Huon Pine – a truly ancient species

No. 55

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Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) is found only in Tasmania, and there is no other species of Lagarostrobos in existence today. It is truly an ancient species – members of the same plant family (Podocarpaceae) existed more than 200 million years ago. In Tasmania, the oldest recorded fossils of leafy Lagarostrobos twigs are more than 2.6 million years old.

Huon pines vary in size from shrubs less than 2 m high to trees more than 30 m tall. They grow very slowly, taking about 500 years to reach maturity, and some trees have been known to be more than 3000 years old.

In western Tasmania, Huon pine grows in rainforests along riverbanks; it also occurs in swampy flats or lake edges in the state’s southern and central regions. It thrives in cool, wet conditions, and is very susceptible to fire. Seed is produced in female cones, with male cones usually growing on separate trees. Huon pine can also reproduce by ‘layering’, where low-hanging branches touching the soil produce new roots, while still attached to the parent plant. Genetic testing of a stand of male trees on Mount Read on the West Coast has shown that they have been regenerating in this way for more than 10,000 years (although none of the current trees are more than 1500 years old).

Huon pine timber has a high oil content and is extremely durable. Early settlers valued it, particularly in the boat-building industry. Its easy accessibility on West Coast rivers was one of the primary reasons for the establishment of the penal settlement at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, in the 1820s.

Curiously, early settlers had been milling Huon pine for decades before the species was given its formal name, Lagarostrobos franklinii, honouring Sir John Franklin, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania from 1836–1843.

Today, Huon pine is a highly valued timber used in small quantities for furniture making as well as boat building.

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