Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean


Above: A forest of Monkey Puzzle trees

Spotlight on: Monkey Puzzle Tree

Young Araucaria araucana plantI remember the first time I saw a Monkey Puzzle tree. There was one growing, surprisingly, next to the shoe store my mother used to take us to in "the next town over." I was fascinated with its symmetrical branches, open form, and appearance so different from the other conifers I was accustomed to seeing in my Pacific Northwest home town. 

Why is it called "Monkey Puzzle"?

Araucaria araucana, or Monkey Puzzle tree, is an unusual (to North Americans) specimen from the Andes region of Chile and Argentina and one of the most ancient tree species on our planet. Its spiraling spine-like needles have allowed this tree species to survive ancient grazing animals and also gave rise to its common name, evoked by a comment about the challenge this prickly network might pose to climbing monkeys (even though there are no monkeys in Chile!).

The bark of Monkey Puzzle tree is fire resistant; forests of the tree are found growing on the sides of volcanoes in South America and have survived lava flows. This ancient tree can live for up to 1,000 years; its edible seeds take two years to develop.


The tree can grow to 80 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It prefers well-drained, slightly acidic, volcanic soil but will tolerate almost any soil type provided drainage is good. It prefers temperate climates with abundant rainfall, tolerating temperatures down to about 20 °F (USDA Zone 7). As the hardiest member of its genus, it is the only one that will grow in the United States (away from the extreme south).

This is a popular garden tree, planted for the unusual effect of its thick, reptilian-like branches and very symmetrical form.

Did you know Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens has a beautiful large specimen growing in our North Forest? Come visit and view this unusual tree for yourself.

Nursery on the Plaza now has in stock young Araucaria araucana trees for anyone who has an interest in utilizing this amazing tree as a focal point for their own yard or property.

For more information, stop by Nursery on the Plaza at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where there is never an admission fee to shop.

Thanks to these web sites for information: