Looking for an unusual-looking, interesting conifer tree for your backyard? Then how about the monkey puzzle tree! Also called the Chile Pine, this evergreen tree has been around for millions of years (yes, since the dinosaur times!).
For those who want to make a big statement in their garden, a monkey puzzle tree can be a fun addition to any landscape. This slow-growing tree is easy to care for both indoors and outdoors as long as it’s kept in cool conditions.
Get to know all the ins and outs of how to grow and care for the monkey puzzle tree right here.
Monkey Puzzle Tree Quick Overview
|Origin||South America (Chile)|
|Scientific Name||Araucaria araucana|
|Plant type||evergreen conifer|
|Bark Color and Type||ridged, greyish-brown|
|Fruit Shape||oval, cone|
|Fruit Color||light brown|
|Fruit Size||4-5 inches long, 3-5 inches wide|
|Max growth||70 feet (in native habitat)|
|Light||full sun to part shade|
|Fertilizer||water-soluble granules from spring to autumn|
|Climate||cooler temperatures with lots of rain|
|Pests||mealybugs, thrips and spider mites|
Interesting facts about Monkey Puzzle Tree
- Also called a living fossil, the monkey puzzle tree is a national tree of the South American country, Chile.
- The name Monkey Puzzle refers to the unusual shape of the branches and leaves that can confuse a monkey if he decides to climb to the top.
- Monkey puzzle tree is a tough plant that can live up to 1000 years in its native habitat. This tree has even rubbed shoulders with the dinosaurs some 200 million years ago!
- Male and female monkey puzzles can be identified by the shape of their cones. The female cones have round, yellowish-green cones before turning brown as they ripen. The male cones, on the other hand, are elongated like a cucumber. These cones can weigh up to 10 pounds, so it’s not a good idea to stand under this tree when the cones are falling!
- The branches are thick and triangular with green leaves all year round. The spine-like needles of the leaves act as protection against rodents and birds. The lifespan of every single leaf is around 15 years.
- Monkey puzzle is one of the slowest growing conifers that starts producing cones from the age of 30-40 years.
- Due to over-exploitation of this tree for its timber and frequent forest fires, monkey puzzles are currently an endangered tree in Chile. All these caused its population size to drastically reduce in the last century.
Appearance of Monkey Puzzle Tree
- The crown of the newly established monkey puzzle tree is pyramidal shaped just like a Christmas tree. As it grows, the shape becomes more like an umbrella.
- Monkey puzzle has brownish-grey bark of up to 3 inches width. The glossy, evergreen foliage is triangular and arranged spirally around the tree’s branches and trunk.
- The cones of male monkey puzzles produce clusters of downward facing catkins, while the female monkey puzzles produce upward facing cones or catkins.
You should by now have a basic idea of the monkey puzzle’s background and its characteristics. Keep reading to learn how to grow and care for this evergreen conifer.
Monkey Puzzle Tree Care
If you live in a cold region, it’s not advisable to grow a monkey puzzle tree outdoors. You must keep the plant indoors in a large pot as part of your home interior. This tree thrives in temperate climates where it can receive cool or moderate temperatures with abundant rainfall.
To keep monkey puzzles happy and healthy, always ensure the temperatures don’t fall to below 5 degrees fahrenheit and don’t exceed 50 degrees fahrenheit. These trees grow best in cool and humid regions, even during summer. They don’t tolerate drought or very hot conditions just as they won’t withstand frost.
Monkey puzzle trees prefer partial shade or full sun, with around 3-6 hours of sunlight a day. If your region has hot summers, plant the tree in a partial shade area. The key is to pick the right location in terms of sunlight and shade, especially if you live in a hot area.
Soil and Water
Any type of soil is suitable for a monkey puzzle, provided it is well-drained. Clay soils tend to remain soggy for longer so it’s not advisable to use them for growing monkey puzzles. Having said that, you can always add some fine sand to the clay soil at the planting time in order to increase drainage. These trees prefer adequate moisture, especially when they are newly planted and young.
Water your monkey puzzle deeply every week during its first year to boost growth. To maximize moisture in the soil, add 2-3 inches of thick mulch layer at the tree’s root zone.
If the soil isn’t fertile, you can amend it by adding a fertilizer every month from early spring to fall. Use water-soluble, all-purpose fertilizer by mixing half a teaspoon of the product in a gallon of water. Keep in mind that overfertilizing your monkey puzzle can damage its roots so always follow the fertilizer’s application instructions and only feed the tree once a month during the growing seasons.
Propagating Monkey Puzzle Tree from Seeds
The 6-inch long cones of monkey puzzles can take several years to mature. Once the cones are developed, they release their 1.5 inch-long seeds. It is these nut-like seeds that can be propagated and grown into a new tree.
The seeds germinate best when they are sown within 1 month after collection. Soak the seeds in mineral water for 2 days before planting them in a small container filled with moist sand. Place this container in the fridge for two weeks to keep them chilled. They will be ready for sowing after this period.
