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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
MONKEY PUZZLE TREE, CHILE-PINE
Pronounced: air-ah-KAIR-ee-uh air-ah-KAY-nuh
Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24, H1, H2.
USDA zones: 7-11.
Heat zones: 12-6.
Height: 50-80 feet (15-25 m).
Width: 20-30 feet (6-10 m).
When the tree matures, cones become quite large, five to eight inches long, weighing in at ten to fifteen pounds.
Dark green, spiny-tipped, sharp needles.
Moist, well-drained, moderately fertile soil.
Sow seed as soon as ripe.
Take cuttings of vertical shoots for a vertical tree. Horizontal shoots will grow a tree that won't grow straight.
Pests and Diseases:
Scale insects and mealy bugs may be a problem.
Rainy Side Notes
It is strange that this tree received its common name, monkey puzzle tree. The name came about when an Englishman commented what a puzzle it would be for a monkey to try to climb the conifer. In 1990, Chile, where no monkeys reside, declared Araucaria araucana to be a national monument. The tree is protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Regardless of its protected status, there is danger of extinction. This would be a real shame, since according to fossil records, this tree has been around at least 60 million years. In their native haunts the tree can grow as old as 1,000 years; one tree is reported to be 1,300 years. These conifers also grow in Argentina.
The native Pehuenche people, a mountain tribe in Chile, use the tasty seeds as a staple food source. The trees are dioecious so both a male and female is necessary to produce seed in cones. These take two to three years to mature before approximately 200 large seeds are ready to eat. Seeds are sold in markets around Chile.
The trees adapt well to our maritime climate in the Pacific Northwest, as they prefer the mild climate we can provide. Riding around in some Seattle neighborhoods, you will find 30-foot tall trees dotting the landscape. Was there a fad to plant these painfully slow-growing trees decades ago?
If you are planning to plant one in your garden, I advise caution when handling this tree, you are soon acquainted with its armor-like needles. Site the tree carefully where you won't have to brush past it on a pathway, or run into it while mowing the lawn. The harsh reality of planting this tree will poke you every time you go near it. However, it's architectural shape means it is a fine specimen for many gardens, poke or no poke.
Photographed in Kingston, Washington.