Being an avid gardener is an amazingly powerful thing. As the world’s climate shifts and more and more species teeter on the edge of extinction, we often find ourselves able to help in the process of keeping a plant from disappearing by continuing to plant it in our gardens.
Araucaria Araucana, commonly known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree, is one of those trees teetering on that seesaw. This is a tree that is known as a living fossil because the species has been on the planet since the time of the dinosaurs.
While countless other species have faced extinction since then, this tree has done an amazing job at surviving - until humans influenced their environment. Now we must do our best to keep this wondrous specimen from going the way of its Jurassic period contemporaries.
The Monkey Puzzle tree is a coniferous gymnosperm with a wildly unusual look that is the origin of its equally odd name. A member of the English parliament, Sir William Molesworth, was having a luncheon with some friends at his country home, and while showing his garden, his friend, the famous lawyer, Charles Austin, said of the tree, "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that." Having no common name at that point, the name stuck.
Looking at the tree you can see why our primate cousins would be confused. The foliage is not like the typically needle-shaped type. Instead, they are leathery, broad and dagger-like.
These organic daggers do not drop off the tree either, they linger for ten to fifteen years which often means you will see these large broad leaves on quite substantial branches or on the trunk itself. The tree is left with a thick leathery coating on the bark that is resistant to fire and acts as a deterrent against larger animals damaging the trunk.
In the early (really early years) of the tree’s history, its native range was vast, it covered an area on the supercontinent of Gondwana which today encompasses the continents of South America, Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica during millions of years of continental drift. Today, though, the tree can only be found in a very small tract of land in Chile totaling about 151 miles 2.. The Monkey Puzzle tree resides in two distinct biospheres, the mountainous rainforest of the Andes Mountains and the coastal mountains of the Andes on the opposite slope.
Due to the proximity to the coast, the tree has developed excellent salt tolerance.
Human-set fires, forestry, and the introduction of new species of animals have led to the Monkey puzzle tree’s recent demise. The tree takes up to 40 years to produce cones and is incredibly long-lived -- up to 1200 years. Often the trees do not live long enough to reach an age where cone production is possible, therefore the next generation does not continue.
Though it is now a protected tree by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), has been named the national tree of Chile, and is a landmark tree in several national parks, a concerted effort needs to be made to conserve the Monkey Puzzle tree.
You can help with this effort by planting one in your garden. Besides the conservation effort, it is a remarkable tree and makes a great conversation piece.
|Botanical Name||Araucaria Araucana|
|Common Name||Monkey Puzzle Tree|
|Mature Size||50.00 to 80.00 ft. tall, 20.00 to 30.00 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||Semi-rich, evenly moist, well-drained soils|
Monkey Puzzle Tree Care
If you don't have the right climate to support year-round outdoor planting, this tree grows well in a container that can be brought inside to overwinter. In the northernmost zones and areas where summers are very hot, it is recommended to choose your site carefully.
The Monkey Puzzle tree is very adaptable, but does best in milder summers and winters. Placing it in a sheltered area in these types of climate is suggested. Once you find a good location you are ready to plant.
As with every tree or shrub, you are going to want to plant the tree shallow, in a hole that is wider than it is deep. The standard is two times wider than the container or rootball is deep.
It is always good to have a helping hand to make sure your tree is completely straight as you fill the soil back into the hole. Then, place two to three inches of mulch around your tree without it touching the trunk. You may want to stake your tree to ensure strong winds do not displace it.
After you plant your Monkey Puzzle tree soak the tree thoroughly and water it weekly with long soaks that drench the entire root system. Less frequent deep watering is better than more often shallow watering.
Monkey puzzle trees want full sun and do not tolerate shady areas. If growing in a container, make sure the window gets plenty of direct light.
One real positive about growing the Monkey Puzzle tree is that it will tolerate a wide range of soils providing they are deep and the drainage is good. In a container, adding some perlite to the potting mix may aid the drainage.
If the tree has established itself and you have watered it well for the first year or two as instructed above, then watering your Monkey Puzzle is low maintenance. The tree prefers medium moist soil and that can usually be maintained by the precipitation that occurs naturally. If a dry spell does occur, water as needed. For a plant in a container besides keeping the soil moist, a regular misting will be needed.
Temperature and Humidity
The ranges for the Monkey Puzzle tree are USDA 7-10, but it does not do well in the warmer temperatures and does not tolerate dry weather. It is cold hardy to -4o F.
If your garden is dry or can reach colder temperatures, consider going the container route.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree does not need supplemental feeding.
Is the Monkey Puzzle Tree Toxic?
The Monkey Puzzle tree is not toxic, the seeds are edible and are farmed in Chile. They taste much like a pine nut.