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Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis)

nterest in and news about the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) is heating up--here’s the latest!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


November 25, 2007


Two shots of a Wollemi pine that are now for sale in Canada. Author photos.

This week, a follow-up item to my comments on the Wollemi pine, a way back in February. The botanical name is (Wollemia nobilis) and it is a member of the Araucariaceae family. It is thought to have existed 200 million years ago at the time of the dinosaurs. Other members of that plant family you may know are the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). The former grows outdoors here, and the latter is a houseplant both in Ontario and in British Columbia. The Wollemi is one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees and its discovery in 1994 by avid bushwalker David Noble, a New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Officer in Sydney’s Blue Mountains is considered to be a major botanical find in human history--akin to finding a dinosaur alive today. Previously, the Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct with only fossil records remaining. The species name is in honour of the discoverer of the tree.

The Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney, through its commitment to the Wollemi Pine Recovery Plan with NSW National Parks and Wildlife has licensed Wollemi Australia (comprising the Queensland Government Department of Primary Industries Forestry and Birkdale Nursery) to propagate and market the Wollemi Pine. When they were first released in 2005/6, royalties from the sale of Wollemi Pines began to be invested in the conservation of the pine and other rare and threatened species. Having Wollemi Pines in homes, gardens and parks worldwide will safeguard against the species becoming extinct and minimize the threat of unauthorized visits to the wild population.

The Wollemi Pine is a majestic conifer that grows up to 40 metres high in the wild with a trunk diameter of over one metre. Many of the pines have multiple trunks. Its bark is distinct even from related species, looking very much like bubbling chocolate. The unusual pendulous foliage has light apple green new tips in spring and early summer which contrasts against the older dark green foliage. Another unique feature is its pattern of branching with the mature foliage having two ranks of leaves along the branches.

Obviously folks in climates mild enough allow it to be grown outdoors should keep the huge ultimate height in mind when planting their tree(s)!

The Wollemi Pine is a hardy plant that can withstand a variety of temperatures from 0-45 °C. As the pines thrive in low light conditions, they will be ideal for indoor decoration as well as featuring in parks and gardens. A Wollemi Pine will also be the perfect unique gift for special occasions as well as make an ideal Christmas Tree.

Beginning early this year I had a number of inquiries about the tree and its availability. I also had a number of com-plaints from folks who wished to purchase a tree but found a number of roadblocks, including a seemingly uncooperative National Geographic organization who held the basic license for distribution. In addition to comments about a seemingly very hard commercial stance from National Geographic, others complained and commented on various Web blogs and forums about the exorbitant price for the small plants. National Geographic would no doubt explain that by the fact that there is a royalty programme which is going back into further research and conservation of such plants.

Originally the trees, propagated from tissue culture, were to have gone on sale for Christmas last year, but various United States Department of Agriculture and Canadian regulatory problems, arguments and skirmishes lead to one delay after another. Recently, however, there have been a number of commercial outlets who have stocked it, particularly out here in British Columbia.

Hamilton/Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens have one which many people have seen, and there is likewise one on display in the Kingsbrae Horticulture Garden in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

It would appear, according to some, it may be hardy as far north as zone 5, which includes Ottawa, but I very much doubt that. Likely it is hardy here, and in other similar zone 7 areas. However, should they prove to be hardy to zone 5, if that is the case, it should be hardy outdoors in southern Ontario. That will remain to be seen! Sydney, Australia has a hot climate, but the Wollemi pines found back in 1994 were located in a remote valley within the Blue Mountains, where the night and winter temperatures are considerably cooler than what those of us who know the Sydney climate have encountered there!

As far as availability is concerned, as mentioned, there are several outlets here in B.C. that are selling them, including, coincidentally, the nearest garden centre to me--that of Cannor Nurseries in Parksville. They have theirs priced at $99.99 for 40-45 cm plant in a 15 cm pot. I’ve checked with Brian Minter and Minter Country Gardens in Chilliwack, B.C. are selling them at that price as well.

Hole’s in St. Albert, Alberta are currently selling similar plants in 15 cm pots at $125, but plan to increase that price to $150 come December 1.

In Ontario and other similar climates, if the Wollemi proves not to be hardy outdoors, as I suspect will be the case, then it will make a rather good house plant (until it gets too large!) particularly as it is already accustomed to growing up in somewhat shade conditions.

Right now too, it is possible to order a tree from the official distributor in either Canada or the USA. Their price is Cdn. $149 plus shipping for a 15 cm pot.

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