Environment 'Living fossil' tree frozen in time for 66 million years being planted in secret locations

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Wollemi pines — thought to have gone extinct 2 million years ago — were rediscovered in 1994. Scientists are now hoping to reintroduce the species in the wild in a conservation effort that could take centuries.

Scientists are planting "living fossil" trees in secret locations in a bid to bring back the lost species from the brink of extinction — an effort that could take centuries.

Wollemi pines (Wollemia nobilis) were believed to have disappeared some 2 million years ago. Fossils of the species dating the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago) show they have barely changed in appearance since this time.

But in 1994, hikers in Australia's Blue Mountains stumbled upon a relict stand of these ancient conifers. Now, only around 60 of them remain in Wollemi National Park. They are threatened by Phytophthora cinnamomi, a pathogenic water mold that causes dieback, and by rampant wildfires that intermittently rage through this region of New South Wales.

Since its rediscovery, wollemi pines have been grown in botanical gardens and private spaces around the world. And the Wollemi Pine Recovery Team, a partnership between Australian government scientists and conservationists, has begun the process of reintroducing seedlings to three sites in Wollemi National Park.

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