August 17, 2005

Dinosaur-era tree set for first auction sale

LONDON (Reuters) - Saplings of a giant tree that was a
snack for dinosaurs and was believed to also be extinct until a
chance discovery in Australia will be offered for sale to the
public next month for the first time.

Less than 300 of the trees -- which can grow to at least 40
meters tall and live for 1,000 years -- will be offered for
sale through auction house Sotheby's individually and in lots.

"Although the auction will be in Sydney, we expect
telephone bidding from around the world," a spokeswoman for
London's Kew Gardens, which put its sample on display in May,
told Reuters.

"The idea is to conserve the tree by selling it
commercially around the world," she said, adding that
individual samples were expected to fetch around A$2,000 with
collections of cuttings of the original discovery priced at up
to A$50,000.

Wollemi pines were only known from fossil records dating
back 90 million years until a chance discovery in 1994 of a
living cluster in the Greater Blue Mountains, 200 km (125
miles) west of Sydney, by wildlife officer David Noble.

To this day, the exact location is a closely guarded secret
to protect the 100 trees -- relatives of the modern day Monkey
Puzzle -- from unwanted human interference.

The tall, slender conifer has dark brown, bubbly bark and
long, dark green leaves and is a member of the Araucariaceae

The Kew Gardens spokeswoman said the so-called Collectors
Edition release of trees which are about 3 meters (10 ft) tall
grown from cuttings of the originals would be followed by sales
next year of smaller propagated saplings.