Step back 200 million years in the Gondwana Garden at Cranbourne Gardens
When you visit the Gondwana Garden at Cranbourne, you’ll step back in time, to a lush haven of ancient plant families reminiscent of Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs of course). The Garden houses a collection of plants, many of which existed when Australia had a much wetter and more temperate climate as part of Gondwana, a gigantic supercontinent comprised of land we now know Australia, South America, Africa, Antarctica, and the Indian Subcontinent, which broke apart roughly 180 million years ago. Opened in 2012, the Gondwana Garden was carefully designed to evoke the feeling of having stepped back into prehistoric times, with a wide variety of ‘dinosaur plant’ species, these being species present in fossil records dating back to when Australia was part of Gondwana, some of which might surprise you, such as Macadamia plants.
A very special species you can find in the Gondwana Garden is the Wollemi Pine or Wollemia nobilis. Once believed to be extinct, with fossil records of it dating back 200 million years ago, living Wollemi Pines were only rediscovered by a group of bushwalkers in Wollemi National Park in New South Wales in 1994. The walkers had never seen anything like the Wollemi Pine, and due to its unusual appearance, one of the walkers, David Noble, took a sample to be identified. Once the national park matched the Wollemi sample to fossil records, they immediately hatched conservation plans and closed off the area where it was discovered to the public.
Having acquired their own Wollemi Pine, the Gondwana Garden nursery team have begun to propagate this critically endangered tree to build up numbers and preserve genetic diversity. Other conifers, such as the Huon Pine or Lagarostrobos franklinii, which is native to Tasmania and so ancient that some living specimens have been dated 2000 years old. With the effects of climate change resulting in Tasmania becoming dryer and more prone to bushfires, and with an incredibly slow growth rate of between 0.3 and 2 mm per year, propagating the Huon Pine is critical to ensuring its safety as a species. Climate change is likely to affect a number of cool-climate Tasmanian natives, so the Cranbourne team aim to introduce a range of them into this garden.
An initiative called the Gondwana Plant Network, developed by the Gondwana Gardens curator of the past seven months, Owen Janusauskas, strives to protect as many ancient plant species as possible. It’s a program which connects Botanical Gardens that have ancient plant collections to share plant materials and information between them, to increase diversity of each collection and assist in conservation of these ancient species to ensure they continue to survive as our climate fluctuates. To see these ancient, majestic species, which existed when dinosaurs roamed Victoria, check out the Gondwana Gardens at Cranbourne.