Monkey Puzzle Tree Info: Tips For Growing A Monkey Puzzle Outdoors
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Monkey puzzle trees are unmatched for the drama, height, and sheer fun they bring to the landscape. Monkey puzzle trees in the landscape are a unique and bizarre addition, with towering height and unusual arching stems. This South American native is suitable for USDA zones 7 to 11 and is often planted as a curiosity. Providing cool, moist conditions is essential for outdoor monkey puzzle care, but at heart, this is a tropical plant. It can be grown indoors in cool climates but warm to temperate region gardeners who want a big statement and a strange focal point plant should try growing a monkey puzzle outdoors.
Monkey Puzzle Tree Info
Monkey puzzle tree has to be seen from a bit of a distance to really be appreciated. When young, the plants look like something from the dinosaur age and that impression doubles as the trees reach their full mature size.
Cold region gardeners should not try growing a monkey puzzle outdoors, but potted plants can be tried in the home interior. The plant really flourishes in temperate zones where it can receive the cooler temperatures it craves and plenty of rainfall. Some tips on caring for monkey puzzle trees will assure a happy and healthy plant.
Monkey puzzles are evergreen trees with sparsely spaced limbs adorned with stiff, armored scales. The plant’s fruit is a cone and depending upon whether it is male or female, these can measure 3 to 12 inches long (7.5 to 30.5 cm.). The tree itself can grow 70 feet at maturity (21.5 m.) with a nice pyramid shape.
Some monkey puzzle tree info states the name comes from the intricate arrangement of branches and whirled leaves, which might “puzzle a monkey.” Others say the name is because the branches resemble monkey tails. However it came about, this is a really spectacular tree in terms of appearance. Monkey puzzle trees in the landscape provide the “wow” factor that gardeners often seek.
Monkey Puzzles in the Garden
Monkey puzzle trees need plenty of room and should not be sited near a power line. The plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is very resilient and adaptable to almost any type of soil, even clay, provided it is moist. Young plants need consistent supplemental moisture.
Mature plants are resistant to breakage and even short periods of drought once established. Newly installed outdoor monkey puzzle care should see the plant trained to grow straight. It will naturally develop one trunk which needs to be vertical and strong. Monkey puzzle trees need little supplemental care once established, provided they receive plenty of moisture.
Caring for Monkey Puzzle Trees
Monkey puzzles have few pest or disease issues. The tiny scale insects are sometimes issues of concern, as they sap fluids from the tree. Sooty mold may also occur as a result of honeydew from some insect pests.
Overall, however, these plants are remarkably resilient, many having lived over 1,000 years. They seem to have a natural pest resistance and even borers don’t bother them. In their native country, this plant has been logged to the brink of extinction. They are now protected and the wild populations are back on the upswing. Don’t miss a chance to bring an exotic piece of South America into your home landscape.
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Advice on growing Monkey Puzzle Tree in container
I live in Long Island, New York and I want to try growing a monkey puzzle tree in a container. The tree would be placed on my outdoor patio. I lost 2 Monkey Trees that were recently planted in the ground and I want advice to successfully grow them in containers. How often do you guys water your monkey puzzle trees that are growing in a container? What type of Potting soil should I buy? Would Miracle Grow Potting Mix be sufficient? Is placing them in full sun okay? Any other suggestions to successfully grow the tree?
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
Thanks for your help. Where can I purchase volcanic soil?
Monkey puzzles: an iconic tree under threat
The monkey puzzle tree is under threat in its native Chile, but UK gardeners can help. Robbie Blackhall-Miles explains how
Spiky but strangely beguiling: monkey puzzle trees first came to Britain in 1795. Photograph: Corbis
Spiky but strangely beguiling: monkey puzzle trees first came to Britain in 1795. Photograph: Corbis
I sat in a state of dismay as I read about the forest fires threatening Chile. Climate change has been causing the country’s Araucanía region to become increasingly hotter and drier and the forest fires it sees to become ever more frequent. The impact is being felt greatly by the native monkey puzzle trees, Araucaria araucana over 1 million of them have been burned in the most recent fire that spread through Chile’s China Muerta National Park. The thought that these trees, some more than 1,000 years old, could be wiped out in a moment fills me with anguish especially as I know that the ones that are left cover a tiny area only a quarter of the size of London.*
My life has been influenced greatly by these trees. Growing up in a 1920s semi-detached house with a huge monkey puzzle in the garden instigated my interest in plant life. The idea that a plant family could have survived on this planet since the Jurassic era sparked the imagination of a very young me and led to my lifelong interest in the world’s plants and their evolution.
They don’t just tell a story of plant evolution either. They tell a story of adventure and war and the fate of British society.
