The Monkey Puzzle Tree is an evergreen conifer growing in the Andes mountains in the Pehuén region of Chile and in western Argentina. It was growing over 200 million years ago along with the dinosaurs and before the earth had taken its current form, which explains some of the names by which it has become known: the Pehuen, the Dinosaur tree, the Living fossil, the Chilean Pine.

Often considered to be a very attractive and spectacular tree, with its great height and unusual, symmetrical, deep green spikey branches it was a favourite in formal Victorian gardens.

Young tree at Balloch Country Park, Loch Lomond. Scotland.

October 2020

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History
  • They belong to an ancient family of trees, Araucariaceae, which were widespread throughout most of the world from the Jurrassic period.

  • As the earth formed, most of the trees in the northern hemisphere were destroyed by ice ages, other climatic events and geological changes. The monkey puzzle survived only in Chile and Argentina.

  • The first seeds were brought to the U.K. from Chile near the end of the 18th century by the Scottish botanist Archibald Menzies.

  • Monkey puzzle trees have been popular as ornamental trees in parks and gardens ever since.

  • The Araucariaceae family consists of 8 genera, 5 of which are now extinct.

  • One of them, the genus Araucaria, consists of 20 living species including Araucaria aracana, the monkey puzzle tree.

Characteristics
  • This evergreen tree can grow to be over 1000 years old.

  • They can reach heights of 150 feet with a girth of over 10 feet.

  • The thick, dark green leaves are produced on upwardly curved branches and are very sharp to touch.

  • The bark is also very thick and on mature trees light grey in colour with a gnarled appearance.

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Pollination
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  • Monkey puzzle trees are usually dioecious, which means each tree is either male of female - both are needed to produce seeds.

  • Coconut size cones grow at the end of branches each containing about 200 seeds.

  • The trees are wind pollinated and the seeds are often dispersed by various animals and birds.

Growing
  • The seeds germinate easily but can take several weeks to show any signs of growth.

  • They germinate best when fresh, so plant as soon as possible after dropping, even though that means planting in the autumn.

  • the plants grow slowly, possibly only 12 inches tall after 4 or 5 years, increasing to growth of about a foot per year after 10 years

  • They are usually sufficiently mature after 30 years to produce their own fruit.

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About 2 years old.

Uses
  • It is mainly used as an ornamental tree.

  • Seeds are eaten regularly by those in Chile and Argentina who live close to the trees.

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  • The wood is fine grained timber with a golden hue and is notorious for producing lots of stickey sap - but enthusiasts are keen to work with it.

  • It was used as general timber in buildings and furniture etc. but international trade is no longer allowed as efforts are made to protect this species.

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Endangered
  • Forest fires and over harvesting  led to Chile declaring the tree a natural monument and their felling is now prohibited.

  • It is also classed as an endangered tree.

  • Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh have imported hundreds of seeds from Chile and have embarked on a project to grow these and distribute them round the U.K., especially at Benmore Botanic Gardens where more than 100 have already been planted.

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Benmore Botanic Garden, Dunoon, Argyll. Scotland

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Araucaria araucana

The Monkey Puzzle Tree