The Wollemi Pine

The Wollemi pine - a very rare discovery

Known as the 'dinosaur tree' or 'living fossil', the Wollemi pine is certainly one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time.

In September 1994, NSW National Parks Wildlife Service officer, David Noble, discovered some trees he didn't quite recognise. In a deep, narrow canyon of the rugged Wollemi National Park, he discovered what we now call Wollemia nobilis or the Wollemi pine.

The dramatic discovery of an evolutionary line thought to be long extinct is even more remarkable because these tall and striking trees grow only 150 kilometres from Sydney, Australia's largest city. They were found in the extremely rugged Wollemi National Park, a largely undisturbed wilderness area.

It's rare, it's endangered, it's strange looking, and at first we didn't know all that much about it. Now worldwide demand for this plant is enormous the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan is researching the horticultural development of the Wollemi pine.

Tips on growing Wollemi pines

The plant grows especially well in a pot and can be grown in many garden situations. They grow surprisingly fast for conifers. After an initial slow start, cultivated seedlings grow to about one metre after three years, with a diameter near the base of about 30 millimetres. Be aware that this is a rare emergent rainforest tree, and although it has survived in the wild over many millennia, some growing situations are better than others.

Wollemi pines need some protection from full sunlight when they are young and they do best where the roots have a cool root run.

On average they grow around half a metre per year (although growth in the tough conditions in cultivation as well as in the wild is much, much slower). They start growing in early spring and grow mostly upwards for around two months. After this, they concentrate their energy on growing outwards.

This species favours acid soil - in their habitat the pH is as low as 4, and in potted cultivation they favour a pH of less than 6. Although their habitat soil is naturally low in nutrients, Wollemi pines respond well to fertiliser.

Young plants in cultivation need some protection from strong light provided by shade cloth or the shelter of other trees.

  • Wollemi pine is an excellent pot plant. Use the best quality potting mix suitable for pot plants. They can be grown in the ground but may be susceptible to common diseases if they are stressed.
  • Give your plant a cool root run.
  • Don't plant into hot, full sun situations.
  • Give the plant some protection from full sun (sunburn can easily occur when young - remember, they are a rainforest emergent species).
  • Protect the young plant from wind.
  • Plant where it will get filtered or dappled light.
  • Water especially when young. Underwatering or overwatering will predispose the plant to disease.
  • Keep competition from other plants to a minimum
  • Fertilise as for other trees. Wollemi pines aren't phosphorus-sensitive but don't overdo it.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for fertiliser and pest control.
  • Don't buy a wilted plant.