The Monkey Puzzle is an evergreen species of conifer from the temperate rainforests of south central Chile and adjacent areas in Argentina. Mature trees are covered by leathery, spiky leaves and may reach a height of 50 m, living to over 1,000 years. Like other conifers, it produces cones, and each of these releases between 120-200 seeds, called “piñones”.
The species is of great historical and social importance. Piñones are edible and form an important food source for the indigenous Pehuenche people of central south of Chile. Monkey puzzle wood has a high mechanical resistance and moderate resistance to fungal decay. It has been used for beams in buildings, bridges, piers, roofs, furniture, boat structures, veneers and plywood.
As a result of its natural beauty and striking appearance the species has been adopted as a flagship for a number of National Parks in Chile where it is also the National Tree. Further afield it is highly valued as an ornamental plant by gardeners in Europe and America.
In its native habitat, monkey puzzles are exposed to a disturbance regime characterized by recurrent volcanism and fire. It establishes well under the partial shade of post-fire stands dominated by Nothofagus species, or may be the initial colonist on rocky sites that have been burned.
However fire, logging and grazing have led to rapid destruction of the monkey puzzle’s habitat. Although logging of the species was banned in 1990 other pressures remain high. During 2001-2002 thousands of hectares of native Araucaria forest were dramatically burnt in southern Chile. The cause of the fires is unknown but some local communities say that private owners were involved in protest of the 1990 logging ban.
Other threats to the species include the expansion of plantations with exotic trees and low levels of natural regeneration for the species. In 2013, the species was upgraded on the IUCN Red List to Endangered
Conservation actions required for the species include increased support for core protected areas such as Nahuelbuta National Park, the development of new protected areas in the Coastal Range and restoration for Andean and Coastal populations.
The Global Trees Campaign supported restoration of monkey puzzle forest and conducted educational programmes in two projects between 2003 and 2007. These projects are having a long-term impact. In 2013, ten years after 2000 monkey puzzles were planted in the wild, 90% of the seedlings have survived.
Donoso, C., Lara, A. and Alarcon, D. (2001). Araucaria araucana (Mol.) K.Koch, 1795. In: Enzyklopadie der Holzgewachse – 23. Erg.Lfg 3/01.Hoffman, A. (1991). Flora silvestre de Chile. Zona araucana. Segunda edicion. Edciones Fundacion Claudio Gay. Santiago. Chile. 258 p
Did you know?
Monkey puzzle wood can be used to reconstruct past climatic conditions. This is done by measuring growth rings which go back many hundreds of years.