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Living fossils are plants and animals that have lived on earth for millions of years and have barely changed over this long period of time. In many cases they were already known from fossil finds, before the first living specimens were discovered. This also applies to the following three tree species.
Woolemie (Wollemia nobilis)
In 1994, when park keeper David Noble, now 45, explored a hard-to-reach gorge in Australia's Wollemi National Park, he found a tree he'd never seen before. He therefore cut off a branch and had him examined by experts in the Botanical Garden of Sydney. There, the plant was first thought to be a fern. Only when Noble reported about a tree about 35 meters high, a team of experts went to the ground on the ground - and could not believe his eyes: The botanists found in the gorge about 20 adult woolen moths - a Araukariengewächs, which actually since 65 million years as was extinct. Later, in the neighboring gorges of the Blue Mountains on the Australian east coast, more woolen mollies were discovered, so that the known population today includes nearly 100 old trees. Their sites are kept secret to protect the acutely endangered, almost 100 million year old tree species as much as possible. Studies have shown that the genes of all plants are largely identical. This suggests that although they also produce seeds, they have propagated predominantly vegetatively by shoots.
Up to 40 meters, the evergreen woolen chemistry can become high
The reason for the survival of the ancient tree species Wollemia, which was baptized in honor of its discoverer with the species name nobilis, are probably the protected sites. The canyons provide these living fossils with a constant, humid-warm microclimate and protect them from storms, forest fires and other natural forces. The news of the sensational discovery spread like wildfire and it was not long before the offspring of the plant succeeded. For some years, the wool chemistry is also available in Europe as a garden plant and has proven - with good winter protection - in the wine-growing climate as sufficiently hardy. The oldest German copy can be admired in the Frankfurt Palmengarten.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
The wool chemistry is in the house garden in good company, because there are a few other living fossils that enjoy the best health there. The best-known and also from the botanical point of view the most interesting living fossil is the ginkgo: It was discovered at the beginning of the 16th century in China and occurs as a wild plant only in a very small Chinese mountain region. As a garden plant, however, it has been around for centuries throughout East Asia and is worshiped as a sacred temple tree. The ginkgo was created at the beginning of the geological era Triassic about 250 million years ago, 100 million years older than the oldest deciduous tree species.
Handsome ginkgo with bright yellow autumn color in the Botanical Garden Berlin
Botanically, the ginkgo takes a special position, because it can be assigned neither the coniferous nor the deciduous trees clearly. He is like the conifers a so-called Nackttsamer. This means that his ovules are not completely enclosed by a pericarp - the so-called ovary. In contrast to the conifers, whose ovules are usually open in the cones, the female ginkgo forms plum-like fruits. Another peculiarity is that the pollen of the male ginkgo plant in the female fruit are initially only stored. It only comes to fertilization when the female fruit is ripe - often only when it is already on the ground. Incidentally, only male ginkgos are planted as street trees, because the ripe fruits of the female ginkgo emit an unpleasant, butyric acid-like odor.
The ginkgo is so old that it survived all potential adversaries. These living fossils are not attacked by pests or diseases in Europe. They are also very soil-tolerant and resistant to air pollution. For this reason, they are still the dominant tree species in many cities of the former GDR. Most apartments were heated there until the turn with coal stoves.
The oldest German ginkgos are now over 200 years old and about 40 meters high. They are in the parks of the castles Wilhelmshöhe near Kassel and Dyck on the Lower Rhine.
Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides): In old specimens, the trunk base widens greatly by strip-like bulges
Another veteran from prehistoric times is the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). He was known only in China as a fossil, before the first living specimens were found in 1941 by the Chinese researchers Hu and Cheng in a difficult mountainous region in the border region of the provinces of Szechuan and Hupeh.In 1947, seeds were sent to Europe via the United States, including several botanical gardens in Germany. As early as 1952, the nursery Hesse from Ostfriesland offered the first self-grown seedlings for sale. In the meantime, it had become apparent that the dawn redwood was easy to propagate through cuttings - which led to this living fossil spreading rapidly as a decorative tree in European gardens and parks.
Although the tree, like the sequoia sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens) and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is a member of the cypress family (Taxodiaceae), there are large differences between them. In contrast to the "real" sequoias, the dawn redwood throws off its leaves in the fall, also he is with a height of 35 meters in his relatives rather a dwarf. With these properties, he is the eponymous species of the plant family - the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) - very close and is often confused by laymen with this.
Curious: Only after the discovery of the first living specimens did it turn out that the dawn redwood tree was one of the dominant tree species 100 million years ago in the entire northern hemisphere. Fossils of the dawn redwood tree had already been found in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but mistaken for Sequoia langsdorfii, an ancestor of today's coastal sequoia.
Incidentally, the primeval redwood tree shared its habitat at that time with an old acquaintance: the ginkgo. Today you can admire the two living fossils again in many gardens and parks around the globe. The garden culture has brought them a late reunion.