Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 8 Araucaria araucana

Common Names: monkey-puzzle tree, Chilean pine Family: Araucariaceae (araucaria Family)

monkey puzzle tree
This young monkey puzzle tree lives in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The Bay area's moist cool summer environment is perfect for monkey puzzles.


Monkey puzzle tree is a weird looking tree, similar to the closely related bunya-bunya tree (Araucania bidwillii) and Norfolk Island pine (A. heterophylla). Monkey puzzle tree is a coniferous evergreen with evenly spaced tiers of horizontal-spreading branches arranged in regular whorls about the trunk. In the wild it gets 50-100 ft (15-30.5 m) tall and 20-30 ft ( 6.1-9.1 m) wide, but rarely over 30 ft (9.1 m) tall in cultivation. Monkey puzzle tree is distinctly cone-shaped, with branches all the way to the ground when young. The tree loses its lower branches and develops a rounded crown with age. The dark gray-brown bark has horizontal ridges. The triangular leaves are tough, leathery, and sharply pointed. They are 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long and very densely spaced on ropelike branchlets. Individual leaves persist on the tree for 10-15 years before being replaced. Female cones are rounded-egg-shaped, up to 6 in (15 cm) long and take 2-3 years to ripen.

Several selections have been named, including some that are dwarf, some with yellowish foliage, and some with fewer branches and a more open habit.

monkey puzzle foliage
Although beautiful, the sharpely pointed leaves of the monkey puzzle can inflict painful injury on unprotected flesh.


Monkey puzzle, Araucaria araucana, tree grows on volcanic slopes in the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina. There are 18 species of Araucaria, and 16 of them are confined to Australia, New Caledonia and other remote islands in the South Pacific. Paranza pine (A. angustifolia) is the only other New World member of the genus.


Monkey puzzle tree does best where the summers are cool and humid, and they are popular landscape oddities in England. Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Likes a moist, but well drained soil and regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. This is the most hardy Araucaria, and the only one that can be grown outdoors in temperate climates. Propagation: By seeds or by tip cuttings from vertical shoots. Cuttings from lateral-growing shoots will develop into sprawling shrubs.


Monkey puzzle tree, with its distinctive silhouette, is an elegant specimen for large landscapes, parks and avenues. It is very tolerant of winds and salt spray, and a group would make an excellent windbreak for a coastal landscape.


Monkey puzzle tree is dioecious (has separate male and female trees), and the female trees get much larger, up to 100 ft (30.5 m) tall in their native habitat, whereas the male trees seldom exceed 50 ft (15 m) in height. The seeds (piñones) are edible.


Monkey puzzle tree drops branchlets and sharp-pointed leaves almost continuously.

Steve Christman 3/6/00; updated 10/22/04

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Araucaria species profiled on Floridata:

Araucaria araucana

( monkey-puzzle tree, Chilean pine )

Araucaria bidwillii

( bunya-bunya tree, false monkey puzzle tree )

Araucaria heterophylla

( Norfolk Island pine )

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