Araucaria araucana or commonly called the monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, piñonero, or Chilean pine is an evergreen tree that grows from 1–1.5 m (3–5 ft) in diameter and 30–40 m (100–130 ft) in height. It is native to parts of Chile and Western Argentina. The monkey puzzle tree is the official tree of Chile. This one grows in my parents front yard in Burnaby, B.C.
The origin of the popular English language name “monkey puzzle” derives from its early cultivation in Britain in about 1850, when the species was still very rare in gardens and not widely known. Sir William Molesworth, the proud owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow Garden in Cornwall was showing it to a group of friends when one of them remarked, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”. As the species had no existing popular name, first “monkey puzzler”, then “monkey puzzle” stuck.
Known for its longevity, it is described as a living fossil. It is suspected that they can live up to 1000 years. Saying that, tts conservation status was changed to endangered in 2013 due to the dwindling population caused by logging, forest fires, and grazing.
The leaves are thick, tough, and scale-like, triangular, 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in) long, 1–3 cm (0.39–1.18 in) broad at the base, and with sharp edges and tips, rather similar to the leaves of the unrelated succulent. The leaves have an average lifespan of 24 years and cover most of the tree. You can see some of the brown branches in my parents tree.
The monkey puzzle tree is dioecious, with the male and female cones on separate trees, though occasional individuals bear cones of both sexes. The male (pollen) cones are oblong and cucumber-shaped and approximately 1.6 in long at first, expanding to 3.1–4.7 in long by 2.0–2.4 in broad at pollen release. It is wind pollinated. The female (seed) cones which mature in autumn about 18 months after pollination, are globose, large, 12–20 cm (4.7–7.9 in) in diameter, and hold about 200 seeds. This is a seed pod in my parents tree. I would say that my parents have a female tree.
The cones disintegrate at maturity to release the 1.2–1.6 in long nut-like seeds which are edible AND tasty. The piñones are similar to pine nuts but larger; these roasted seeds are 3 cm and 5 cm long, from two different cultivars. We found some of the little brown seed pods on the ground but when we opened them, the nut inside was tried up and only a powdery substance remained inside.