Researchers at the University of Adelaide have made a breakthrough discovering two new species of Araucaria (pine). These have been identified as species related to the Norfolk Island pine.
Many years of intensive research led Professor Bob Hill and his team to collate and interpret previously undescribed foliar material of Araucaria section Eutacta, from Australian Cenozoic sediments. The fossils were collected over several decades and were identified by direct comparisons with extant and fossil species using light and scanning electron microscopy.
Environment Institute Director, Professor Hill said “Araucaria is an ancient conifer genus that is often used as a major ornamental tree in large gardens, coastal streets and public places. The fossil record of these trees shows that they were once common and diverse in southern Australia.”
“This latest paper reports two new species and several new records of beautifully preserved Araucaria fossils, closely related to Norfolk Island Pine, and shows that the current trend to use Araucarias as ornamental plants is simply returning them to their former range.”
Image: Fossils of Araucaria balfourensis from Balfour
These well-preserved fossils add significantly to the knowledge of Araucaria and confirm the dominance of the section Eutacta compared with other sections in the region during that time. The range of leaf morphology exhibited is similar to that seen in extant New Caledonian species and probably reflects past phases of radiation in similar wet climates.