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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Jurassic pot plants on sale soon
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Jaime Plaza.  Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
As seen in the Jurassic age
The Wollemi Pine, a plant from Jurassic times which survived in a single isolated Australian grove, is set for an amazing comeback.

In 2005, small plants cultivated from the tree once thought to have gone extinct will go on sale to the public.

The discovery of the pine in 1994 caused a scientific sensation, and prompted the Australian Government to protect the site where it was growing.

Years of investigation into the best way to grow the plant have now paid off, allowing commercial exploitation.

Like finding a dinosaur

A collection of Wollemi Pines were discovered in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, when park ranger David Noble stumbled across the unusual trees.

The species had been thought to have been extinct for at least two million years. The only known examples were fossils 175 million years old.

Jaime Plaza.  Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
The location is a secret
Professor Carrick Chambers, director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, said at the time of the discovery that it was "the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth".

Today, the trees' home is a closely guarded secret. No roads lead to the area. Even scientists studying them are blindfolded as they are flown in by helicopter to the site.

Now, the pines are set to meet a wider audience.

Perfect patio plants

Botanist Sally McGeoch says that by the end of 2005 Wollemi Pine saplings will be available from selected retailers.

They could survive in hot or cold climates and would make perfect indoor plants.

"They grow slowly, like low-light and would be perfect on a patio," the scientist told BBC News Online.

Jaime Plaza.  Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Looking for the best growth medium
The breeding programme began in 1998 as a collaboration between the Queensland Forestry authorities and a commercial grower.

The initial plan was to extract seeds from the tips of the pines. This involved a scientist dangling from a helicopter and was not very successful.

Working with cuttings has proven to be much more satisfactory in producing a robust plant for commercial propagation.

"It's a piece of scientific history," says McGeoch. "Interest has already been expressed by gardeners in many countries."

Extinction threat to ancient plant group
04 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
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18 Dec 02  |  Science/Nature
Jurassic chicken '50-100 years off'
19 Jul 01  |  Science/Nature

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