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Monkey Puzzle Tree

Araucaria Araucana

The big evergreen tree on the corner of the lawn opposite the herbaceous borders

The monkey puzzle tree is an evergreen conifer native to Argentina and Chile. It can live for 1,000 years and grows to 50m high with a trunk diameter of over 3m. Monkey Puzzles are known to have existed for  200 million years and rubbed shoulders with the dinosaurs.

The common name Monkey Puzzle apparantly originates from a comment from one of a group friends of Sir William Molesworth, the proud owner of a young specimen his garden in Cornwall in 1850.  Someone remarked that "It would puzzle a monkey to climb that". In the UK, the monkey puzzle became a classic Victorian park tree.

The scientific name Araucaria araucana comes Spanish name Araucanos, given to the Mapuche peoples from Chile who consider monkey puzzles to be sacred.

Female trees start producing edible seeds, similiar to pine nuts, when they are around 40 years old and have long been harvested by the indigenous peoples in Argentina and Chile.  The nuts are used for a variety of purposes from making flour through to making a fermented beverage -muday.

These trees have been heavily logged for over a century for their fine knot-free timber. In 1976 they were declared 'natural monuments' and their felling strictly prohibited. National nature reserves were set up to protect them, but they are still under threat, and listed as 'endangered' on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Global Red List of Conifers.


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