Monday, March 5, 2012

A Puzzling Tree

Monkey Puzzle at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford
The Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) is a familiar yet exotic sight in many large gardens and parks across Ireland and Britain.

Native to South America,it's the national tree of Chile where it is commonly known as Pehuén.

Despite some commentators despising the things (even going so far as to encourage owners to chop them down!), I quite like them.They've got a bizarre, reptilian quality about them which makes them, at the very least, impossible to mistake for any other species.

It's an evergreen, growing relatively slowly and reaching more than 40 metres in places at maturity. The tree can reach a spectacular age - up to 1,300 years old.

The flowers are dioecious, which means they are either male or female. If you want to produce viable seed to propagate the tree, you'll need two trees - one male and one female. The seeds themselves are pretty large and apparently tasty enough to eat.

The leaves are thick, scale-like and triangular with sharp edges. The leaves are so sharp that there has been calls to remove a number of the trees where they are grown close to schools. Madness of course!

There is some concern for the tree in its native South America where logging, human-set fires and land clearance since Europeans arrived have reduced its range. Its tasty seed and sought after timber means it is at a real risk of being over-collected.

Monkey Puzzle at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford
The tree first reached Britain in 1795, when Archibald Menzies, a botanist and surgeon with the British Navy brought five saplings home. Menzies had been served the seeds as a desert at a dinner party hosted by the governer of Chile. Sir Joseph Banks at Kew planted two of the saplings in his own garden and three at Kew.

The common name of the plant apparently derives from the 1850's when the proud owner of an early British example of the tree was showing off his prized possession when one of them remarked: "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that". The name has stuck.

There are plenty of Monkey Puzzle trees dotted around the country. Where's your favourite? Send locations (and pics!) and I'll post the best. You can email

This post is part of a series to mark National Tree Week 2012.


TriploidTree March 6, 2012 at 11:21 AM  

How could you fail to love them!? I used to love the ones on the tramore road between musgraves and cmp (dunno if they're still there though).

Eoin Lettice March 6, 2012 at 11:50 AM  

Will have to go and check them out.. see if they are still there.

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