Araucaria araucana - Monkey Puzzle


Scientific name:

Araucaria araucana (Molina ) K.Koch

The species described by Karl Heinrich Koch (1809-1879) in it's present form; however, epithet araucana was used before by Giovanni Ignazio Molina (1737-1829) with the genus Pinus for P. araucaria Molina. Published In: Dendrologie 2(2): 206. 1873.


Basionym: Pinus araucana Molina Sag. Stor. Nat. Chili 182. 1782


Abies araucana (Molina) Poir.

Abies columbaria (Dum.Cours.) Dum.Cours.

Araucaria dombeyi A. Rich.

Araucaria imbricata Pav.

Columbea imbricata (Pav.) Carrière

Columbea quadrifaria Salisb.

Dombeya chilensis Lam.

Pinus araucana Molina


Common names:

English: Monkey Puzzle, Chile pine, Chile nut, Parana pine,

German: Andentanne, Chile-Tanne, Chilenische Araukarie

Spanish: Araucaria, Pino Araucana, Pino Chileno, Piñonero, araucaria de Neuquén, chihuén, pehuén, pino hachado

The species’ english common name is misleading, since there are no monkeys living within its range. It owes its origin to that fountainhead of whimsy, the English garden party. It seems that at a planting ceremony in Cornwall in 1834, a guest remarked that the tree’s dangerously armed branches "would be a puzzle for a monkey to climb." The name was coined, and it stuck.


The English common name (Monkey Puzzle) alludes to the fact that the task of climbing the tree, with its sharp branches tightly clothed with spiny leaves, would puzzle even a monkey. The name araucana is derived from the native Araucanians who used the nuts (seeds) of the tree in Chile. A group of Araucanians living in the Andes, the Pehuenches, owe their name to their diet based on harvesting of the A. araucaria seeds.


Scientific classification

Kingdom: Plantae Subphylum: Euphyllophytina Infraphylum: Radiatopses Subclass: Pinidae Order: Pinales Family: Araucariaceae Genus: Araucaria


The genus Araucaria includes approximately nineteen species, all confined to the Southern Hemisphere in markedly disjunct distributions. Most of the extant araucarian taxa have evolved since early Tertiary time; extensive evolution and adaptive radiation have occurred in the islands of Australasia, where most of the species are found. Two species occur in South America (A. angustifolia and A araucana) and two in New Guinea (A. hunsteinii and A. cunninghamii - one of which also occurs in Australia), one is endemic to mainland Australia (A. bidwillii), and another is found only on Norfolk Island (Araucaria heterophylla) in the Tasman Sea. The remaining thirteen species are endemic to New Caledonia, where they occur from sea level to 900 meter elevation.

The only temperate-zone species of the genus, this Araucaria is amongst the most unique species of all conifers. The plant introduced to England by Menzies in 1795. Archibald Menzies (15 March 1754 – 15 February 1842) was a Scottish botanist, plant collector and naval surgeon on George Vancouver's circumnavigation of the globe, travelling in James Cook's ship. He was served the seeds of this conifer as dessert while dining with the governor of Chile and later sowed them in a frame on the quarter deck, returning home to England with five healthy plants. One of these monkey puzzles could be seen at  Royal Botanic Gardens (KEW) until it died in 1892.



Araucaria araucana is a distinctive evergreen conifer that can grow to a large size and live more than 1000 years.

