|A full sized monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana).|
|A close up of the sharp leaves.|
This tree. a native of Chile and other areas of South America, is a rather unusual one. The appearance of the tree is best described as "prehistoric." This is apt, as fossils of the species have been found that date back 60 million years. Its common name comes from a man from England who, upon seeing the tree, proclaimed that a monkey would be quite puzzled as to how to climb such a well-armored tree. Despite what the name may imply, there are no monkeys to be found in the tree's native range.
From a distance, it looks like an unassuming evergreen, but is a more unusual conifer. The leaves are sharp, almost arrow-shaped, and often are not shed individually. Like how pines will shed their needles in bunches, the monkey puzzle tree often sheds its leaves branches at a time. In fact, many places that choose to plant one of these trees lament the cleanup of the very sharp sections that drop rather frequently. The species has separate male and female trees.
The seeds are apparently highly edible, raw or cooked, and taste not unlike pine nuts. In fact, it is a staple food for the native peoples Chile and the rest of the tree's native range. The tree's resin was used to treat ulcers. The wood has been prized for use in boats, construction, furniture, and as pulp for paper making. In its native range, it's endangered, but is commonly cultivated as an ornamental all over the world. Over-harvesting is probably one of the most devastating events it the plant's history. It is now considered a national monument in Chile.
Sources are Union County College and Plants For A Future. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under creative commons licenses: one, two.