The monkey puzzle tree - also sometimes known as the monkey tail tree, is a native of central and southern Chile, and western Argentina. It gained the common name of 'Monkey puzzle' as popular belief has it that it is the only tree that a monkey cannot climb. The monkey puzzle prefers well drained, slightly acidic, volcanic soil, but will actually tolerate almost any soil type provided it drains well. A fact that has enabled it to successfully transplant into many of the country estates of England.
Since the Victorian era, the monkey puzzle has become a popular - although expensive - garden tree. It is favoured for its unusual effect of the thick, 'reptilian' branches which grow out from the central trunk showing a highly symmetrical appearance.
Another aspect to its popularity it that the monkey puzzles ability to thrive in temperate climates with abundant rainfall. Amazingly they can also tolerate temperatures down to about −20 °Celsius. It is far and away the hardiest member of its genus, growing well in western Europe, the west coast of North America, New Zealand and south-eastern Australia. It is also tolerant of coastal salt spray, but it does draw the line at exposure to pollution.
The seeds of the monkey puzzle tree are edible - similar to large pine nuts, and are extensively harvested as an edible crop in Chile and Brazil. The tree has excellent potential to be a food crop of the future, but unfortunately it will not yield its seeds until it is around 30–40 years old. This length of time discourages investment in planting orchards, even though yields at maturity can be fantastic. Furthermore, once established, monkey puzzle trees can live as long as 1,000 year.
Once valued as timber for its long, straight trunk, its current rarity due to excessive logging mean its wood is now rarely used. The tree became protected by law in 1971, and is listed in the CITES Appendix I as an endangered species.
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