This tree has unusual leathery, spiky leaves that are arranged in spirals around the branches and trunk.
It is the Araucaria araucana, or Chile Pine, commonly known as the Monkey Puzzle – reputedly because someone commented that the strange arrangement of leaves and branches would make it difficult for a monkey to climb!
We had one of these in the grounds of my school, and it was one of my favourite spots if I wanted a bit of peace and quiet – I could clamber in amongst the low-growing branches, take a seat on a branch and read my book!
This stately evergreen tree can grow to heights of 50 metres, with a trunk diameter of over 3 metres. It is the national tree of Chile, and when growing in a temperate rainforest it can live as long as 1,000 years. They are often found on the slopes of rocky volcanoes where its fire-resistant resinous bark is a great advantage, enabling it to the extreme heat of lava flows!
It was discovered in in the 17th century in Arauco in Chile by Don Francisco Dendariarena, a Spanish explorer, when on a mission to South America to seek out timber for building and repairing ships for the Spanish government. It was introduced to Britain in 1795 by Archibald Menzies, a botanist and naval surgeon. Apparently, the seeds of the tree were served up as dessert at a dinner with the governor of Chile; maybe Menzies didn’t like the taste, as he kept them and later returned to England with five healthy plants!
The particular tree pictured here is in Kew Gardens and was planted in 1978, so it’s a relative youngster.
Linked to Festival of Leaves.