This tree is a novelty in our area; only a few are growing above the Mason-Dixon Line. But with our warmer winters, the plant is appearing in specialty nurseries, and some gardeners are obviously experimenting. Our Haverford College Arboretum staff also has taken up the challenge. We’ve planted a small specimen in a protected southern corner of the Marshall Fine Arts Center where it will be warmed by reflected heat, protected from the wind, and hopefully flourish.
A single-stemmed conifer with a pyramidal silhouette, the tree will reach 50 to 80 feet high in its native Chile and Argentina. The 5 to 8-inch thick pineapple-shaped cones bear seeds 11/2-inches long by 3/4-inches wide. The tree is dioecious, with male and female cones developing on separate trees.
Araucaria araucana is a member of the same family as the Norfolk Island pine, a tree from the South Pacific that we can only grow here as a houseplant. It also is related to the recently-discovered Wollemi pine of Australia. We have a specimen of that tree growing on campus in a protected corner of the Gardner Athletic Center.
The thick evergreen needles are triangular in shape, stiff and pointed. They’re densely packed in a spiral arrangement around the horizontal branches and persist on the tree for 10 to 15 years, much longer than on other conifers.
The tree’s scientific name honors the native Araucanians of Chile who used the seeds as food. The tree’s common name, supposedly, quotes a Victorian Englishman who said, when first seeing the tree, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that.”