Dioecious or more rarely monoecious trees to 50 m tall, to 2.5 m d.b.h.; trunk straight. Bark to 15 cm thick, rough and deeply fissured, exfoliating is small chips and plates; inner bark brown; outher bark grey or grey-brown. Crown in mature trees variously domed or more or less flat-topped, with branches only at the top of the tree; branching according to Rauh's model. Primary first order branhes of mature trees is pseudo-whorls of 8-10 or sometimes more, up to 5 m long, spreading or assurgent, mostly with second to third order branches, caducous. Branchlets extending out to the sides of the branches, sparsely branched themselves, remaining green for several years, densely branched with and largely hidden by the foliage. Leaves densely, spirally arranged, angled a little forward along the twigs, broadly spearhead-to pointedly egg-shaped, generally flat but a little bowed outward around the midline, slightly narrowed at their points of attachment. Each needle 2.5-3.5(-5) cm long, 15-20(-25) mm wide, with sharp, prickly tip, dark green, persisting about 10-15 years. Stomates parallel to the long axis of the leaf, in numerous, closely spaced, discontinuous lines on both faces. Pollen cones 8-12 cm long, 4-5 cm thick, each pollen scale with 12-20 pollen sacs in two rows. Seed cones standing upright, nearly spherical, (10-)15-20 cm in diameter, brown at maturity, the surface hidden by the free scale tips. Seed scales densely spirally arranged, 4-5 cm long, 1.5-2 cm wide, wedge-shaped, with a narrow neck between the outer face and the swollen, seed-bearing portion and with a triangular, upturned free tip 1.8-2.5(-4) cm long. Seeds 2.5-3.5(-4.5) cm long, narrowly ovoid, red-brown, edible. Cotyledons remaining underground within the seed shell during germination.


Distribution and Ecology

Native to south-central Chile  (Biobío, La Araucania, Los Lagos) and southwestern Argentina (Neuquén). In Chile, more than 95% of the Araucaria forests are found in the Andes at an altitude of 1000–1600 m a.s.l. between 37°30'S and 39°40'S. Also, two small populations are located in the coastal range between 37°40'S and 38°40'S.

In Argentina, monkey-puzzle trees are found in the Andes and Andean pre-cordillera from latitude 37°45'S to 40°20'S .

The forests occur on soils derived from volcanic ash deposits or on well-developed soils derived from metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. It can form relatively extensive pure stands often on steep volcanic slopes or in association with temperate rainforest species including Nothofagus antarctica, N. dombeyi, N. pumilio and Saxegothaea conspicua, however its most common forest type in the Andes is over a sub-canopy of Nothofagus pumilio. In the northern subpopulation in the Nahuelbuta Cordillera (southern central Chile)the species occurs at its highest coastal altitude of 1400 m and grows with N. obliqua and N. pumilio while the southern subpopulation occurs at an altitude of 600 m in a highly disturbed landscape dominated by mixed forests of Nothofagus spp. and exotic tree species. In Argentina it forms pure stands at between 900 and 1800 m, but it is commonly associated with Nothofagus antarctica or N. pumilio, in Parque Nacional Lanin 49% of the forest is associated with Nothofagus pumilio and N. dombeyi. Towards the east of its range in Argentina where the rainfall is less (between 1,000 to 1,500 mm) it occurs with Austrocedrus chilensis, Lomatia hirsuta and shrubby species of the steppe vegetation. Its ecology is disturbance-driven, mainly by the effect of volcanoes, fire, landslides, snow avalanches and wind. In order to survive such disturbances it has developed effective adaptations, such as thick bark and epicormic buds.


A. araucana is predominantly dioecious and its seed is gravity-dispersed or assisted by Austral parakeets (Enicognathus ferrugineus) and other animals. Both seed and pollen are relatively heavy and may not disperse over large distances, although seed dispersal may be assisted by parakeets and other animals.


Asexual reproduction by root suckering has been reported, but it is unknown how important this process is to population maintenance and expansion. It is a long-lived tree and specimens over 1300 years are not uncommon.


The climate in this area can generally be characterized as west coast maritime, with a winter maximum in precipitation.There is a very sharp longitudinal precipitation gradient. The annual precipitation range declines from 4000 mm on the windward Chilean side of the Andes to 1200 mm on leeward slopes in Argentina. Temperature data from ten meteorological stations in the area yield a mean January temperature of 17°C and a mean July temperature of 4°C, although monkey-puzzle is capable of withstanding much more pronounced extremes.


