Wollemia is in critical danger, but its resilience still endures



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Wollemia is in critical danger, but its resilience still endures

Wollemia is one of the rarest botanical species in the world and its presence in nature is estimated at less than one hundred specimens. The recovery of the plant started in 1994 thanks to the discovery by the forest ranger David Noble in the bottom of a canyon of the Wollemi National Park, in the Australian Blue Mountains, of a single population.

Before then, the only traces available to scientists and botanists were fossils dating back ninety million years ago. Around Wollemia nobilis, a species considered extinct for a long time and recognized in recent times under fortuitous conditions, a commercial network has been established in recent years which sells specimens, obtained from seeds, in controlled quantities, through the establishment of a registered trademark of The Wollemi Pine, distributed in Europe by Wonderplants who import it through Proven Winners Europe, a plant breeding company.

The commercial and economic approach, taken by mutual agreement and on the initiative of the Australian scientific authorities, has the aim of autonomously financing the maintenance of conditions of active protection of plants in their natural environment, as well as naturally protecting the environment itself.

In fact, the original site, whose location has not been particularly advertised, being only of pure scientific interest, has been made completely inaccessible to tourism, and is actively monitored. In order to ensure its future survival, reproductions of this mighty tree which can reach considerable heights and dimensions have since begun, albeit in limited numbers.

Wollemia is in critical danger, but its resilience still endures

The plant grows, preferably in groups, in a very modest surface, and in a restricted quantity of adult individuals, on the lateral slopes at the bottom of some deep and narrow rocky valleys of the Wollemi National Park, in the Blue Mountains, on poor soil, where and they macerate plant debris and a thin layer of humus is produced.

In these valleys the incidence of wind is modest. The plant is commonly referred to as Wollemi pine, but it should be noted that it is not really a species of pine. Comparative studies with living and fossil species of Araucariaceae have allowed us to establish that it is rather a species belonging to that family; for which the genus Wollemia is unanimously placed alongside the genera Agathis and Araucaria.

Fossils resembling Wollemia, probably related to it, have been described in Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica, but Wollemia nobilis is the only living species of the genus. The bark is very characteristic, dark, very wrinkled and, it has been said, similar to Coco Pops cereals.

Unlike many other conifers, this species is able to emit suckers both in vegetation and after cutting. The structure of this species is strange and unmistakable because the lateral branches are never bifurcated and end in a cone.

When the cone matures the branch dies. New branches are usually produced from the main trunk. The evergreen needles are flat, up to 8 cm long and up to 5 mm wide. The female cones are green, up to 15 cm long; they ripen in about 2 years and release the seeds by disintegrating. The male cones are smaller, up to 11 cm long. The plant measures up to 40 m in height.