The Monkey Puzzle Tree
Despite its name, the Monkey Puzzle tree (Cedrela montelina) is not native to North America. However, it can grow in the coastal region of the United States from Virginia to Washington. It is also native to the mountainous regions of the Andes in southern Chile and northern Argentina. In 1976, the tree was declared a National Monument in Chile and was listed on Appendix 1 of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Monkey Puzzle trees are dioecious, which means that they produce both male and female cones. The female cones are round and plump, while the male cones are elongated and oval. They usually fall to the ground in autumn, releasing seeds. The seeds can be eaten raw or fermented to produce a beverage.
Monkey Puzzle trees can be very difficult to cultivate, but they are fairly low maintenance plants once they are established. They require no fertilization, but they do benefit from a monthly feeding. The best way to care for the tree is to plant it in a container. The tree will grow best in a spot with well-drained, fertile soil. It also likes full sun or partial shade. In cooler climates, the monkey puzzle tree should be moved indoors during the winter months. It is a good idea to keep the tree well watered, but avoid over watering.
The Monkey Puzzle tree was introduced to England in the early 1800s by Archibald Menzies, a plant collector and naval surgeon who circumnavigated the world aboard Captain George Vancouver. Five healthy plants survived the voyage, and he returned them to his garden in Great Britain.
The Monkey Puzzle tree has been used in prehistoric times, and the seeds of the tree are thought to have spiritual significance to indigenous people. The seeds are large and can be roasted and eaten raw or fermented to make a beverage.
The Monkey Puzzle tree is very slow-growing, and it takes approximately ten years for it to reach its full height of twenty feet. It may take as long as forty years for the cones to mature. It can also be very temperamental, especially in hot summers. It is usually not recommended to grow the tree in an area that has cold winters, as the trunk may freeze.
The Monkey Puzzle tree is often used as an ornamental plant. Its leaves are unusual, with a pyramidal shape, and they are leathery and pointed. They are clustered around the branches and trunk in whorls. The crown of the branches is often umbrella shaped. They are also sometimes called reptile-like. The trunk is smooth and grey and has circular ridges.
The Monkey Puzzle tree can be found in two isolated areas in the Andes, namely Nasampulli Reserve in southern Chile and the Nazareth Reserve in northern Argentina. It was once a vital part of the large logging industry in central Chile. However, commercial logging was slowed until 1990, and the tree is now classified as a national monument in Chile.