Common name: Monkey Puzzle Tree, Chilean Pine
Araucaria araucana was a Tree of the Month in 2010. We have several specimens in the Garden, but the one in the middle of the Maze died a few years ago, probably from compacted soil caused by the patter of many feet finding their way to the centre. Another large specimen in the Southern Hemisphere Garden died suddenly in the summer of 2011, probably from Phytophthora root rot.
It is usually dioecious, with its cucumber-shaped male and round female cones on separate trees. The ripe seeds taste like big pine nuts and are still a food staple for the Mapuche peoples in southern Chile and Argentina. We have occasionally found ripe cones in our northern Garden, and a few lucky guides have pronounced the seeds delicious.
It's also possible that this tree inspired the name of delicious monkey bread.
This tree comes from the dry hinterland of Chile, where the Araucanos Indians live; the nut-like seeds from the cones were a staple of their diet, being under the control of the wise men, harvested according to religious rites. Archibald Menzies (botanist with Captain Vancouver of H.M.S. Discovery) slipped some seeds into his pocket at a feast they attended, planted them at once on board, and four of them germinated before they reached England. During Victorian times they became very popular trees, many of which can be seen in Vancouver. They are dioecious. Araucaria excelsa is the famous Norfolk Pine, grown here as an indoor plant. (See notes 1 and 2 below.) : More about Araucaria araucana.
Just to make the geographic placement of this tree clear, Araucaria heterophylla (synonym A. excelsa) is also known as the Norfolk Island Pine. It is endemic to Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. (It is a conifer but not a true pine).
Tree photo by Leslie Connolly. Female cone photo by Hughie Jones.
Photo of tree planted during construction from Vancouver City Archives