Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In search of monkey puzzles

A. araucana, Spanaway, WA.
It's National Tree Week and earlier in the week I posted something on Araucaria araucana, the Monkey Puzzle Tree and asked for readers to let me know of any interesting examples in their area.

The thing about the Monkey Puzzle is that it is so unique and unmistakable for any other tree species that it tends to stick out in peoples' mind where they see one. As one writer put it: because of their uniqueness, they seem more common than they actually are.

They are also enough of a botanical curiosity that they are often an indication of some historic botanical connection that can be unearthed. They make for some good stories!

Melanie Brisbane was in touch from Spanaway in Washington State in the US to send a photo of her A. araucana covered in snow. The tree is quite cold-tolerant, although the roots can be damaged by severe and extended cold snaps.

Mary Higgins from Waterford mentioned the Monkey Puzzle at Doneraile Park in North Cork. The gardens at Doneraile Court and the plant collecting activities of Mary St. Leger are worthy of a post of their own. The tree is apparently still there but I don't have an image to hand. A trip North is on the cards, I think!
Update 12/03/2012: Having travelled to Doneraile this weekend in search of A. araucana, I can safely say that if there was one in the park, it's gone now! More details in due course.
TriploidTree commented on the specimen tree located at Tramore Road in Cork City (between Musgraves and CMP). CMP is gone from that location but at least one Monkey Puzzle is still present on the site.

Monkey Puzzle at Tramore Road, Cork
The size of the tree indicates that it has been located on the site for much longer than the current occupiers. A quick check of some old maps confirms the site was a plant nursery in the middle of the 19th Century and the tree was positioned at the entrance to the establishment. Surely a great way to impress prospective customers, by exhibiting one of the botanical curiosities of the age at the front gate.

c.1840 map of the Tramore Road Nursery site showing approximate position of the Monkey Puzzle tree (red dot)

OpenPlaques brought my attention to a tree at the bottom of Malone Road in Belfast which must surely be associated with the nearby Botanical Gardens? A quick search hasn't shown up anything there at the moment. Can any Belfast readers shed some light on the matter?
Update 12/03/2012: Prof. John Pilcher from Queens University, Belfast contacted me recently to tell me that, as far as he knew, there was no Monkey Puzzle in the Gardens now. "Some of the old Belfast postcards seem to show one near the Malone road gate (near the Kelvin statue)" says John. "There are some specimens of [the related species] Araucaria heterophylla, one in the Tropical ravine and I think two in the Palm House".
Finally, one other specimen of note is the fine example to be found at what is now Mahon Point in Cork City. This tree is all that remains of the once impressive Lakelands Demesne built by none other than William Crawford. As we've already learned, he was a keen plantsman and developed spectacular gardens on the site now occupied by suburban housing, a shopping centre and a dual carriageway. Sic transit gloria mundi.

I'll write more on Lakelands and Crawford's botanical exploits at a later date, but for National Tree Week it's good to know that this unique tree can act as a reminder of Crawford's Lakeland gardens.

A. araucana at Mahon Point, Cork


Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 1:41 AM  

theres 3 mature trees out in cloghroe blarney before you come to the church check it out!from Raymond in Blarney

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