In September of 1994, a national park field officer named David Noble was hiking in wild and nearly inaccessible region of Wollemi National Park in New South Wales, Australia, not far from Sydney. He came upon an evergreen tree that he didn't recognize, and collected some specimens hoping to identify it when he got back home. Much to his surprise, Noble had found a species completely unknown to science. This new species was given the scientific name Wollemia nobilis, named for the national park and for Noble himself, and is commonly known as the Wollemi Pine.
Wollemi Pines are evergreen conifers. They usually have a single trunk with bumpy gravelly bark and can grow up to 40 meters tall. Although Wollemi Pines are conifers, their leaves are less needle-like than most common conifers, instead being fairly flat, 30-80 mm long and as wide as 5 mm. They're spirally arranged on the stems, but in such a manner that it looks as though there are two stacked layers of leaves on the left and right sides of the stems. Like many conifers, the pollen producing male cones grow at the tips of branches. The larger, spiny, seed-bearing female cones also grow at the tips of branches.
Wollemi Pines are not true pines of the botanical family Pinaceae, but instead members of the family Araucariaceae. Araucariaceae are distributed across the southern hemisphere with a large number of species in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and the South Pacific islands, although fossils show they had a wider distribution in the past. Other living araucarians may be familiar to readers as Monkey Puzzle Trees, Norfolk Island Pines (genus Araucaria), and various Kauri species (genus Agathis). Fossils of the nearest relative of Wollemia, the extinct tree Wairarapaia, are found in Lower Cretaceous rocks from New Zealand, indicating that Wollemia-like trees have been living on southern continents for more more than 100 million years.