BRUNS plant of the month – October
Anyone who has ever come into contact with the needles of the monkey puzzle tree knows how pointy and protective they are. The perfect protection against hungry predatory herbivores
This extraordinary conifer it native to Chile and Argentina where it grows in the Andes of Southern Chile and Patagonia at elevations of up to 1700 m. The trees form deep-reaching roots and can reach up to 2000 years in age. Its dark grey bark can be as thick as 10 to 15 cm and is effective protection against forest fires and hot ash from volcanic eruptions.
Botanically speaking, they are evergreen conifers in the Araucaria family which can reach a height of up to 50 m in its natural habitat. They are usually dioecious, meaning there are female and male trees. Female araucaria have large, globose cones which can reach a diameter of 15 to 20 after pollination and hold up to 200 edible seeds (piñones) 3 to 5 cm long which can be harvested after approximately 3 years. Araucaria seeds have been a key source of food for indigenous tribes. The durable wood was often used as a building material for houses, boats and bridges.
Monkey puzzle trees were introduced to Europe in the 18th century where they are regarded as an exotic and prized ornamental and park tree. Important for successful culture are a sunny exposure and a deep, well-drained soil that is not too calcareous. Monkey puzzle trees thrive excellently and can grow into noble specimens in many areas of north-western Europe with relatively high humidity and mild winters. Young saplings should be protected during the winter in the first years. They grow slowly with an annual growth rate of 25 to 30 cm.
Be sure to leave plenty of space when planning to plant these fascinating exotic specimens. To achieve the best effect, they work well as a solitary element combined with stones and sun-loving low growing shrubs. Due to their regular, perfect habit, they should not be pruned, if possible. Incidentally, the monkey puzzle tree is closely related to our popular Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) which is native to the Australian Norfolk Islands.