Araucaria araucana

Araucaria araucana

Monkey tree

 … or Monkey Puzzle tree as it’s called in England. The plant collector Menzies, who was on board of the Discovery, is said to have been given a few nuts of the Araucaria in 1795 in Chile. He planted them in the ground, and when small trees had grown from the nuts thirty years later, an onlooker is said to have shouted: ‘Climbing this tree would puzzle a monkey!’ And the sharp needles do indeed make this plant rather untouchable. Incidentally, no monkeys live in the area where the Araucarias grow… The Araucaria comes from the Andes mountain range in South America. The species name Araucaria is derived from the Araucaria area in Chile.

When you purchase your Plants-of-the-World Araucaria araucana you will receive a puzzle. Why? “Climbing this tree would puzzle a monkey!” The sharp needles make it really impossible to climb this tree to get the seeds out of the husk. Hence the name monkey sorrow or Monkey Puzzle. The solution is patience. They fall down on their own. How much patience do you have in solving the puzzle?

The tree multiplies through seed. There are male and female trees. The male cones hang down (photo left); the female bolls are perpendicular to the branches (photo right). The wind pollinates the female flowers, and after a year of ripening, the seeds fall down. In Chile, these kernels are eaten as nuts.

Protected tree species
The Araucaria araucana is a protected tree species. The seedlings are imported from Argentina with a CITES license. Due to the seasonal difference with the Southern Hemisphere, the plants have to acclimatise for six months before they can continue to grow. Due to the protected status, it is not possible to import the seeds. These aspects make growing this plant a costly business.

Although the plant will grow into a large tree, it is going to take some time before it reaches that point. The open structure of the branches reduces the shade effect. As far as care is concerned: ensure the soil is water-permeable with a deep ground water level. The plant strongly dislikes wet soil. It causes root rot. Once this disease gets to the plant, the tree cannot be saved. Make sure the soil is regularly fertilized. This will keep the plant healthy. Cut away dead branches down to the green wood. This will keep it looking good. In the Dutch climate, the tree is comfortably winter-hard. Only when the plant is still young and has only recently been planted, it may be best to cover the plant in case of frost.