Now your seeds are ready to be sown in a 1-gallon pot filled with half perlite and compost. Keep the sown seeds indoors near the window where they can receive bright sunlight. The seeds must be kept warm at minimum temperatures of 70 degrees fahrenheit. Keep the soil moist and within 10-30 days, you should see seedlings sprouting from the soil.
Growing Monkey Puzzle Tree Indoors
One of the biggest advantages of growing monkey puzzles indoors is their very slow-growing quality as you won’t need to repot these trees regularly. In fact, you can keep the tree in its original pot for several years before planting it in the ground. In colder climates, you will need to keep the potted tree indoors or in a greenhouse.
When choosing a container for your monkey puzzle, pick a broad and deep pot with good drainage. The container must have several drainage holes at the base. Use fast-draining soil that’s enhanced with pumice or perlite for balanced moisture. You can amend the potting soil by adding 1.5 teaspoons of 20% phosphate with 1 tablespoon of limestone and 2 teaspoons of fertilizer (5-10-5 formula) to support the plant’s nutritional needs.
Remember to place the potted monkey puzzle in a warm, sunny location where it can get up to 6 hours of sunshine daily. To prevent the tree from dehydration, mist the leaves often and water the soil whenever it feels dry just beneath the soil’s surface.
Planting Monkey Puzzle Tree in Ground
So you’ve decided to plant your pot-grown monkey puzzle tree outside, but wondering how to do it. Follow these step-by-step instructions and you’ll soon be enjoying your landscape with this unique tree.
Step 1. Wear a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands as the triangular leaves of this tree are very sharp.
Step 2. Dig a hole using a shovel. Make sure the hole is the same depth as the plant’s container but twice the width.
Step 3. Take the tree out of its container by placing the pot on its side on the ground and tapping the four sides with your palm. Pull the container gently off the roots and if the tree is root-bound, untie the roots to free them from the pot’s drainage holes.
Step 4. Plant the tree in the center of the dug up hole. Loosen the roots and spread them out with your fingers to prevent root bound.
Step 5. Add more garden soil to the hole to keep the tree securely in place. Create a watering basin of about 3 inches deep and fill it with mulch to retain moisture in the soil.
Step 6. To keep the newly planted tree well watered, irrigate it using a garden hose. Make sure the hose is set on a low flow setting and keep the soil moist to a depth of one inch during the first growing season.
Caution: when you’re planting the tree in the hole, refrain from stamping the soil down as this can damage the roots or prevent them from growing.
Best growing Location
When planting a young monkey puzzle in the ground, make sure you choose a location that either receives partial shade or full sun. In sites with intense hot summers, a little afternoon shade will protect your young tree from heat stress.
Monkey puzzles prefer humid locations and do well in a salty air environment. This means they will thrive in coastal areas, but not in cities as they don’t like pollution. If you live in the city and still want to grow these trees, you can keep them in containers in the balcony and move them indoors during winter to protect the trees from sub-zero temperatures.
Monkey Puzzle Tree Growing Problems
Although the monkey puzzle tree is easy to grow in the right conditions, when grown in soggy soil, it becomes prone to fungal disease, canker, and pests including spider mites, thrips, and mealybugs. These insects can cause foliage browning, but they can be controlled using insecticide sprays that are diluted with water. To prevent fungal diseases, make sure the tree is planted in well-drained soil.
Should I feed my monkey puzzle tree?
You don’t need to fertilize your monkey puzzle tree unless you notice slow or stunted growth. In that case, give the tree an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer on a monthly basis starting from early spring to late fall.
How long do Monkey Puzzle trees take to mature?
The monkey puzzle tree is an extremely slow-growing conifer. In fact, it can take as much as 10 years before the tree gets above grass height. The tree’s growth starts from late June to late September and once it has reached grass height, it will grow up to 35 cm per year.
Are the seeds of monkey puzzle trees poisonous?
No. The brown seeds of monkey puzzle trees are edible and slightly taste like pine nuts. These seeds resemble almonds in size and can be enjoyed raw or roasted.
Why are the branches of my monkey puzzle tree turning brown?
Monkey puzzle trees don’t tolerate drought. Heat stress is one of the main causes of their leaves turning brown. In terms of care, trim the brown branches and provide frequent irrigation during the warmer months.
Can I prune my monkey puzzle tree?
Yes. The best time to prune your monkey puzzle tree is late winter or early spring. Remove the damaged branches starting from the top of the tree before the growing season begins.
What are the uses of monkey puzzle trees?
The wood from monkey puzzle trees is highly valued as timber because of its fungal resistance and durability properties. Wooden beams from this tree have been used in furniture, plywood, roofs and boat structures, but due to the scarcity of this tree, it is now mainly prized for its beautiful appearance.
If you want to make a bold statement in your garden, the easy-to-care-for monkey puzzle tree is the ideal evergreen conifer, especially in coastal locations. And in addition to serving as a focal point in the landscape, you’ll get to enjoy its edible seeds that look like almonds and taste like pine nuts!