There are 19 species of Araucaria around the world, native to New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, eastern Australia, New Guinea, Argentina, Chile and southern Brazil. They grow into great big trees, mostly with viciously spiky leaves and some with edible nuts. They are often referred to as living fossils, relicts of the early Mesozoic (also known as the Age of Conifers) when their distribution was global, 250 million years ago. It is thought that the long necked sauropod dinosaurs browsed on them.
|A young Monkey Puzzle in a garden in Saint-Epain.|
The species I know well are Monkey Puzzle A. araucana, Bunya Pine A. bidwillii, Hoop Pine A. cunninghamii and Norfolk Island Pine A. heterophylla.
Monkey Puzzle is the one you see in western European parks and gardens. Sadly it is all too often planted somewhere way too constricted and the homeowner lops the crown out of the tree, creating a travesty. The one shown in the photos is a relatively young tree, with its branches still gracefully sweeping down to the ground and growing thickly for the full height of the trunk. It's got room to grow some more and I hope the owners enjoy it for decades. This species is sometimes called le désespoir des singes in French ('monkeys despair'). The vernacular names presumably reflect the difficulty of getting at the nutritious and tasty nuts, protected as they are by the prickly foliage.
|Monkey Puzzle foliage, and rather unusally, male (brown) and female (lime green) cones on the same tree.|
Ian Fraser has written recently on the Bunya National Park, an area of lowland temperate rainforest which is close to where I lived in Australia, and where the best concentration of Bunya Pines grows.
I had a Hoop Pine in my garden in Australia. It had been planted as a seed by the daughters of the previous owner, 50 years earlier. At some point it had been hit by lightning and was a bit scruffy looking at the top. Every now and then I would notice a koala in it. They don't eat Hoop Pine so it must have just been in transit.
Norfolk Island Pines are common at the coast in eastern Australia, planted to provide shade and landscaping, often very close to the beach because as small island natives they tolerate the salty seaspray. I've written about them before on the blog.