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Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle)

The monkey puzzle was given its name by an observer who thought that monkeys wouldn't be able to climb the spiky branches.
Monkey puzzle trees in Chile

Araucaria araucana in Chile (Photo: Martin Gardner)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Araucaria araucana (Molina) K. Koch

Common name: 

monkey puzzle, Chile pine (English); araucaria, pino araucana, pino Chileno, piñonero (Spanish)

Conservation status: 

Vulnerable (VU) according to IUCN Red List criteria. Declared a Natural Monument in Chile in 1990.

Habitat: 

Mixed deciduous and evergreen forest, or growing as pure stands; in moist loamy soil or in stabilised volcanic ash; on the lower slopes of mountains.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental; edible seeds; a valuable timber tree, but logging of wild trees now strictly prohibited; a sacred tree in indigenous culture.

Known hazards: 

The rigid spines on the trunk and leaf tips are potentially hazardous. This is a tree to avoid climbing!

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Order: 
Pinales
Family: 
Araucariaceae
Genus: Araucaria

About this species

The monkey puzzle or Chile pine (Araucaria araucana) is an evergreen conifer native to Argentina and Chile. It was discovered in about 1780 by a Spanish explorer and introduced to England by Archibald Menzies in 1795. Menzies was a plant collector and naval surgeon on Captain George Vancouver's circumnavigation of the globe, travelling in Captain James Cook's old ship, HMS Discovery. He was served the seeds of this conifer as dessert while dining with the governor of Chile and later sowed them in a frame on the quarter deck, returning home to England with five healthy plants. One of these monkey puzzles could be seen at Kew until it died in 1892.

The common name alludes to the fact that the task of climbing the tree, with its sharp branches tightly clothed with spiny leaves, would puzzle even a monkey.

Synonym: 

Pinus araucana, Araucaria imbricata

Genus: 
Araucaria

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