Nothing is quite so unique and wonderful as the Monkey Puzzle tree or Araucaria Araucana. I saw the fresh developing cones on a beloved female tree in the neighborhood and felt a profound sense of hope. This tree has been around for a long time. Weathered all storms and human interference. It has persisted. The extreme heat wave we had in 2021 really took a toll and many large Monkey Puzzle trees have many brown, dead branches. It is difficult to see the tree limbs dying but at the same time, they all seem to be putting on new, fresh green growth and cones. Hope!
Monkey Puzzle trees grow slowly, reminding me that it is ok to go slow. To let things develop as they will and enjoy the ride! If you have wondered about how a Monkey Puzzle grows then read on – let’s meet Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle Tree.
Where and how it grows
Araucaria araucana is also called the Chilean Pine or Monkey Puzzle Tree. It is the national tree of Chile and a member of the Araucarian Plant Family. It is a cousin of the Norfolk Pine. It is an evergreen conifer. Araucaria araucana is a perennial tree that grows in part shade to full sun. It can grow in a variety of soils as long as there is good drainage. It prefers fertile well-drained soil. It likes to grow in climates with abundant rainfall and mild temperatures. It is very tolerant of salt-laden maritime winds.
Araucaria araucana can grow to 100 feet tall with a 50-foot-wide canopy. The trunk can be 3 to 5 feet in diameter. It is a very slow growing tree. It is very hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it can tolerate dry, droughty summers, it will grow faster if it is watered throughout the summer.
Seeds and Cones
Araucaria araucana is edible. The female cones produce many large delicious seeds. Mature trees are highly productive. Seeds are a staple crop for many indigenous people in Chile and Argentina where it grows natively. It is said that 18 mature female Araucaria araucana trees could sustain one adult year-round.
It is not self-fertile. Flowers are either male or female but only one sex is found on any one plant. Araucaria araucana is fertilized by wind. One male plant can fertilize 4 to 6 female trees. Male cones are oblong and shaped like cucumbers. They are 3 to 5 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Female cones are large and globelike. They can be 5 to 8 inches in diameter. Araucaria araucana make cones in the fall. Female cones take 1 ½ to 2 years to ripen. Cones are ripe in winter November - February. They fall to the ground when ripe, so harvesting is easy.
How it moved from South America
Araucaria araucana was a rare and unusual tree grown by wealthy aristocrats in English gardens starting in the late 1700’s. In 1850, a proud owner of a young tree was showing it off to a group when one of the visitors remarked that “it would puzzle a monkey to climb that.” The name Monkey Puzzle stuck.
No one is sure exactly when they arrived in the Pacific Northwest or whether they came as seeds or starts. Many say it was the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle in 1909 while others point to the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon in 1905. It may have been earlier. It seems probable that the biggest, oldest Araucaria araucana trees in the Puget Sound would have been planted in the early 1900’s coinciding with the construction of the buildings or homes.
Oldest, Slowest Native Tree
It can live over 1000 years. Araucaria araucana fossils have been found dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. It can take up to 30 or 40 years for Araucaria araucana to produce seeds. It is a very slow growing plant.
Araucaria araucana grows natively at elevations above 3,300 feet in the foothills of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. It is grown from seeds. It takes 2 to 6 months for a seed to germinate.
Araucaria araucana is listed as an endangered species. It is threatened due to logging, overgrazing and massive forest fires in 2001 and 2002 that destroyed thousands of acres of Araucaria araucana forest. Araucaria araucana grow well in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Pacific Northwest. There are quite a few Araucaria araucana growing all around the Seattle and Puget Sound area.