Araucaria araucana
monkey puzzle

Araucariaceae (araucaria family)
Monkey puzzle tree in front of the Mausoleum. John Rawlings, ca. 2005

This odd tree, known in French as désespoir des singes, is worth taking children to see. Monkey puzzle became very popular in English gardens after being introduced in 1795. The 1- to 2-inch long, sharply pointed leaves are similar to those on the bunya bunya, but are more densely arranged, overlapping to completely obscure the trunk and branches. Two specimens planted in front of the Mausoleum, 6 feet tall in 2003, were successors to trees documented there in 1913 and in the 1970s. They died and were removed in 2005. Two replacemts were planted in December 2005. Mature specimens are hard to find in the vicinty of campus, but some are listed in The Trees of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco (E. McClintock, 2001).

Monkey puzzle tree, whose nuts are eaten in Chile, and a Brazilian tree whose seeds are planted by tapirs, are South American species of Araucaria. The others are from Australia, Norfolk Island, Vanuatu, and the New Caledonia region, a curious dichotomy no doubt related to continental drift. A petrified forest in Arizona testifies to the great age of the genus. A new member of the family, Wollemi pine, has been discovered in the bush less than 50 miles from Sydney. Visitors are blindfolded before going to the secret location by helicopter. The few dozen trees appear to have identical DNA, which raises fears for their resistance to disease. The genus is named for the Araucanian natives of Chile.

Name derivation: Araucaria – Araucani Indians of central Chile; araucana – from the Araucan homeland.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005.