Oregon Zoo plants rare ‘living dinosaur’ to help restore species

Wollemi pines are critically endangered with fewer than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild.

A small tree with unique branches on a skinny, upright trunk.

“A Wollemi is different from the pines we’re used to in the Pacific Northwest,” said Seth Menser, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s horticulture program.

Photo by Shervin Hess via Oregon Zoo

We all know the movies that serve as cautionary tales against bringing back prehistoric megafauna — but what about restoring ancient flora? With considerably fewer teeth to contend with, dinosaur plants are undoubtedly safer alternatives.

The Oregon Zoo recently received a Wollemi pine. The tree species was thought to be extinct until 1994, when a living specimen was found in New South Wales in what The Washington Post called “one of the greatest biological reincarnations of all time.”

Wollemi pines are still extremely rare today, but conservationists are planting them around the world to help them make a comeback. The specimen that made its way to the Oregon Zoo didn’t even need to cross oceans — it was given to the zoo by Hoyt Arboretum, Portland’s living tree museum.

Zoo staff planted the 6-ft-tall tree last month in honor of Arbor Day. Visitors can see the “living dinosaur” at Elephant Lands near the entrance to Forest Hall.

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