Oct 4, 2001

The Bottom Line Leave the rainforests alone

How many dinosaurs are still in existence? Well, not being a Dinosaurectian I don’t exactly know.

In the animal kingdom there is at least one remaining true dinosaur. The pea size brained Australian Saltwater Crocodile, natures way of telling us intelligence isn't the be all and end all. In the insect world, the friendly, cuddly little cockroach is a pretty old little sucker, also not big on brains.

And would you believe, a very recent discovery in an exact location that is being kept a close secret for obvious reasons, a tree, from the age of the dinosaur, has been found. As to it's location initially all we were permitted to know is that it is in Australia and very generally in the Blue Mountains not overly far from Sydney!

This tree is the Wollemni Pine, or it's botanical name Wollemia nobilis and only first discovered in 1994. It is not the only extremely rare tree on the planet, but one of the rarest and since 1994 it's location has been given slightly more accurately as in two very small groups somewhere in the Wollemni National Park, which is west of Sydney. A New South Wales department of National Parks and Wildlife employee, David Noble has been credited with finding the trees.

For those that might be heavily into names I don't understand, apparently these trees are from the Araucariaceae family. Intense research is underway to try to accurately trace the applicable fossil group. The closest trees of the more modern era are believed to be the Bunya Bunya Pine, Norfolk Island Pine, Monkey Puzzle Pine, Hoop Pine and Kauri Pine.

The trees are bisexual and have their male and female parts on separate branches. Naturally, the poor old male ones get the lower branches and the seeds are in a wing shape.

Finding the trees was a complete fluke. David Noble was just out for a bushwalk, like anyone else would be, except of course he could tell one tree from another. He didn't recognise these particular trees but knew they weren't a common variety and so naturally he investigated. Had it been me we can be sure they would still be unknown!

Nobody knows how old they are, at least not yet, but a guesstimate puts the current ones at up to around a thousand years.

If you are thinking announcing that these trees are in the Wollemni National Park makes them easy to find think about this. The early settlers took thirty odd years to find a way over this part of the mountains and within it’s boundaries are the largest wildness area in the State, over one million two hundred thousand acres and it joins the Blue Mountains National Parking, making a total of almost two million acres.

To say this area is rugged is to say a computer is only a typewriter. The area is all but impenetrable and add to that the fact these tees are in very deep rainforest gorge areas makes finding them a true needle in a haystack.

As more is learnt about these trees the more fascinating they become. For instance, those forty three trees alive right now are the children of their ancestors, unchanged, that grew in this spot a hundred and fifty million years ago.

Finding these trees is further proof of the folly of flattening rainforest, at least until we are very sure it serves no real purpose. Until this discovery only the Yew Trees on the other side of the world contained the anti cancer agent or chemical “taxol” – the Wllomni Pine does the same, and who knows what else is lurking in the depths of the forests. Some of these Pines are a hundred feet tall with trunks approaching four feet in diameter. When something that big takes over two hundred years to locate, what of smaller creations of value to humans.

We can but await further announcements as more is learnt from these very ancient trees and no doubt more useful plant life is discovered.

Both the Wolmni and Blue Mountains national parks are open to the public and have marked bushwalks. However be aware they are mostly long and arduous. In fact the climb back up out of the gorges is about the hardest part so keep plenty of energy in reserve.

Believe me I know what it feels like if you don't!

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