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The monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana

Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree

Araucaria araucana, or Monkey puzzle tree, is a surprising evergreen conifer that’s very ornamental.

Key facts to remember

Name – Araucaria araucana
Type – conifer

Exposure – full sun or part shade
Soil – well draining, ordinary
Height – 30 to 45 feet (10 to 15 meters)

Flowering – spring
Foliage – evergreen
Growth – slow

Planting Araucaria araucana

The monkey puzzle tree is best planted around fall to give it the whole winter season to spread roots out, guaranteeing better health in spring.

  • Araucaria likes well drained soil because it hates stagnating water.
  • It appreciates rather sun-bathed areas sheltered from wind.
  • Upon planting, a mix of soil mix and garden soil is perfect.
  • Remember to water regularly over the 1st year after planting.

Important: Araucaria araucana tolerates all types of soil, be they chalky or acidic, but it does require soil that is well drained where water won’t stay put.

Araucaria araucana is hardy to 10°F (-12°C), so it resists freezing and cold weather in winter. Araucaria araucana or monkey puzzle tree growth is relatively slow, even though when mature, it reaches heights of 30 to 45 feet (10 to 15 meters).

Growing Araucaria araucana in pots:

In a pot, araucaria araucana will grow more slowlyIt is perfectly possible to grow a monkey puzzle tree in a pot or container.

  • The pot must be large enough to give the tree enough space to grow.
  • Avoid pots that have integrated water catchers at the bottom: these tend to increase soil moisture too much. It’s better to use simple pots with drainage holes at the bottom, through which excess water will flow.
  • Conifer soil mix is ideal for growing Araucaria araucana in pots.
  • A bed of gravel or clay beads at the bottom of the pot will positively impact drainage.

Caring for the monkey puzzle tree

Care is straightforward for Araucaria araucana, especially once it’s properly settled in.

Pruning Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree:

Pruning isn’t actually recommended, especially since much of the appeal of araucaria araucana is its distinctive bearing, sometimes spiking up in a column, sometimes spreading to the sides. If you do need to prune it back, do so at the beginning of summer and avoid cutting back all the way to the trunk. It’s better to prune lightly than to cut it back too much. Note that lower branches will fall to the ground as the tree grows, this is perfectly normal.

Watering araucaria:

In winter, araucaria araucana can survive heavy snowsThough watering during the first year after planting is indeed recommended for the monkey puzzle tree, from the second year onwards it should be happy with whatever rain falls from the sky. However, in case a long-lasting drought sets in, it’s important to water.

When growing in a container or pot, water when the surface of the soil is dry, but without overdoing it. In a pot or garden box, give the plant conifer tree fertilizer in spring.

In winter, no need to water.

Propagating the Monkey puzzle tree

Propagation is typically done through seed. Pick cones from underneath specimens you find particularly elegant and symmetrical.

Araucaria araucana cone with seeds partially flown away

Best is if it comes from a similar to your own environment: climate, temperatures, rainfall. It will have passed on some of its “knowledge” to its children. Thanks to this, it will be more adapted to growing in your own garden! Epigenetics is the botanical term for this phenomenon.

Good to know about araucaria araucana

Trunk with sharp spikes of the araucaria araucana treeA conifer that is very symbolic in Chile, the country where it is native to, Araucaria araucana is nicknamed the Monkey Puzzle Tree ever since it appeared in England in the middle of the 19th century.

Indeed, people at first thought that monkeys would never be able to climb up its branches since they’re covered with spikes… a puzzle for them to solve! Today, it’s a beautiful ornamental tree, occasionally spotted as a standalone in the center of a lawn, or in containers to the side of a deck or terrace.

Smart tip about Araucaria araucana

Finger-sized seeds of araucaria araucanaThis conifer produces edible pine nuts. Some cultures, like the Mapuche, include these pine nuts in their daily diet, because they’re both tasty and healthy!

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-SA 2.0: Wendy Cutler, 阿橋 HQ
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