Visit a Wollemi Pine Forest & step back 200 million years
The discovery of almost a hundred Wollemi Pine trees growing wild in the Blue Mountains in 1994, set the botanical world into a spin.
David Noble, a Field Officer of the Wollemi National Park and bushwalker at the time, was canyoning with friends at the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains NSW when he noticed a group of trees that were over 40m high. With an unusual shaped top and branching, bark that looked like bubbling chocolate and strange foliage - he was intrigued by these trees that he had never seen before.
The top of a Wollemi Pine. Source: National Arboretum website.
He picked up a fallen branch, packed it in his backpack and continued with his hike. He then took it to NSW National Parks and Wildlife and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney to find out what it was. As scientists from both places had never seen it before either, David and two scientists returned to the site to gather further samples.
They then compared it to fossils from different eras until eventually it was confirmed that the Wollemi Pine (the working name that they gave it, named after the Park it was found in) belonged to the 200 million year old Araucariaceae species of trees, from when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Display of how David Noble found the Wollemi at the current Wonderful Wollemi Exhibition, National Arboretum.
What happened by chance, became one of the biggest botanical discoveries of our lifetime, with scientists likening it to finding a dinosaur alive today.
The secret location was then protected, they cultivated the seeds and within 18 months the new saplings were released to the public for sale. All the proceeds from the sales go back to conserve the original site and support other rare and threatened species.
At the National Arboretum here in Canberra, there is an Exhibit titled 'Wonderful Wollemi' in the Village Centre. Although a small exhibition, it explains in details the history and information about the Wollemi Pines, with two Pines there to touch and feel.
The highlight is the guided walks to Forest 32, where the Arboretum has grown their own forest of Wollemi Pines in 2007/2008. These walks are run on weekends 18th/19th and 25th/26th of July by knowledgeable volunteers at 10am and 2pm. Forest 32 is a 10 minute walk from the Village Centre one way. The tour will take approximately 1 hour and due to the nature of the walk over the grounds, sturdy shoes and warm clothes are recommended.
As the original pines were found in a frosty climate similar to Canberra, the Wollemi Pines enjoy the climate at the National Arboretum - although a volunteer informed me they are not as protected as the original site. Forest 32 is the largest plantation of Wollemia nobilis (nobilis named after David Noble who found them) anywhere in the world. With 94 trees currently, the volunteer noticed that they are growing at different rates depending on their location on the hill and soil drainage.
Forest 32. Source: National Arboretum website.
David Noble himself will be coming to the National Arboretum for the first time this month. On Monday 21st July there will be a 21st Anniversary Celebration of his discovery of the pines, with David Noble as the special guest doing a short talk. Cost $24 for Non-Members of the Arboretum.
The following day, 22nd July, David Noble will talk about his discovery and answer questions before the National Arboretum dedicates him a tree in Forest 32.
Cost $55 for Non-Members.
See here for how to book.
These events are part of the wider ACT activities of Tree Week (20th - 26th of July) with guided walks, tree -themed storytimes at Libraries and exhibitions all over the ACT.
Whilst at the Arboretum, check out the other activities on offer, grab morning tea at the Café, have a play at Pod Playground, read the other exhibits and enjoy this interesting walk into our Botanical history.
If your kids love dinosaurs - touch a spiky leaf that dinosaurs may have eaten 200 million years ago and watch their face come alive in wonder....my own would have been the same.