King Billy pine
A conifer tree with a large trunk and a small crown of spreading branches.
Grows up to 40 metres tall in rainforest, also grows as a compact shrub in exposed subalpine environments.
Leaves densely arranged around stems, forming a branchlet 10 mm in diameter.
Individual leaves curved, sharply pointed, 6-12 mm long.
Leaves dark green, whitish on upper surface.
Male and female cones usually on separate branches, at the tips of the stems.
Male cones small, develop between February and May, persist until Spring.
Female cones 15-30mm diameter, develop between September and February, seed produced in Autumn, cones can persist for several months. Gold in colour, becoming brown with age.
Large quantities of cones are produced during ‘mast’ years, typically every 5 or 6 years, with much less fruiting in other years.
What to Observe
- Healthy trees – little or no browning and death of foliage
- Unhealthy trees – recent widespread browning and death of foliage
- presence of unopen fresh (fleshy) female cones
- Open female cones
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
Athrotaxis are adapted to cool and wet conditions and are expected to show signs of stress and eventual dieback if the climate becomes warmer and drier.
Timing and patterns of fruiting are likely to occur in response to climate change. The 5 to 6 yearly synchronised mass seeding of Athrotaxis may already have changed to a more variable and unpredictable pattern.
“King Billy pines are easily killed by fire and they have very limited ability to recover or recolonise after wildfire. Fires have destroyed around one third of the area of King Billy pine forest in the past 200 years. Although this species has survived millennia of environmental change they may be particularly vulnerable to current trends due to their very limited geographic distribution, the increasing incidence of fire in the landscape and the particularly rapid rate of climatic change expected during this century.”
When To Look
Observations of tree health can be made at any time.
Fresh female cones should be visible in summer.
Where To Look
Natural distribution is Tasmania’s west coast, far south and Central Highlands.
Canopy tree in some low to mid-altitude rainforests, also grows as a small tree over dense shrubs in subalpine rainforests.
Australian Biological Resources Study (1998) "Ferns, gymnosperms and allied groups." Flora of Australia, Vol. 48. CSIRO Publishing.
N.J. Enright & R.S. Hill (eds) (1995) Ecology of the southern conifers. Melbourne University Press.
Did You Know?
King Billy pine is slow-growing – it can take 50 years to reach one metre tall – but it can grow to more than two metres in trunk diameter and live for 1300 years, placing this species amongst the longest lived trees in the world.
Many large stands of King Billy pine have been destroyed by fires lit by prospectors, careless bushwalkers and escaped forestry burns.
King Billy pine is a popular timber for boat-building, musical instruments and craftwood , although today this is mostly through salvaged timber.