Wollemi Pine

wollumi.jpg‘Santa’ surprised me at Christmas with the gift of a potted Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). This particular species is an ancient and rare Australian native that was recently discovered. The location of the pines has been kept secret to prevent people taking seedlings and damaging the forest. Plants available from nurseries have been reproduced by tissue culture. Each tree comes with a Certificate of Authenticity and a monthly care guide.
Unlike most pines, this living fossil from the Jurassic age has flattened leaflets that grow more in the manner of fern fronds than pine branches. The Wollemi pine also tends to grow with multiple trunks. New growth is pinky-bronze, changing to apple green, then deep green. After the age of 7 years, it will produce both male and female cones at the tips of the branches. ‘Polar caps’ form to protect the growing tips from cold weather. And, sap oozing from the stem is not a sign of disease but an indication that a new growth bud is about to emerge from the bark.
I will put my pine into a larger pot for the time being; as I need to have a serious think about where it should be planted. It is said to require a “well-drained, fertile soil” but, as Wollemi Pines prefer a low phosphorus fertiliser, planting the tree amid exotics that have high fertiliser requirements would not be an option. They can grow, at the rate of half a metre per annum to 20 m x 5 m. As our house was built on a stony ridge, the best positions for this tree would be some distance from the house. They will grow in part shade to full sun, are quite water-efficient, and can be pruned, if necessary, during winter.
However, as these pines can also be grown as tub plants in a sheltered position, out of full sun, I may eventually decide to grow it in a tub, near the house, so that I can enjoy its unusual foliage and growth habit through the seasons.
The Wollemi pine, Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba), California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea) and the Asian and Australian cycads and their relatives (Cycas, Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia) all provide a fascinating insight into our planet’s flora long before man walked the earth. These trees have proven their adaptability over thousands of years and some, including the Calfornia Redwood, grow to more modest proportions in our climate. Many of these lovely plants are suitable for cultivation in gardens or parks, especially if they are grown organically to maintain a good level of soil micro-organism activity.