A garden specimen of Araucaria araucana in Victoria, British Columbia at Birds of a Feather B&B
Detail of Araucaria araucana branches and cones
Araucaria araucana in the wild
Monkey Puzzle Tree, Chilean Pine
a native of Chile & Argentina
The monkey-puzzle tree is classified in the division Pinophyta, class Pinopsida, order Coniferales, family Araucariaceae.
Among the most spectacular are forests of pure Araucaria Araucaria araucana, the hardiest of the genus, is a large, bizarre-looking evergreen, 60-70ft. tall and 30 to 35 feet wide, though the tallest specimens in its native haunts have been measured at over 150ft. It forms a loose, symmetrical, see-through crown, pyramidal in youth, eventually with a rounded or flattish top. The scale-like leaves are dark green, stiff, sharp-pointed and densely arranged on upwardly-sweeping branches, looking more reptilian than coniferous in character. Because of this it comes to know surprise to most people that this species is estimated to be around 60 million years old, based upon fossil record known today.
The common name of Monkey Puzzle Tree comes from a comment from an Englishman in the 1800's, who thought it would certainly be a puzzle for a monkey to climb. As there are no monkeys native to the area in which this tree is indigenous, this name has spawned many false stories. Because of the unusual character of this tree, which captures the imagination of most people who see it, the species is often planted in gardens around the world. Specimens planted years ago now make commanding silhouettes in the landscape, visibly recognizable from great distances.
Preferring well-drained, volcanic soil, this species is surprisingly tolerant of many soil types. It is very tolerant of maritime exposures, salt-laden winds, and thrives in cool, mild climates. It dislikes hot-dry soils and atmospheric pollution.
The seed forms a staple food of the Pehuenche Indians, a mountain tribe of the Mapuche culture, it is also sold in local Chilean markets. It has an excellent potential to become a commercial crop, being high yielding, and the large tasty seeds are easily harvested. The main disadvantage is its slow rate of growth before the first crop is produced (up to 40 years from seed). The plant is dioecious so at least one male plant needs to be grown for every 5 - 6 females. Unfortunately there is no way of telling the sex of the tree until flowering. Female cones take 2 - 3 years to mature and contain up to 200 large seeds.
It is perhaps Archibald Menzie's most unusual introduction of a new species into England. One night, Mr. Menzies was dining out in Chile. Unable to identify some nuts on the table, he popped a few in his pocket. A number of them sprouted on the voyage home. In this manner, Araucaria araucana, or Monkey Puzzle Tree found its way into the rare plant collections of 18th century Europe!
In 1990, the Ministerio de Agricultura declared Araucaria araucana a Chilean national monument.