Monkey puzzle trees grow large and magnificent if allowed to thrive. Photograph: Eric and David Hosking/Corbis
Archibald Menzies first introduced the monkey puzzle to Britain back in 1795. Two seedlings, grown from nuts he had been served for dinner by the Governor of Chile, were planted at Kew. At the time they weren’t called monkey puzzles and it was at Pencarrow garden in Cornwall that Charles Austin suggested that “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that” leading to the name we know them by today. They continued to remain rare in British gardens until well past the turn of the 19 th century and were grown only by the elite, who prized them as symbols of status and wealth.
That is, until James Veitch employed William Lobb to collect seed for his nursery and in 1843 the first monkey puzzles went on general sale for £10 (equivalent to £880 today) for 100 seedlings. This move by Veitch and their subsequent sale by other nurseries made the trees more accessible and by the 1900’s they were being given pride of place in the gardens of the upper middle classes. During the 1920’s they were to be found growing in the centre of bedding displays, as a statement of prosperity, in the small gardens of suburban Britain. Little thought was given to the future of the weird, spiky, potentially 40 metres tall, plant growing among the alyssum and lobelia. Forgotten during the Second World War, while the nation’s gardens were turned over to food production, these trees grew, and by the end of the 1940s were too big to be moved but too small to warrant being chopped down, so they remained. They became part of our suburban landscape.
So ingrained in the social history of Britain had the trees become that even the Guardian crossword compiler, Reverend John Galbraith Graham, used Araucaria and an anagram of Chile pine, Cinephile, as pseudonyms for his work making reference to the puzzle aspect of the trees name.
It was during the 1920’s craze for them as bedding plants that my monkey puzzle was planted by Mr Prentice, the then-owner of our family home. Of course by the 1980s when my family moved in, the tree was about the same height as the house and, as its branches matured, it dropped its vicious spines all over the floor below. Where once had been a circular, ornamental bedding scheme there was now a dry patch of ground so barren that nothing would grow. The tightly clipped privet hedge stopped at the tree and started again as the drying effects of the tree’s roots ended, and my mother dearly wished she could remove my beloved Araucaria. Fortunately it was protected by a Tree Preservation Order.
This is a story that is told repeatedly across the UK, and not all the monkey puzzles are lucky enough to be preserved by a TPO. As time goes on, I see many of the trees from my childhood disappearing, their maintenance burden too great, their sharp spines too dangerous, the shadow they cast too large. How the magnificent monkey puzzle tree has fallen from grace.
Monkey puzzles have become such a noted part of our landscape here in the UK, and I would dearly love for them to remain that way. I have become an avid monkey puzzle spotter, and there are many like me. Sarah Horton (monkeypuzzletrees.wordpress.com), has even made it her mission to track down and map them all. We must have a significant number growing right here in the UK. I wonder how many are there in public parks, National Trust properties, private gardens, or the remnants of the forestry trials they were used in. Are our British monkey puzzles not worth something when it comes to the conservation of the species? Should we not be planting more of them instead of chopping them down? Is it not time for a change in their fate and a rise back to the treasured status they once had?
If you do decide to grow one, don’t plant it on a whim, thinking that it can just be removed when it gets too big. Take heed of the past. Give it some thought and some space and think of the generations that will appreciate it into the future.
It’s not just by the fires of climate change that threaten them in the wild either land clearance, loggers and agriculture threaten them too. Yet there is a small glimmer of light for these iconic trees. The International Conifer Conservation Programme have helped set up a nature reserve in partnership with Rainforest Concern for the purpose of protecting some of the wild monkey puzzle Trees.
If you haven’t space for a MPT or you are forced to remove one that has outgrown its welcome, maybe you could spare a thought for the Araucarias in the wild, being ravaged by fire, and consider supporting one of these organisations working so desperately hard to save them.
*Chile is three times larger than the whole of the UK.
Monkey-puzzle prefers well-drained, slightly acidic, volcanic soil but will tolerate almost any soil type provided drainage is good. It prefers temperate climates with abundant rainfall, tolerating temperatures down to about −20 °C. It is far and away the hardiest member of its genus and the only one that will grow in mainland Britain, or in the United States away from the extreme south.
In Canada, Vancouver and Victoria have many fine specimens it also grows on the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is tolerant of salt spray but does not like exposure to pollution. It is a popular garden tree, planted for its unusual effect of the thick, 'reptilian' branches with a very symmetrical appearance.
The seeds are edible, similar to large pine nuts, and are extensively harvested in Chile. A group of six female trees with one male for pollination could yield several thousand seeds per year. Since the cones drop, harvesting is easy. The tree, however, does not yield seeds until it is around 30-40 years old, which discourages investment in planting orchards.