Saturday, 12 March 2011
The Monkey Puzzle tree
This large Monkey-Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is an exotic addition to a small Saltaire garden. Native to the south-central Andes in South America, the trees nevertheless grow well in northern Europe's temperate climate. The genus can be traced back 250 million years to the Mesozoic era and its spikey leaves probably developed to fend off grazing dinosaurs. (It seems to have worked well in Saltaire. I haven't noticed any dinosaurs lately.)
The tree was first brought to Britain in 1795 and was grown as an ornamental specimen tree in botanical gardens, becoming popular with the Victorians. It is believed to have come by its name when a visitor to a garden in Cornwall remarked that "it would puzzle a monkey to climb that". This tree in Saltaire, the only one in the village as far as I know, must be quite old and was probably planted quite early in Saltaire's history, in the late 1850s. It must have had a great deal of novelty value at the time; the trees are still quite a rarity in domestic gardens. It looks a beautifully healthy specimen. If the Health and Safety people don't have it felled (as the needles are believed to be 'as sharp as syringes' and therefore a danger to children) then it might last a good few years yet. Some of the native trees are thought to be 1200 years old!