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MONKEY PUZZLE TREE 
(Araucaria Araucana)

Here on Vancouver Island, we refer to these prehistoric plants simply as "Monkey Trees", but the rest of the English speaking world refer to them by their proper name, "Monkey Puzzle Tree".

Few plants will wow visitors from other parts of the country like a Monkey Puzzle does, and we just happen to live in the PERFECT CLIMATE for them to truly thrive.  Usually reported as painfully slow growers, Monkey Puzzles can actually grow very quickly here on Vancouver Island when planted in an ideal spot and cared for properly, (which we will see further down on this page).  In fact, North America's tallest Monkey Puzzle tree apparently lives right here on Vancouver Island in the northern community of Holberg.


HOLBERG'S MIGHTY GIANT IS SAID TO BE NA's TALLEST

Known for their unique symmetry, tropical look, and frighteningly sharp scale-like "leaves", the Monkey Puzzle can now be found in great numbers along the west coast of North America, from northern California up to southern British Columbia, and pretty much anywhere else in the world with similar climates between zones 7 and 9.  They seem to prefer cool wet winters, and hot dry summers, and need to be planted in a spot with excellent drainage.
 


YOUNGER TREES ARE SYMMETRICAL

CLOSE UP OF TRUNK AND BRANCHES

EXAMPLE OF MATURE MONKEY TREE

A native of Chile and Argentina in South America, the Monkey Puzzle is classified as an endangered species in its natural habitat.  This is due to over logging and natural phenomena such as excessive fires in the region, which destroyed a large portion of the wild population.  Thankfully, extensive planting programs have been initiated, with a survival rate of over 90% being reported on the new plants.  The governments of Chile and Argentina have also put into effect laws protecting this species from logging, so hopefully we will see it removed from the endangered species list soon.

The Monkey Puzzle is truly a prehistoric plant, with fossils showing it existed in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods along with dinosaurs, (which may explain the dinosaur-resistant spikes they adorn). They belong to the coniferous Araucaria family, a once prolific genus which has few species left in it today.  Some of the Monkey Puzzle's closest remaining cousins would be the Norfolk Island Pine, The Bunya Bunya Pine, and the recently discovered Wollemi Pine.

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NORFOLK ISLAND PINE

RECENTLY DISCOVERED WOLLEMI

BUNYA BUNYA PINE
ABOVE: Some equally prehistoric relatives of the Monkey Puzzle Tree

As mentioned above in this article, I want to address the multiple reports on the web that the Monkey Puzzle Tree is a "painfully slow grower".  This statement is probably true most of the time, but there are certainly exceptions to the rule, and the growth rate of your tree will depend greatly on various factors.  These factors will include: YOUR ZONE, CURRENT CLIMATE CONDITIONS, SOIL AND LOCATION, FERTILIZER, WATERING, etc, etc.  As we are about to see, a Monkey Puzzle can put on a LOT of growth in a single season.

First of all, lets address the hardiness zone of the Monkey Puzzle.  It is generally claimed they grow in zones 7 through 9, but "zone pushers" have successfully grown this plant for many seasons outside these zones.  I've heard of folks growing them in Michigan and Ontario, places they really shouldn't appear, but I'm not sure if they'd make it through a prolonged cold spell in these areas when it inevitably happens.

After snooping around on the net a bit, I found this Monkey Puzzle growing in Staten Island New York, a hardiness zone of 6B, and it DID indeed make it through a severe cold blast the region had in 2010.  Notice though that it is planted close to the house, so that may be the reason it seems to be doing so well in this zone.  (View the Google street view of this tree HERE ).

Likewise, although reported to do well in Zone 9, the Monkey Puzzle doesn't like extreme heat, like one might find in a Zone 9 in Florida, (compared to a zone 9 here on Vancouver Island...which is a completely different climate in comparison).  Our west coast zone 8 is really the PERFECT place to grow these trees.

To make my point, I would like to show you the following pictures from our own gardens and yards right here in Campbell River.  In 2012, I obtained a Monkey Puzzle tree, and my partners here at B'z Greenhouse, ("B" Keepers Taran and her husband Chris) also got one.  Both trees were approximately the SAME SIZE and were obtained at the SAME TIME, they were outside getting the SAME SUN and were under the SAME CONDITIONS, but they were treated very differently, and their growth rates show this....

