and has a more bushy form compared to its single-stemmed conifer relatives. Cones won’t appear until the tree is approximately 10 years of age. A white waxy coating develops on the growing bud tips in cooler months, presumed to be a protective measure that helped the trees survive many ice ages.

The scientific name for the tree honors both Australia’s Wollemi National Park where it was found and David Noble, its discoverer, a national parks and wildlife officer. The park covers over one million acres where streams have carved out massive canyons, walls feature prehistoric rock art in places and huge areas remain unexplored. Scientists believe that as Australia emerged from the ice ages and then dried out, the range of Wollemia nobilis shrank until it remained in only one canyon system in the park.

Like the Monkey Puzzle and the Norfolk Island pine, the Wollemi pine appears to be hardy only to Zone 7; Haverford College Arboretum, as a Zone 6 garden, overwinters its two specimens in the greenhouse, but puts them outside in the nursery during warmer months. As the trees mature, we hope to plant one out on campus in a spot protected from severe weather.

To read more about the Wollemi pine, go to:

Prof. Anita Isaacs (Political Science) and students cross Founders Green after class.

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