Cold Hardiness

In Argentina the lowest winter temperatures can drop to -20°C and in Chile to -10°C.

This species can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 8(7B) through 10(11).



The monkey-puzzle tree is an important resource for Araucanos living in and around its main range. Piñones are central to their diet. Piñones are most commonly collected off the ground after being shaken loose from trees by wind, or they are knocked down by two species of parrots that feed in their upper reaches. Monkey-puzzle forests are managed collectively. No family may claim exclusive rights to any part of a forest containing monkey-puzzle trees.

Piñones are eaten raw, boiled, or toasted (either directly in the ashes of a fire, in a pot, or on an iron wood stove). They are also used to make a fermented beverage called chavid, and often ground into flour to be used as a condiment in soups or to make bread.

Some scholars (Angli, 1918; Gusinde, 1936; Hoffman, 1982; Record and Hess, 1943) have suggested that the Araucanos use resin from the monkey-puzzle tree to help wounds heal, for headaches and colds, to treat bruises and ulcers, to set fractures, for lockjaw, and to normalize menstruation, but medicinal use of the resin was not observed during fieldwork, nor was it reported by the Araucanos in interviews.



Araucaria araucana has an actual area of occupancy (AOO) of 392.51 km² which falls within the threshold for Endangered under criterion B2. Within the Andes and the Coastal Cordillera of Chile the population is severely fragmented and there is a continuing decline in its AOO due to a range of debilitating factors including fire, logging and overgrazing. Consequently it is assessed as EN B2ab(ii,iii,v). The monkey puzzle was declared a National Monument in Chile in 1976, a status that prohibits logging. The species is also protected in Argentina although logging pressure continues outside of National Parks.


Fire plays a fundamental role in the ecology of Araucaria-Nothofagus forests. This paper highlights the utility of dendrochronological techniques in providing the historical reference conditions to guide ecological restoration. In the Araucarian region human activity has dramatically changed the fire frequency in the Araucaria-Nothofagus forest ecosystems. Although further critical evaluation is required, our preliminary data show that, compared with the Native American period (pre-1883), there was widespread burning of forests associated with the subsequent Euro-Chilean settlement phase. Vast areas of subalpine forest were deliberately burned to increase pasture for cattle ranching. This process is documented by a major increase in the frequency of fires in the forested Araucaria Nothofagus landscape during the 20th century. Prior to the 1880s the fire regime was characterized by infrequent catastrophic fires with long intervening periods of stability. The immediate reduction of human-induced fire is necessary to move these altered forest ecosystems towards the range of natural structural conditions and reestablish the historical variability of this ecological process. A better understanding of the fire ecology seems crucial in developing strategies for the restoration and management of these fire-dependent forest ecosystems. Restoration ecology typically involves returning an ecosystem to a natural or pre-existing state after disturbance by humans.

Restoration efforts strive to restore natural species composition and stand structures and, perhaps more importantly, to restore natural processes that maintain the ecological integrity, resilience, and sustainability of ecosystems. With that goal in mind, ecologically sound restoration approaches should aim not only to replicate and reestablish particular stand reference conditions but also to restore the natural variability and resilience of Araucaria-Nothofagus forests.

Most Araucaria forests, have been affected by fire, clearing of land, high-grading, and intense browsing and grazing by cattle. This land-use change has directly or indirectly prompted other negative effects such as biological invasion, soil and water quality degradation. For example, a higher fire frequency and the introduction of cattle into natural areas have favored the invasion of non-native plant species. Anthropogenically caused fires that have altered the natural fire regime in Araucaria communities should be suppressed and the dominant historic fire regime of less frequent high-severe fires restored. In addition, all burned areas (natural or anthropogenic) should be protected from grazing or salvage felling that reduce the potential for recovery and encourage the rapid development of nonforest vegetation.

Ecological restoration efforts should focus on returning this ecological process to its natural and historic range of variability.



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