Country Life

The trees that time forgot


SAPLINGS of rare Wollemi pine trees dating back to the time of the dinosaurs have been shipped to 34 locations around the world—28 in the UK and Europe—for the first phase of a ‘metacollec­tion’ initiative to protect the species from extinction. Six were installed at Bedgebury National Pinetum in Kent in October, with another six planted at Bodnant Garden, north Wales, last week; a further 10 UK gardens taking part include Yorkshire Arboretum, RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, Westonbirt’s National Arboretum in Gloucester­shire and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh.

Known as the ‘dinosaur tree’ because fossil records show it was thriving 200 million years ago, Wollemia nobilis was thought to have been extinct for up to 90 million years, until 1994, when a little collection was discovered growing in a gorge in the Wollemi National Park in New South Wales by Australian explorer and botanist David Noble—dubbed ‘one of the greatest botanical discoverie­s of our time’. Today, there are fewer than 100 growing there, having narrowly escaped wildfires and disease. Meanwhile, scientists at the Botanic Gardens of Sydney have bred more than 170 ‘geneticall­y diverse’ Wollemi saplings to be planted in the UK and Europe; separate collection­s of trees have been sent to Australia and America.

It is hoped that planting the IUCN red-listed trees in specially chosen gardens with different climates might enhance their resilience, hindering extinction. To this end, new plantings will be monitored by Forestry England, the Botanic

Gardens of Sydney and Botanic Gardens Conservati­on Internatio­nal. ‘Since the remarkable discovery of the Wollemi pine almost 30 years ago, the world has fallen in love with this curious conifer and we have been dedicated to safeguardi­ng this rare species,’ explains Denise Ora, Botanic Gardens of Sydney chief executive. ‘Geneticall­y diverse plantings aim to maximise health, longevity and adaptive resilience to climate change… Having geneticall­y diverse Wollemi pines growing in botanic gardens around the world is a great example of how collaborat­ive internatio­nal conservati­on efforts will help provide a vital insurance policy against the extinction of this iconic tree in the wild.’

‘Replicatin­g the gorge that Wollemi pines enjoy in the wild is not straightfo­rward,’ adds Ned Lomax, Bodnant’s head gardener. ‘To plant the trees, the Bodnant Garden team carefully abseiled down the steep banks of the Dell, the sheltered, humid conditions of which should echo the gorge habitats that the pines enjoy in their natural range… it’s our hope that… [we can] be a real Welsh home from home.’

‘As we care for the Wollemi pines we plant,’ says Mike Seddon, Forestry England chief executive, ‘we’ll be able study the way they grow, learning with the other botanic gardens how they flourish outside Australia. The climate crisis means that across all continents many trees are facing urgent threats to their survival. We know that 34% of conifers are now endangered and our ongoing work to research, propagate and save tree species is more vital than ever.’

 ?? ?? Gardener Alex Davies abseils into the Dell to plant one of the Wollemi pines at Bodnant in Wales
Gardener Alex Davies abseils into the Dell to plant one of the Wollemi pines at Bodnant in Wales

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