In the plant world the idea of discovering plant species is somehow inextricably linked with the great plant hunters of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The sense is that the time for discovery is past.
This is, however, wrong. Up to 2,000 new flowering plant species are identified each year, and there are still some extraordinary finds. None more so than in the case of the Wollemi pine.
In 1994 an Australian park ranger, David Noble, in Wollemi National Park, chanced upon a grove of trees in a narrow rainforest gorge that he had never seen before. Leaves and bark were taken for analysis and the tree was matched to fossils of an unusual conifer thought to have been extinct since the time of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
Named Wollemia nobilis the tree is not just rare, but intriguing too. It is a slender, tall tree up to 20m high with unique chocolate brown, bubbly mature bark. It can produce up to 100 trunks over time through vegetative reproduction. In addition, after around nine years it develops both female and male cones, one above the other at the top of the tree, for sexual reproduction though wind pollination.
Despite these features, it is now a critically endangered species, with less than 50 adult trees currently in the wild. The state of Queensland is helping secure the future of the species through controlled nursery distribution to the garden market, which is how the trees on offer have been made available.