Vanishing Acts: Monkey Puzzle

By Casey Hammett

The Monkey Puzzle Tree
The Monkey Puzzle Tree

What’s in a name? This one alludes to the fact that climbing the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), with its sharp branches covered in spiny leaves, would puzzle even a monkey.

It was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1780s along the Andean and coastal Chilean mountain region of South America. Since then, the monkey puzzle tree has become a symbol of historical and social importance. The Mapuche people have been sustained by the tree’s large edible seeds, called piñones, for centuries. The monkey puzzle tree is even the National Tree of Chile, where it has also been declared a national monument.

Once considered the most valuable timber in the southern Andes, monkey puzzle trees were commonly felled for railway sleepers, pit props in mines, ship masts, and paper pulp. Fortunately, logging is now forbidden in Chile and the international trade of monkey puzzle products was outlawed in 2002. Even with these restrictions, habitat is continually destroyed due to illegal logging, fire, and grazing operations.

Preservation of this tree requires restoration in protected areas, surveys to identify small populations requiring restoration, and education for the local population on the conservation and propagation of the monkey puzzle tree.

Photo Credit: R. W. Darlington, Wild Flower Finder

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Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat was developed and produced by The Morton Arboretum in association with the Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna and Flora International and Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Funding for this exhibit comes from The Morton Arboretum and the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services, Museums for America Grant Program.

Support locally comes from LG&E and KU. Additional support provided by Shepherdsville/Bullitt County Tourism.

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