I simply planted mine in a pot, and although it didn't get fertilizer, it was watered regularly.  Chris and Taran planted their Monkey Puzzle in the ground, in a prime location in the middle of their backyard.  By the Spring of 2013, the differences between the 2 trees was quite dramatic.  By late March of 2013, T & C's Monkey Puzzle was noticeably larger than mine.  Most notable was the thickness of the stock, longer branches, and of course, increased height.


MARCH 27th, 2013: THIS MONKEY PUZZLE APPARENTLY LIKES ITS SUNNY LOCATION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BACKYARD.

Notice in the above photo how tall the Monkey Puzzle tree is in comparison to the bird bath beside it.  Luckily, we had all noticed how "happy" the plant was, and decided to document its growth during the upcoming growing season.  The photo below was taken 4 months later to the day, on July 27th, 2013.


JULY 27th, 2013: JUST 4 MONTHS LATER AND THIS HAPPY MONKEY TREE HAS ADDED ALMOST 2 FEET TO ITS HEIGHT!

Naturally, I wanted to know what Chris had done to make this "slow grower" sprout like it did.  I was informed that although the tree DID get a couple of doses of Miracle Grow, he attributed the amazing growth of it to the regular watering the plant received during the Spring and Summer, often getting 2 waterings a day.  I should also mention that our winter here in Campbell River during 2012-2013 was an extremely MILD one.  I'm not even sure if we hit -6C during the season, and if we did, it was maybe only once or twice, and certainly not for long.  Our Spring of 2013 was wet and mild, and our Summer of 2013 was HOT, with around 30 days in a row of clear skies and 26C+ temperatures.


SEPT. 6th, 2013: ONLY 5 WEEKS LATER THAN THE PREVIOUS SHOT, AND THIS TREE HAS ADDED AN ADDITIONAL FOOT!

Have you ever had one drink too many, then allowed someone to take a picture of you?  Let me assure you, that's certainly NOT the case in the above picture!  Believe it or not, it took us about 4 or 5 tries to get this picture with me NOT laughing.  I was also crippled for about 7 days afterwards!  For your viewing pleasure, I have included a close up of my face, so you can see the seriousness of this plant's growth.

Although I know it is difficult to take your eyes off of my poetic stance, take a gander at what this tree has done in only 5 weeks.  It has literally gained almost another foot in this short time.  In the July 27th pic we were unable to determine how many new branches were going to come out from the crown.  In the above pic we were able to see that the Monkey Puzzle was going to have 6 new branches, plus the stock, in the upcoming year.

(ABOVE) - OCTOBER 2013   /   (BELOW) - NOVEMBER 2013

So from the 2 pictures above, we can see that the Monkey Puzzle in Chris and Taran's backyard has stopped its growth spurt for this year, but when compared to the original picture posted from March 2013, we can clearly see that it has nearly DOUBLED its height in just one growing season.  I have predicted this plant will again nearly double itself in the upcoming growing season of 2014.  You can be sure we'll be following up on this story then ; )

So is the Monkey Puzzle REALLY a "slow grower"?  Well as I mentioned above, I got a similar sized tree at the same time as T & C did, and it had the SAME weather conditions to grow in, but was treated much differently.  Below is a picture of my Monkey Puzzle tree, taken in November, one day later than the picture above.


NOV. 26th, 2013: IT'S HEALTHY AND GROWING, BUT THIS POTTED MONKEY PUZZLE IS STUNTED COMPARED TO ITS BROTHER!

Obviously, like any other plant, how these trees are treated will make a BIG difference in their growth habit.  Ideal conditions, like being planted in the ground in a sunny location, with occasional fertilizing, lots of watering, and favorable weather can see these trees add AMAZING growth to themselves in a single season.

Want a slower growing specimen?  Try a Monkey Puzzle as a potted plant, or plant it in a shadier area of your yard...and DON'T fertilize it or give it too much water, LOL!  Remember, no matter how you treat this plant, it will eventually grow into a true giant, so try to be sure to place it in an area that will allow for that.


A TRUE RELIC FROM THE PAST.  MONKEY PUZZLES GIVE YOU YOUR OWN PIECE OF PREHISTORIC HISTORY TO WATCH GROW.

Stay tuned!  This coming Spring I will be planting my own 'little' potted Monkey Puzzle in the ground to see what a difference it makes, and we'll also be keeping an investigative eye on Chris and Taran's tree to see if my prediction of it doubling in size once again in 2014 really happens.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story, (so far!).
"B" keeper Robb
 

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