Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana

Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana
Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana bark
Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana

Class Pinopsida (Conifers)
Order Pinales (Conifers)
Family Araucariaceae (Araucarias)
Species Araucaria araucana (Molina) K. Koch

Height 30 m.

This tree was around some 200 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the planet, and its sharp-pointed needles aided it in keeping browsing animals at bay. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘living fossil’.

Also called the ‘Chile Pine’, or ‘Chilean Pine’, this is a magnificent and exotic, evergreen ornamental tree which was widely planted in Victorian and Edwardian parks and gardens. The trees are either male or female, and generally have a single tall, straight trunk, an evolutionary trait to help keep the leaves away from browsing dinosaurs. The leaves are scale-like, triangular and rigid, and dark green in colour. The globular female cones are 15cms across, and ripen in the second year, breaking up on the tree. The nuts produced are similar to Brazil nuts.

Widely grown as an ornamental in parks and gardens. They can live up p to 1,000 years in its native countries, up to 150 years in Britain. Originally a native of Chile and Argentina, it is fairly common and widespread throughout Britain.

The Monkey Puzzle tree was discovered by a Spanish explorer called Don Francisco Dendariarena in the 1780s. It is believed to have been introduced to Britain by the Scottish plant-hunter Archibald Menzies in 1792. He is supposed to have slipped five of the nuts into his pocket after been given them as a dessert during a banquet at Valparaiso, and then managed to germinate them on the voyage back home. Grown as exotic ornamentals in gardens, it was said that the many intricate formed branches of the tree were enough to puzzle a climbing monkey.

Local park, South Staffordshire June 2012. © Peter Hillman