Friday, February 2, 2007

There's a Dinosaur In The Garden!

Also known as the Monkey Puzzle tree. But what's it doing in the garden? A fondness of prehistoric monsters? Are some of us nuts about ugly things? Don't tell me there are people who actually like this tree, because what's to like? The razor sharp, needle like leafs that coat both the trunk and all the branches from top to bottom? The fact that it grows to a 60 to 70 ft height or even a whopping 150 ft in favourable circumstances? And you do know it is going to be about 30 tot 35 ft wide? Do we really have that much space to waste on this worst of all Stephen King's nightmares come to life?

And it really is a dinosaur. Apparently it was already visually obnoxious about a cool 60 million years ago. And it is still here today. Why?

Well, we got some Brit to thank for that: Archibald Menzies (naval surgeon and botanist) who attended a state dinner in Chile late in the 18th century. And there he was served some seeds from the Araucaria araucana tree (yes, the official name for the MP tree). Apparently the seeds are almond sized and tasty so Menzies ate some and put some in his pocket, forgot all about them and went home to the UK. There he unfortunately recalled that he had some very special seeds in the pocket of one of his coats and these seeds were planted at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew where, alas, they germinated and turned into little trees. (Thanks a bunch, Archie!)

In the early 1800's another British chap (they're all over the place, aren't they?) after observing this well-armed tree, said it would be a puzzle for any monkey attempting to climb such a tree. Hence it's name. Personally I think that any monkey worth it's salt would run screaming in another direction as soon as it would spot this tree. How very sensible! I felt like running and screaming when I was first visually assaulted by it.

Back to Britain where the name of the tree and the story behind it, tickled the fancy of the general public and having a Monkey Puzzle tree became all the rage. Unfortunately it spread like the proverbial black plague to the European continent as well.

Ever wondered why even the most die-hard of all treehuggers won't touch this tree, not even with an exceptionally long barge pole? Because it's bloody lethal, that's why! Look at those sharp and stiff leaves. They last for 10 to 15 years, the little blighters. That tells you something about how tough they are. Not forgetting those cones the female trees produce, which are 6 to 12 inches long and look a bit like coconuts. It's really not wise to stand beneath a female tree when she's shedding her cones!

Dinosaurs have been extinct for a very long time now, but we're still stuck with this horrific botanical dinosaur and most primitive of all living conifers. Isn't it high time it took it's final bow, went to meet it's maker, kicked the bucket, was pushing up the daisies, in short died?!

How about cutting them down? Chopping them up into little pieces, burn the pieces, then bury them and stomp on them a few times for good measure. Maybe do a little dance? There, that will teach them!

And all the little baby Monkey Puzzle trees we can dig up and sent to Chile as there seems to be a shortage of them over there, high up in the Andes, where there is lots of space for them to grow and no monkeys or people to upset.

And of course removing a tree will leave a big gap in a garden, but that can easily be filled with something nice like an apple or pear tree. There, so much nicer, don't you think? I feel all better now!

copyright 2007 Y.E.W. Heuzen

The world we live in is a garden

Mankind reaps what mankind sows

We are farming our future

Harvesting the things we grow.

Linda Beck, Peace Tree, 1988


Anonymous said...

Funny article Yo. Nice story about the history of a remarkeble tree!!

Annie in Austin said...

Hello Yolanda Elisabet - I came to visit after seeing your Garden Rant comment.

I'd read about monkey puzzle trees, but never saw one until 1995 on a visit to Washington State. It's certainly an exotic looking tree, but I wouldn't want to plan a garden around one!

One of my friends found a small plant [at one of the big-box home improvement stores!] and she grows it as a houseplant here in Austin, TX. At this size, the intricacies of the branch structure can be observed easily, but contact is still really unfriendly.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Elizabeth said...

You've obviously never eaten the araucaria nuts, nor tried to preserve one of these trees -- what you find, apparently, ugly, is the substinance of an entire culture of indiginous people in Chile. Not only are the nuts delicious, the trees predict the winter weather.