Dinosaur era plants

Wollemia nobilis or Wollemi pines are thought to have vanished 2 million years ago. But these plants were unexpectedly found in Australia’s Blue Mountains by hikers in 1994. Fossils of these plants date back to the time of dinosaur era and they look pretty much the same today.

A living fossil is an animal or plant that looks a lot like its ancient family members and hasn’t changed much for millions of years. These living fossils give us a look into the past and help us learn about how creatures were a long time ago. Examples include plants like the Wollemi pine and animals like horseshoe crabs, which still have features from their very old relatives.

Scientists aim to repopulate these “living fossil” trees in to the wild. It is a noble attempt to bring back these green species from the brink of extinction. Although it might take centuries of conservation efforts for this goal to be succeeded.

History of Wollemia plants

Wollemia plant

Wollemia started growing when all the continents were connected in a big landmass called Pangaea in the early Mesozoic (Dinosaur) era. They had relatives in places like Australia and South America. For about 100 million years, Wollemi Pines were one of the main types of trees in the Southern Hemisphere. But later on, because of big changes in the climate over time, many Wollemi Pines died out. Now, the only place where we can still find live Wollemi Pines, not just their fossils, is in the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains.

Reason thought for extinction

Dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, mostly because a huge asteroid hit Earth. This impact caused massive fires, blocked sunlight, and led to extreme climate changes. The dinosaurs couldn’t adapt to these harsh conditions, and many plants and animals they depended on for food also perished. This event, known as the asteroid impact or Chicxulub impact which triggered a mass extinction.

Chain events such as volcanic activity, sea-level changes, and climate variations has also contributed to the overall environmental stress during that time.Top of Form This wiped out most of the species and paved the way for new life forms to evolve. But some small animals and specific plants managed to survive, evolving over time and creating the diverse ecosystems we have today. This was the base reason scientist thought that Wollemia plant would also have got extinct.

Discovery of Wollemia Nobilis in wild

Wollemi pines, known as Wollemia nobilis, were thought to be extinct because they weren’t found in fossils or known living populations. Fossils indicate these trees existed around 145 to 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. Despite this ancient history, there was no recent record, making scientists believe they had vanished for millions of years.

In 1994, David Noble found big and strange trees while trekking down a faraway canyon in Australia. David is a leader from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales. Despite his experience, he was puzzled by these unfamiliar trees of Sydney. Almost as an afterthought, he collected a few leafy twigs and put them in his pack for research.

Later, he showed them to Wyn Jones, a naturalist, who initially thought they were from a fern or cycad. It surprised both when Noble said they were from a 35-meter-tall tree! Consulting with botanist Ken Hill and biologist Jan Allan, they realized it was a new species of conifers belonging to Araucariaceae family.

Mystery plant photographed

To solve the mystery, Noble, Hill, and Allan went back to photograph the plants and collect material for identification. What they found out was the strange trees before them was an unlisted and ancient plant surviving from dinosaur era. These rare trees were found about less than 200 kms from a city of over four million population.

Scientists even named the living dinosaur-like plant Wollemia nobilis after its discoverer David Noble. These trees found in Sydney belong to a group that originated more than 200 million years ago. The discovery of a small population of Wollemi pines in a secluded gorge in Wollemi National Park was a significant botanical event.

It not only challenged the belief that the species was extinct but also provided scientists with a unique opportunity to study and conserve a living fossil. The rediscovery of the Wollemi pine showcased the importance of exploring remote and inaccessible areas for biodiversity research and conservation efforts.

Replantation and its problems


Since its rediscovery, people have planted the Wollemi Pine tree in gardens worldwide. Now, a group called the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team, made up of Australian government scientists and conservationists, is working to plant Wollemi pine seedlings in three locations within Wollemi National Park.

These sites are special because they are deep, narrow, and steep-sided sandstone gorges at high elevations, offering protection from frequent wildfires and drought, according to a spokesperson from the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team.

People even tried moving the trees in 2012, 2019, and 2021. In 2019, they planted over 400 young trees, but only 58 survived until 2023 because of bushfires. In 2021, they planted about 502 trees to replace the lost ones. Sadly, heavy rains in 2022 caused landslides, destroying around 80 percent of the new trees. During the 2019–20 fire season, firefighters worked hard to save it from possibly disappearing. Some of these trees are grown in gardens and private collections all over the world.


The Wollemi pine is in big trouble, it’s critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. The Wollemia tree makes boy and girl cones on different branches. Boy cones are long and hang down, growing up to 4 inches. Girl cones are bigger, about 4–4.7 inches wide.

Saving these trees will take a very long time because they grow less than 1.02 cm each year. The slow growth and maturation of these trees mean it might take many decades, or even centuries. With climate change making fires and droughts worse, the long-term safety of these trees is not guaranteed.

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