The Monkey Puzzle Tree is an exotic South American evergreen tree that will grow from the warmest parts of zone 6 to zone 10. It will grow in any soil that is well-drained and typically grows to around 50 feet tall in gardens, although in the wild it can reach 130 feet. This tree grows in a symmetrical conical shape with a strong central trunk and the leathery leaves clasp the stems and persist for many years. The leaves have a sharp point and the way they are wrapped around the stems is almost like a strange kind of snake. The symmetrical shape and dense growth makes this an unusual and attractive tree for larger properties and it is always a conversation piece. The seeds are edible and this tree can be an interesting long-term investment in future harvests.
- Unique ‘living fossil’ tree
- Tall pyramidal evergreen
- Thick spiny leaves unique in form
- Striking and unusual specimen for garden or pots
- Easily grown, pest free and long-living
The Monkey Puzzle tree will grow well in any well-drained soil, in a sunny or partially-shaded location. it is pest and disease free, and lives for many years, eventually becoming a towering tree. It can also be grow in a pot, and brought indoors in colder weather for shelter if necessary. This unique tree, with its strange spiny leaves, is a real talking point, and an exotic tree to grow in your garden. Once established it will grow up to 2 feet a year, so you will soon have a beautiful specimen to admire.
Many gardens are filled with common plants and it is easy to make a garden that is like all the others in your neighborhood. To make your garden truly personal and special it is worth seeking out unusual trees to grow, that are distinctive, attractive and interesting. The Monkey Puzzle Tree is certainly such a tree. It has a unique form to its leaves and branches and the tree develops a beautiful conical shape with branches to the ground. It is cold-resistant and can be grown into the warmer parts of zone 6, so it can be grown across much of America. It is also very salt-resistant and so it is a good choice for coastal areas and beach houses.
Growing Monkey Puzzle Trees
If you live in colder regions it is possible to grow this tree in a large container. Keep the tree outdoors as much as possible, but bring it inside to a cool, sunny location when the temperature approaches freezing. Mist it occasionally and return the tree to a sunny spot outdoors as soon as freezing weather is over. Make sure your container has drainage holes and allow the soil to become slightly dry between each watering. Use liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.
This evergreen tree is related to other needle-trees like spruce or pine, but the ‘needles’ are large and leathery, up to 2 inches long and end in a sharp spine. They wrap around the stems looking a little like raised snake scales and making the branches look thick and rope-like. The leaves last for 10 or 15 years on the stems, before eventually falling, giving the tree an ’armor-plated’ look. It has a strong central trunk that becomes thick and flared at the base, with gray-brown bark.
The branches radiate out in all directions, giving the tree a dense conical shape, with branches right to the ground for many years. Eventually the lower branches die and a tall trunk develops. Trees typically grow to around 30 feet in height. They can become much taller, but they remain narrow and even a large tree will only be about 20 feet across. Most growth takes place during summer and early fall.
Mature trees produce cones containing edible seeds, called piñones in Spanish, starting when they are about 30 years old. Since the cones fall naturally when ripe it is easy to collect the seeds, which are like large pine seeds and can be used in cooking in the same way. Old trees can yield large crops of these seeds. If you have a large property and are interested in producing food, then a group of Monkey Puzzle trees is an investment in the future.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree will grow in almost any soil that is well-drained but it will grow tallest in deep, fairly fertile acid or neutral soils. It takes a couple of years to become established, but after that it will grow 12 to 24 inches a year, so that it does not take very long for it to reach an attractive size. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade and should be planted 15 feet away from a house or buildings. It has no significant pests and diseases so it is a very low-maintenance tree once established.
Planting and Initial Care
To plant your Monkey Puzzle Tree dig a hole that is three times the width of the pot and mix some organic material, like compost or peat-moss, into the soil you removed. Place your tree in the hole at the same depth as it was in the pot and replace most of the soil. Water thoroughly and when all that water has drained away replace the rest of the soil. Cover the root-zone with organic mulch and renew this each spring for the first few years of growth. Water each week during the first year and then do not let the tree become completely dry. No pruning is required unless you need clearance for driveways and paths, but if possible position your tree where this is not necessary as it is most attractive when the branches come right to the ground.
History and Origins of the Monkey Puzzle Tree
The Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) grows in the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina. There it is found in dense forests often at high altitude, which is why it is hardy down to minus 40F. It was introduced into England in 1792, but it wasn’t until a second introduction in the 1840’s that it became a popular garden tree. Large old trees are still seen around mansions from that period. It was named the Monkey Puzzle Tree because someone first seeing it said it would be a puzzle for a monkey to climb, because of the spiny branches.
The only way to grow these trees is from seed and our plants are produced from the highest quality seeds taken from selected specimens. This is a slow process and it takes several years to produce a tree large enough to plant outdoors.