Wollemi pine update 2

wollemi5 Being away, and catching up on farm work, has caused me to fall behind with my blog posts, so I am a bit slow in relaying news about my Wollemi pine.
Following a light application of worm castings as fertiliser a couple of weeks ago, my comatose Wollemi pine has demonstrated a renewed will to live, and produced a flourish of delicate, light green fronds on almost every branch. The main trunk has also increased another 15 cm in height. (Click on image on left.)
In last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald (November 14) James Woodford quoted this blog in his lament about his pine that had “done nothing” in the past two years. I can understand Mr Woodford’s dismay, as he is an author of a book on the Wollemi Pine.
However, if he had read my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, he would have known that he was really pushing the envelope expecting it to grow in a lawn, for a variety of reasons – including that lawn fertilisers are toxic to many Australian natives.
Not surprisingly, I think organic cultivation is the go for these fossil plants. They have survived in a valley where their only fertiliser has been what nature provided through the breakdown of organic matter. Decomposed organic matter performs a myriad of functions in soil. It maintains more consistent soil moisture levels; it is Nature’s slow release complete fertiliser; it provides a habitat for the beneficial fungi that assist perennial plants to absorb nutrients and moisture, and it helps control phytophthora fungi and other pathogens in soil.
If you have a Wollemi Pine growing in the ground (in a spot protected from full sun), my advice is to add 2 cm of mature compost or leaf mould to the soil surface around the tree and cover it with leaf litter or other organic mulch (keeping it clear of the trunk). If growing your pine in a pot, use only the special Wollemi Pine mix or a certified-organic potting mix, and use a modest amount of worm castings as fertiliser.
Yes, these trees are temperamental, but so are some other beautiful plants, including Daphne and some of our Boronias – yet gardeners who are prepared to cater to their needs enjoy thriving specimens. As I said in the previous post – do some research first.

Wollemi pine update

wollemi pine 2The recently discovered Wollemi pine was a topic of discussion on the Don Burke gardening radio program recently. This fossil conifer has been a source of considerable disappointment to many gardeners since its release. One could reasonably think that a species of tree that has survived for 200 million years, according to the accompanying care guide, would be fairly hardy, but this is not the case. These trees cannot handle heavy rainfall, drought, or full sun. They are easily stressed, and prone to phytophthora root rot, as well several other soil diseases.

The tree I received last Christmas was soon re-potted into a slightly larger container with some coco peat, compost and worm castings as fertiliser, and a little coarse river sand. After re-potting, the tree was positioned on a verandah on the northern side of our house, but it quickly became apparent that it was not happy in a warm environment, and was transferred to the verandah on the south side where it has survived, but has made only a couple of centimetres growth. The care guide gives no real indication of the species’ fussy moisture requirements other than the vague advice to “check moisture levels regularly”. Neither did the care guide state that soil in the area where the trees were discovered could have a pH as low as 4, which is too acidic for most plants to survive, or that a coir supplier had developed a special potting mix for these trees.

Don said that little information on the species had been available, resulting in the death of a lot of purchased Wollemi pines, and asked a spokesman from Sydney’s Botanic Gardens why the tree had been released for sale prematurely. The spokesman’s response was that it was to prevent people from damaging the discovery site when attempting to obtain a specimen of these trees. This reasoning would be easier to accept if they didn’t charge such exorbitant prices for these pines.

My advice, if you would like to grow a Wollemi pine, is to visit the web site below and find out if you can provide suitable conditions for this plant before outlaying any money.


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.