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The 200 Million Year Wait is Over!

The Kingsbrae Garden WollemiSt Andrews, June 2006 Kingsbrae Garden, one of Canada’s Top Ten Public Gardens, has acquired one of the world's oldest and rarest trees, Wollemia nobilis—the first one in Canada.

This has been an epic journey for the historic Wollemi pine, spanning 200 million years and 16,500 km (10,250 miles) from the Southern Hemisphere to the tiny resort town of St Andrews by-the-Sea, NB, Canada.

In August, 2005, news of Sotheby's “Jurassic Park” tree sale stopped Jay Remer, a St. Andrews, New Brunswick innkeeper and former Sotheby’s auctioneer and appraiser, in his tracks. A tree auction was a first for the eminent international auction house. He knew Kingsbrae Garden had to have one of these trees, and decided to bid.

No mere trees, he found, but ‘living fossils’ that have outlived their Jurassic ancestors for millions of years. Since dinosaurs roared about the Earth, to the present electronic era, a few wollemi pines have patiently survived, with their gene pool pure and unchanged, in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

What was likely a tasty treat for Cretaceous Queensland dinosaurs is now the botanical story of the century. The auction raised over $1,000,000 (Australian), with every lot sold. Remer’s winning bid ensures that the tree will now have a foothold in Canada.

The species was presumed extinct until the 1994 discovery of a remote rainforest grove of 36 trees; previously only fossils of wollemi were known, dating back to the Jurassic Age.

The grove was discovered by David Noble, a New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Officer and avid bushwalker, in the wilds of the 500,000 hectare Wollemi National Park, less than 200 km west of Sydney, Australia.

WollemisThe tree is an attractive conifer with unusual dark green, pendulous bottle-brush foliage; the bark resembles bubbling chocolate. Scientists estimate that the oldest wollemi in the grove, ‘King Billy’, first began poking its head above the canopy about the time of the Norman conquest in 1066.

The trees have not evolved at all in that time; current growth matches the ages-old fossils. Professor Carrick Chambers, director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, said: "The discovery is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on earth."

Kingsbrae Garden’s wollemi is a first-generation tree, propagated from one in the original grove named ‘Hercules’, noted for its strength and power. This new tree will be aptly named ‘Pericles’, named for the ancient Athenian statesman. The tree has now arrived, the only wollemi in Canada, one of mere hundreds in the world. (In June of 2006, Pericles was the only wollemi in Canada. No longer the only, he will always be the first, as others have followed in his footsteps.)

Bottom photo courtesy Jaime Plaza