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Stunted King Billy pine and deciduous beeches at Cradle Mountains National Park, Tasmania [Trevor Hinchliffe].

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Stunted high altitude trees at Cradle Mountains National Park, Tasmania [Trevor Hinchliffe].

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Young tree at Mt. Tomah Botanical Garden [Trevor Hinchliffe].

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Foliage of a tree at Cradle Mountains National Park, Tasmania [Trevor Hinchliffe].

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Bark of a young tree at Cradle Mountains National Park, Tasmania [Trevor Hinchliffe].

 

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Conservation status

Athrotaxis selaginoides

D. Don 1841

Common names

King Billy pine. The species was named for King Billy, also known as William Lanne (1835-1869), who was the last male Tasmanian native (McFarlane 2006, Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service 2008). Some proper British authorities refer to the species as "King William pine."

Taxonomic notes

Syn: A. alpina Van Houtte ex Gord. (Silba 1986).

Description

A conical tree to 30 m tall and 2 m dbh, often with a long clear trunk and small tufted crown. In exposed conditions it can be small, twisted, shrublike, hugging the ground. Bark dark orange-red, slightly furrowed, exfoliating in long strips, soft and spongy. "Branchlets upright, tufted near the crown, smooth, bright light green. Leaves spirally arranged, shiny green, free and spreading, acute, awl-shaped, lanceolate, pointing forwards, apex incurved and sharply acuminate, 8-13 mm. long, keeled on back with 2 small glaucous depressions, with two bright bluish-white bands beneath, margins entire. Male cones terminal on short branchlets, with 2 pollen sacs. Female cones on a peduncle 2-3 mm. long, globular, 2.5-3 cm. long, orange turning brown; scales papery, triangular, acuminate, denticulate. Seeds 2-4 per cone scale" (Silba 1986).

Distribution and Ecology

Australia: Tasmania: in mountain regions of the central plateau, extending almost to the West coast (Newbury [no date]), at 914-1219 m (Silba 1986). You can also create a highly detailed map, and access specimen data, using the "search" function at the Australia Virtual Herbarium. Hardy to Zone 8 (cold hardiness limit between -12.1°C and -6.7°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree

Oldest

One tree-ring chronology collected in the Cradle Mountains, probably based on live tree material, is 777 years long (International Tree-Ring Data Bank). Dendrochronological analyses have found, from cross sections of logged trees, establishment dates as early as 1695. Adjoining older trees are not datable due to rot (Ogden 1985).

Dendrochronology

Use of the species has been reviewed by Norton & Palmer (1992).

Ethnobotany

The Tasmania Regional Forest Agreement finds that the species is currently used primarily as "craftwood", noting that "King Billy pine - is a slow-maturing species too scarce to allow sustained harvest of commercial quantities. Most demand is being met by substitutes. Salvaged timber is being used only for high-value products" (Commonwealth of Australia 1999).

Those who can find it, will find the timber "very lightweight. The sapwood is yellow, heartwood is pink to reddish brown. It is very soft, fine textured with close prominent growth rings and is easily split. Seasons very readily with little shrinkage or distortion. It is very durable and rot resistant. It planes and cuts very well. Because of its softness it bruises easily. It has good bending properties. Uses: Boat building, joinery, shingles, sounding boards in musical instruments, vats. It can be turned, but because of its softness, it tears on end grain" (Newbury [no date]).

Observations

There are some excellent specimens in the Cradle Mountains National Park (Newbury [no date]).

Remarks

This species is currently listed on the index of threatened Australian plant species.

Citations

Don, D. 1841. Descriptions of two new Genera of the Natural Family of Plants called Coniferae. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London Ser. 3. Pp. 163-179.

McFarlane, I. 2006. William Lanne(y). www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/L/William%20Lanne.htm, accessed 2012.11.23.

Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service. 2008. Native conifers of Tasmania. www.parks.tas.gov.au, accessed 2012.11.23.

See also

Boland et al. (1985), pp. 66-67.

Brown, M.J. 1987. Conservation of King Billy Pine. Project 66. Project Report to World Wildlife Fund, Australia.

Brown, M.J. 1988. Distribution and Conservation of King Billy Pine. Tasmania: Forestry Commission.

Darby, A. 1994. Tasmania's pencil pine threatened by fungus [new root rot fungus suspected of killing species in their only habitat, around the Pine Lakes region on Tasmania's central plateau. Quarantine area declared around this habitat]. The Age, 1994.07.28: 8.

Farjon 2005.

Tasmania Forestry Commission. 1987. Management policy for King Billy pine. Hobart: Forestry Commission.

Gymnosperms of New Zealand.

Last Modified 2012-11-23