a living fossil in my garden

In my garden there is a living fossil, a tree that was around during the time of the dinosaurs. It is a Wollemi pine, or Wollemia nobilis. It is endangered in the wild but has been domesticated and is now available from nurseries.

A couple of years ago there was a ring at the door and a delivery man presented me with this small tree. I thought it must be a mistake since I didn’t order it. But it was a present from the electricity company to thank me for paying extra for green electricity.

I didn’t know where to plant it so I put it in a pot. It grew and survived a couple of years but it needed more space. When I rejected the shapeless buddleia in a corner of the front garden a congenial spot became available. And as you can see it has settled into its new home and looks happy and healthy.

Here’s some botanical information courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite its name Wollemi pine is not a pine. It’s a conifer, a member of the ancient araucaria family. Other members of the aucaria family include the Norfolk Island pine and the massive kauri tree of New Zealand. Aucarias were common on the ancient continent of Gondwanaland more than 130 million years ago. They were found even earlier on the continent of Pangaea that covered most of the earth’s landmass over 200 million years ago.

The Wollemi pine has double-helical rows of needles and bubbly dark-brown bark. Most araucarias are single-trunked but wollemia sends up a dense thicket of offshoots -- which may help it survive drought and bushfires.

Members of this family are dioecious meaning they can’t self fertilize and are either male or female. I don’t know whether my plant is male or female and it needs an expert to tell which is which. Let’s hope there happens to be another Wollemi pine of the opposite sex nearby … but if not, just growing a single specimen will still help to conserve this extraordinary and attractive tree.


  1. Dear Catmint, Unhappily I have never been in receipt of a gift from any electricity company - only bills. What a pleasant change this represents. I find the whole idea of growing a tree which is as old as life itself absolutely fascinating. Have a happy weekend.

  2. I remember reading the news of when they discovered the Wollemi pine and how it was a living fossil. Unfortunately the winters here are too cold for it. One living fossil tree that does grow in my area and that I see fairly often is the Gingkgo tree, or Ginkgo biloba.

  3. Hi Catmint, Your Wollemi looks lovely and very healthy. My daughters gave me one, which I planted in a 40cm pot 3 years ago. It's been happy there, but it's 80cms tall now and needs to be re-potted or planted out. Where to put it in our courtyard-sized back garden and already full front garden? A common dilemma for a suburban tree lover!

  4. cool! And I can't believe the electric company gave you a gift - actually hand delivered by a human too!

  5. All I get are big bills from mine -what a fascinating gift.

  6. Hi Catmint, What a stunning tree! I'm wondering if it is frost hardy. How nice that your "investment" in green energy paid off so well. Now if every recipient is as good a caretaker as you are, imagine the possibilities.

  7. Hi Edith, thanks for the comment, yes it is amazing to think of the age of this species.

    RPS, I wonder if the Gingko tree was also saved from extinction. I think the Gingko has some commercial value so that would help to preserve it in our materialistic culture.

    Re, your comment made me think of guerilla gardening. Maybe you could plant it in a park or some other public place?

  8. Hi Wendy, yes I was surprised too. Makes it hard to by cynical when stuff like that happens!

    Hi Hermes, I get bills too, but paying them feels a bit sweeter now.

    Hi Grace, I have no idea whether it is frost hardy because we don't get much frost here. But I reckon it's worth a try if you can get one.

    Cheers, catmint

  9. Nice! I've never recieved a gift from the electric company...how cool! I have the Norfolk Pine, it's in a pot and serves as my living Christmas Tree. Thanks for the research Catmint!


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