Urban Exotics: Monkey Puzzle Tree

A fine specimen of Monkey-puzzle tree in Sooke, B.C.

The mild climate of Vancouver Island allows gardeners to grow exotic trees that would struggle elsewhere in Canada. The Monkey-puzzle (Araucaria araucana) is one such non-native tree. To see one is to understand how a monkey, or anything else, would be puzzled trying to climb its branches. Although beautiful, this is one spiky, prehistoric tree that you might want to view from a couple steps away.

Detail of branches and spiked leaves

The monkey-puzzle is native to South America. It colonizes disturbed areas after they have burned. In its natural environment at lower elevations of the Andes, the monkey-puzzle is well suited to grow on the slopes of dormant volcanoes.

Monkey-puzzle are either male or female and seeds are not produced until the trees are 30 - 40 years old. The cones are large spiky spheres that take two years to mature. Mike Dirr, author of Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates, says that monkey-puzzle cones are "about twice the size of a hand-grenade and hurt even worse".

New cone emerging next to a mature cone
Monkey-puzzle leaves cover the branches entirely, as well as parts of the trunk, and are plate-like and rigid with spined tips. Trees have long spidery branches, densely and symmetrically arrayed on a straight trunk. The BBC Plant Finder says that "the all too rare perfect mature specimen, with branches intact right down to ground level, is one of the most handsome, graceful and noble of all trees." On the other hand, some people intensely dislike this prickly tree. Still, like all trees, it is very useful to humans.

Seeds are edible
 Monkey-puzzle cones produce 3-4 cm long edible nuts when mature. They are best roasted, and are harvested for food in Chile. The tree's long, straight bole makes them valuable as lumber, but these trees are now at risk in their native habitat. They have been fully protected from logging since 1971. Araucaria araucana grow to 40 meters, and can live for up to one thousand years.

Since this unique conifer was discovered by Europeans in the 1800s, it has been introduced to warm, wet climates across the globe. They can be found in gardens across England, the Mediterranean, and up the west coast of North America all the way to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Some excellent examples can be found right here in the Victoria region, including the one in Sooke pictured above.


  1. Oh yes, the Monkey puzzle! We have a client that has many exotic trees around his property. This species is a favorite of his. Though we have never actually done any work on these specifically, trying to do any tree pruning around them can quickly become a painful experience. They really are fascinating trees, but like you said, they are a bit more enjoyable from a distance.

  2. On the way to Cape Scott Park there is Ronnings Garden, this old abandoned property has some really impressive monkey puzzle trees

  3. Forest Keeper - thank you for reminding me that this beautiful tree is wide-ranging, and also grows on the east coast of N. America.

    Bernard - thanks for the tip on Ronnings Garden. Cape Scott Park is a place I have always wanted to go. Perhaps I will stage a field trip in the summer to see the trees of the northern part of the island.

  4. Anonymous15/2/12

    There's a mature specimen in Sayward, B.C., at the end of Despins Road.

  5. Anon,

    Thanks for the tip. Any photos you can share with us?

  6. Dana Disraeli30/6/14

    I have visited Vancouver many times and I love the fact that monkey puzzle trees flourish there. A tree native to Vancouver that is now relatively big here in Pennsylvania is the Incense Cedars.

  7. I am looking for a monkey puzzle tree at least 6' tall. Do you know where I can get one?


  8. My front yard. Vancouver wa.

  9. We have a lot of these on Fairfield island in Chilliwack BC

  10. The ones at Bernt Ronning’s garden are truly spectacular, massive and covered in moss. It’s worth the trip.

  11. I live in red deer Alberta we dont have lots of these trees here. I want to plant them. Where can I get good seeds to start or get one kinda already started. Thank you for you help

  12. There's several in Nova Scotia also not just BC

    1. Anonymous26/11/22

      These stunning trees also grow on the East Coast of central Florida. The “cones” can be larger than a football. I got several that weighed 8-10 pounds. This could be dangerous if one was to fall on a person. I wonder if this larger size of the cones is due to the tree tapping into the water table.

  13. Anonymous23/7/23

    The Monkey Puzzle Tree on my street in Calgary did not get the memo about typical climates. It is dry here and we see -35 yet this tree is thriving and beautiful... in the inner city


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