Native Conifers of Western TasmaniaTasmania possesses a large number of plant species that occur nowhere else in the world. Our rainforest and alpine communities are particularly significant habitats for these endemic plants. One group of plants occurring in these habitats, the native conifers, is of particular botanical significance. The conifers evolved and became the dominant land plants during the era of the dinosaurs. Many of Tasmania’s conifers are very primitive. In most places conifers have been replaced in importance by flowering plants. Tasmania is one of the few places in Australia where these primitive species can be easily seen. Conifers have also played an important part in Tasmania’s convict and industrial history.
(None of Tasmania's conifers are strictly pines, that is, belonging to the genus Pinus. The common names, whilst resulting from a misappropriation of this word, are too embedded in common use to be changed.)
Estimates of the area of living Huon pine vary, but are in the order of 10 500 ha. In addition there are about 800 ha of standing, fire-killed pine. The current area of remaining pine is the remnant of a much wider original range that has been reduced by fire, inundation, logging and mining. Today, the remaining stands are well protected within reserves, the majority being within the World Heritage Area.
Although extremely slow growing, the tree may attain heights of over 40 m. Growth rates average a mere 1mm in diameter per year, but can vary from 0.3 mm to 2 mm, depending on conditions. Huon pine can reproduce both vegetatively (from fallen individuals) and by seed. Seed dispersal is largely limited to the area downstream from riverine stands.
The Huon pine can reach prodigious ages, often in excess of 2000 years, making it among the longest-lived organisms on Earth. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America exceeds it in age. International headlines were made with the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on Mt Read that was widely quoted as being in excess of 10 000 years of age. All the individuals in this population are genetically identical, and are all males. The stand arose from one or a small number of individuals, and has maintained itself by vegetative reproduction. It is important to remember that no individual tree in the Mt Read stand is 10 000 years old (in fact, most if not all stems are less than 1000 years old) - rather, the stand itself has been in existence for that long.
Today this slow-growing tree is exploited as a by-product of clearfelling in mixed forests and is commonly used for external cladding and poles in the building industry.
Pencil pines are often seen around the shores of highland lakes and tarns, creating a fairyland mien of unparalleled beauty.
Compare the leaves of the pencil pine, king billy pine and Laxifolia (a hybrid between the two).
Tasmania's native conifers are highly susceptible to fire. In certain areas of the state, extensive stands of dead 'stags' give testimony to the ravages of previous fires. Some of the largest pure stands of pencil pine have been lost due to campfires which have escaped. Some species will never recover due to their very slow growth and poor seed dispersal abilities. Indeed, one-third of the State's King Billy pines have been eliminated by fire since European settlement.
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has been declared a "fuel stove only area" in an attempt to prevent the loss of further conifer stands, as well as rainforest and alpine communities, which are also highly susceptible to fire.
Tasmania Online | Service Tasmania
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