Lazarus Taxon and Identification By Cage

May 12, 2009 at 6:00 am 5 comments

There are so many intricacies to tree identification– Are the leaves simple or compound? Do they have hair on them? Are they waxy in texture? Are the leaves alternating or opposite of each other? What are the twigs’ terminal or lateral buds like? How is the bark textured? What color are the flowers? When do said flowers bloom? Is there any evidence of nuts on the ground? What about fruit?

When I was in the Norfolk Botanical Gardens a week ago, I was able to recognize a tree using a different method entirely. I identified it based on the cage around it.

Walking in the rain near the observatory tower, I noticed familiar black bars surrounding a small tree.

“Is that a Wollemi Pine?!?!” I exclaimed and scurried closer. A little sign in front of the tree confirmed it was true.

I first encountered the Wollemi Pine at the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam last November. It was particularly intriguing because I was on a Lazarus Taxon kick. “Lazarus Taxon” is an official term for my “I See Extinct Things” posts. It refers to species that disappeared from the fossil record, were believed to be extinct and were suddenly discovered alive. The term’s etymology is Biblical– Lazarus was the man Jesus brought back from the dead.

The Wollemi Pine is a textbook example of a Lazarus Taxon. Although fossils of the tree date back 90 million years, for the last 2 million years there wasn’t a single trace of the tree. There was every reason to believe it was extinct. And then in 1994, some were found growing in Australia.

I suppose being one of the oldest and rarest tree species in the world does warrant a little extra protection. At least two cities agree. Amsterdam and Norfolk, separated by an ocean, both enclosed their Wollemi Pines in black fencing.

By doing so, they introduced a new characteristic, a new trait, to the tree. Another way to recognize it.

Amsterdam - Botanical Gardens - Wollemi Pine (Portrait)
Wollemi Pine in Amsterdam
Norfolk Botanical Gardens - Wollemi Pine
Wollemi Pine in Norfolk, Virginia

More photos of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens and of the Norfolk Botanical Gardens are available on my Flickr site.

Entry filed under: trees, Wollemi Pine.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. geekhiker  |  May 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Despite all my rage, I’m still just a tree in a cage…

  • 2. Anne  |  May 13, 2009 at 3:07 am

    I have read that seeds can fall from a plant and live on the ground for years, then when the conditions are right they sprout and grow. i can’t imagine it taking that many years for the conditions to become right, though.

  • 3. tgaw  |  May 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    @geekhiker – Hahah– you got that song stuck in my head all yesterday afternoon.

    @Anne- I think it is more likely the trees were there and propagating, we just never noticed them. Typically you need someone knowledgeable on trees/fish/birds/etc to know they are looking at is unique. Furthermore, you need that someone to be motivated enough to follow through, solicit others and figure out that it is indeed an undiscovered or unseen species.

  • 4. Robert Lee  |  May 20, 2009 at 7:22 am

    I saw it too and even remembered the name of the tree so I’d look it up when I got home. Then I forgot (they say it’s an age thing!)… I’m glad you took the time and thanks for the great info.

  • 5. Science Etcetera, Moonday 20090601 |  |  June 1, 2009 at 12:00 am

    […] a taxon that disappears from the fossil record for one or more periods, only to return later. The Wollemi Pine is an example of one, vanished from the Earth for two-million years, until it was rediscovered in […]


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