Monkey Puzzle

Araucaria araucana

Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana female cones

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 refered 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. It can grow up to 30m (98ft) in height. 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.

Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana

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.

Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana

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.

Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana bark

June 2012, local park, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012.

Is it a Turkey? No, It’s A Duck

Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

Wild Muscovies are black and white, but with breeding there are different colour varieties, from iridescent green, brown, blues and lavender plumage. They have large, strong clawed feet which they use for roosting in trees, and they are webbed for swimming. Their faces are bare and bright red, or red and black, and the drakes have pronounced carnacules at the base of their bills and a low erectile crest of feathers.

They feed on small invertebrates and plant material. Nests are usually made in the hollow of a tree where they lay between 8 to 21 eggs in a clutch. They breed three times a year. They can live for up to 8 years.

Muscovies do not swim as much as other ducks due to the fact that their oil glands are not as well-developed as other species.

Seen all year round, they are found in ponds, rivers and streams. Native to Mexico, Central and South America, and was introduced to Europe and the UK some centuries ago as domesticated farm produce, from which they are commonly called ‘Barbary Ducks’. Although they are a tropical species they do fairly well in colder climes.

Photographs taken  August 2008, park, Staffordshire, and April 2015, Buxton, Derbyshire.

Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia × soulangeana

Also called ‘Chinese Magnolia’ or ‘Tulip Tree’, this tree or shrub produces large, showy and often fragrant flowers in springtime. It is one of the most commonly planted magnolias planted in the British Isles. It is a hybrid between Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliiflora. It can be a large shrub or a small tree, and it produces large upright flowers 10-20cm across. They are coloured various shades of white, pink and purple, and are produced in mid-spring. The leaves are dark green, ovate and pointed at the tip.

Widely cultivated and planted as a street tree, or planted in parks and gardens as a specimen tree.

This magnolia was bred in 1820 in France by Étienne Soulange-Bodin, and was soon introduced to England where it has been widely planted, as it has been since throughout the rest of Britain.

Photographs taken March 2014, seen from rear garden, Staffordshire.