It was a lifesaving mission as dramatic as any in the months-long battle against the wildfires that have torn through the Australian bush.
But instead of a race to save humans or animals, a specialized team of Australian firefighters was bent on saving invaluable plant life: hidden groves of the Wollemi pine, a prehistoric tree species that has outlived the dinosaurs.
Wollemia nobilis peaked in abundance 34 million to 65 million years ago, before a steady decline. Today, only 200 of the trees exist in their natural environment — all within the canyons of Wollemi National Park, just 100 miles west of Sydney.
The trees are so rare that they were thought to be extinct until 1994.
That’s the year David Noble, an officer with the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, rappelled into a narrow canyon and came across a grove of large trees he didn’t recognize.
Noble brought back a few twigs and showed them to biologists and botanists who were similarly stumped.
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