It’s not every day you make one of the most important scientific findings in a century. And this one’s up there with the best: Tutankhamen, Rosetta Stone, the invention of the cronut – and as it were, it happened completely by accident.

Wollemi Pine trees in a NSW national park

Wollemi Pine trees amongst other trees

In mid-1994 a NSW National Parks ranger (read: legend) David Noble was abseiling in the Wollemi Wilderness (about 5 hours west of Sydney). He suddenly came upon an extraordinary sight: a canyon filled with strange, massive pines. These trees towered above the surrounding foliage, with fern-like leaves and peculiar lumpy bark. The sight would have felt like a scene from The Land Before Time.

Helicopter conducting aerial seed collecting

Aerial seed collecting

David’s chance finding of the Wollemi Pine that day became one of the most significant botanical finds in 100 years, as the ancient tree species was thought to be extinct millions of years ago. In fact, at the time it was so incredibly rare that it has since been compared with finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth – can you imagine?

It’s no surprise that the Wollemi Pine achieved overnight celebrity status and became an Australian botanical icon. There were only roughly 100 left in the wilderness that day, but from this finding NSW National Parks were able to preserve the pine from certain extinction. Since then, it’s been studied, cloned and grown around the world by scientists and homegrown green thumbs alike.  Incredibly, it is now even possible to grow a Wollemi Pine at home. They are easy to keep in a pot and can even be grown indoors. 

Wollemi Pine – an Australian botanical icon. Photo: Rosie Nicolai/OEH

Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis)

Rosie Nicolai/OEH (2014)

And, would you believe, David Noble is still tirelessly working to preserve and protect NSW national parks in the Blue Mountains region. True story! #NSWParks Legend Status.