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Monday, 5 June  2006  Wollemi Pine

The Wollemi Pine is one of the oldest tree species in the world, and everyone thought they had been extinct for many years. But now, they are being farmed, and soon Australians will be able to plant Wollemi pines in their own backyards.


JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: This is a story about one of the world's rarest and most ancient of tree species. Incredibly, it only narrowly escaped extinction and, amazingly, it's soon to be offered to the home gardener so we can grow our very own.

This is a wollemi pine. It's a member of the Araucaria family, which includes the cowry, bunya, hoop and Norfolk Island pines. It's a conifer, but a very curious one.

In 1994 we only knew them from fossils, but a chance discovery in a rugged gorge in the Blue Mountains, about 200 kilometres west of Sydney, revealed a grove of these pines. It's an ancient plant and it dates back 200 million years.

I'm at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens in south western Sydney. This is where groundbreaking research has been carried out. This is a conservation collection of the entire wollemi pine species. There is a clone of each and every of the 100 or so known plants to exist in the wild, growing in this house.

Patricia Meagher is a world authority on the wollemi pine. Why would you want to own one?

PATRICIA MEAGHER: Oh, Jerry, there are many reasons. Just look at this plant here. It's got wonderful leaves, they're very glossy, quite fine, ferny leaves really.

You can tell the age of branches of the trees by the leaf shape. This one is just a one year old branch, but this one underneath, you can see, has got this growth phase of long leaves and then small leaves and then long leaves again in the middle and then small leaves. So each of those is a year's growth.

So you can use this natural architecture of the tree, then, to your advantage horticulturally to be able to have small pot plants, small trees in the garden, as well as, you know, the naturally large tree. It's a rainforest tree so it grows well indoors, so you can have it as a pot plant inside as well.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: So in some respects this is a really special plant. Is that why so much effort has gone into it?

PATRICIA MEAGHER: Certainly, horticulturally, we've reached the jackpot here. It's got so many features to be able to propagate you know, for a home gardener to use to propagate.

Scientifically, every single time we've looked at the tree to learn anything about it, we've discovered something new and very unusual.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: Do you find it amazing, the interest that this tree has generated?

PATRICIA MEAGHER: I do. I mean, I'm very fascinated by it and I know lots of scientists and horticulturists are amazed. But I'm astounded by the interest of the general public.

JERRY COLEBY-WILLIAMS: I'm completely sympathetic with people that find it fascinating. I mean, it comes from the age of the dinosaurs, it's been around for 200 million years, there is hardly any of them left in the wild, and it occurs within 200 kilometres of Sydney, which is one of the most thoroughly botanically explored areas of the country. It's more Australian than Sydney Harbour Bridge, it just reeks with charisma.

So the wollemi pine will be a terrific plant for the home garden. You might want to plant it for its rarity or perhaps because it's a unique example of plant evolution. They're a long-lived tree so you could well be planting a family heirloom. But, for me, the reason I'd plant one of these trees is to have a living connection with the age of dinosaurs.



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English Bites - Wollemi Pine
story notes

 knew
 
Knew is the past tense of the irregular verb know. Follow the link below to find out more and to listen to some examples.
 
more information: know

 fossils
 
Fossils are the ancient remains of animals or plants. Scientists had found fossils of the Wollemi pine, but thought it was extinct.
 

 a chance discovery
 
A chance discovery means it was found accidentally.

 grove
 
A grove is a small group of trees.

 carried out
 
done
 
Example: We have carried out a number of experiments.
 
For more meanings of the phrasal verb carry out, follow the link below to our language library.
 
more information: carry out

 house
 
The word house is pronounced differently when it's used as a verb. Follow the link below and listen to the difference.
 
more information: house

 they're
 
If you can say they are , the word is spelled they're. Follow the link below for more information.
 
more information: they're their there

 horticulturally
 
Horticulture is the science of growing plants. When she says horticulturally, she means, speaking from the perspective of horticulture.

 reached the jackpot
 
A jackpot is the main prize on a gambling machine. We usually use the phrase hit the jackpot, rather than reach the jackpot. It means to have been very lucky, to have found something fantastic.
 
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

 propagate
 
To propagate means to reproduce or to breed.

 scientifically
 
She is speaking from the perspective of science, about why the Wollemi pine is important to science.

 every single time
 
She uses the word single here for emphasis. She could have just said ‘every time’, but every single time is much stronger - it gives the sense that it really does happen every time.

 rarity
 
uncommonness, unusualness

 long-lived tree
 
Something that is long-lived lives for a long time.

 family heirloom
 
A family heirloom is something special kept in a family for many years.
 
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What are the forms of the word grow?

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