I had the rather unique opportunity recently of accompanying James from the University of Tasmania (UTAS) on one of his field trips to study Tasmania’s endemic King Billy Pine trees. We visited a number of locations, including Mother Cummings Rivulet and Cradle Mountain, but the photos below are from the Winterbrook Falls track which leads to Black Bluff.
The King Billy Pine, or Athrotaxis selaginoides, can grow to 40 metres in height and live beyond 1000 years. They require wet and fire-free environments to thrive and like all rainforest and alpine species will struggle to regenerate after fire. King Billy Pines are most easily seen at Cradle Mountain, on the King Billy Pine track which starts and finishes in the Cradle Mountain Lodge. The name is thought to have come from a Tasmanian Aboriginie named William. The timber has been used in boat building and in the construction of old mountain huts. The well known Waldheim chalet at Cradle Mountain was originally constructed with this timber.
The pines tend to lose their lower branches as they grow which added an extra complication to the sampling, which involved a very long pair of secateurs and in some cases some fairly awkward positioning and climbing among the branches of nearby trees. James was collecting small branchlets which will be sent to Japan for a comprehensive DNA analysis which will provide very important information about one of Tasmania’s fascinating alpine trees.