Prehistoric plant to grow in Nelson

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne, left and Gardens of the World owner Francis Day plant a Wollemi Pine at the Gardens of ...
Marion van Dijk

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne, left and Gardens of the World owner Francis Day plant a Wollemi Pine at the Gardens of the World in Hope.

A rare tree that has survived several ice ages and dates back to the time of dinosaurs can now be found at the Gardens of the World in Hope.

The Wollemi pine was discovered in a rainforest gorge in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales about 15 years ago and was previously thought to be extinct with the oldest known fossil being 90 million years old.

It is now critically endangered with less that 100 mature trees growing in the wild. 

Gardens of the World owner Francis Day said the discovery of the Wollemi pine was like finding gold with diamonds with it, to the horticultural world.  

"It's something that is very special to the world," said Day. "It's like finding a dinosaur alive really."

The Wollemi pine belongs to the ancient Araucariaceae family of coniferous trees that flourished in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras and its closest relatives include the kauri and Norfolk Island pine.

The ancient tree has dark green foliage, bubbly bark and was a bit like the totara to look at," said Day. 

It is thought the tree developed polar caps on it's growing tips during the colder months which enabled it to survive through ice ages.

Day said head gardener Jason Beattie had alerted him to the tree's existence several years ago and they were put on a waiting list after enquiring about it.

For biosecurity reasons, it had taken quite some time for the tree to arrive in the country. 

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The first Wollemi Pine to be planted in New Zealand was at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013.

It was grown by tissue culture at the Ambrosia Nursery, near Christchurch, under licence after the Environmental Protection Authority and iwi approved it.

The seedling arrived at the Gardens of the World in Hope earlier this year and Day said they had been waiting until after winter to plant it.

He said the gardens had many rare trees from different parts of the world, each grouped in their continent areas.

The Wollemi pine was planted in the Australian garden alongside native frangipani, brown pine and macadamia trees.

"People need to know there are these trees around and a lot of effort has gone into protecting them and enabling the public to see them and ensuring they survive," said Day. 

The chance to grow a specially propagated Wollemi pine to help regenerate the species was rather significant, said Day.

"It is very seldom you can say you have got a tree that goes back to the dinosaurs."

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne helped to plant the tree in a small ceremony with staff and visitors at the gardens on Friday. 

"It is a great privilege to be home to one of the world's oldest and rarest tree species and a greater privilege for generations of residents to be able come and watch it flourish and grow in our backyard," said Kempthorne. 

 - Stuff

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