The only known wild stand of a tree species dating to Jurassic times has been endangered by a deadly disease probably introduced by an unauthorized hiker, a government official said Monday.
CANBERRA, Australia The only known wild stand of a tree species dating to Jurassic times has been endangered by a deadly disease probably introduced by an unauthorized hiker, a government official said Monday.
The Wollemi pine, often described as a living fossil, was thought to be extinct until 1994, when a park ranger stumbled upon a stand of fewer than 100 trees in a remote gorge in Wollemi National Park, 120 miles west of Sydney.
Since then, the trees' location has been kept a closely guarded secret. Those authorized to visit the grove undergo strict infection control procedures that involve sterilizing their footwear and equipment.
But the stand has been endangered by a fungus-like disease, Phytophthora cinnamomi, that was detected in two trees in November last year and was almost certainly introduced by an unauthorized visitor, New South Wales state environmental department spokesman John Dengate said.
"It is an endangering factor," Dengate said. "Nobody can be sure at this stage how big a threat it poses, but we're treating it very, very seriously."
Dengate said the department was hopeful that treatment would wipe out the threat to the stand.
Despite the threat, the species is not at risk of extinction. Thousands of trees have been propagated in plantations from the wild stand and some went on sale to the public for the first time in October last year.
Dengate said it was unlikely that anyone officially involved with the wild tress had been responsible for the infection.
"The pines have been there for something like 200 million years unaffected by anything," he said. "We've been scrupulous with our staff to make sure they don't carry anything in."
"We understand that people are really keen to see the trees in their natural environment, but there are only a few dozen left and they are extremely vulnerable to infections so we're asking people to stay away," he added.
Source: Associated Press