A peek into our collections, one object at a time

A Puzzling Tree

September 14, 2015

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tree outside the Castle
John Gibbons / Smithsonian Institution

This monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucaria) is one of the stranger trees growing in the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden in Washington, D.C. Its triangular leaves, which cover the entire tree, both branches and trunk, are thick, tough, and scale-like, with sharp edges and tips. Each leaf can last 10 to 15 years.

The tree’s common name reportedly stems from a comment made by an Englishman in the mid-1800s. He noted that it would be a puzzle for a monkey attempting to climb such a well-armed tree. Even though there are no monkeys in the tree’s native habitat on the lower Andean slopes of Chile and Argentina, the remark caught the public’s attention and evolved into the tree’s name.

This monkey puzzle tree shares the 4.2-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle with hundreds of tree and flowering plant cultivars. It is all managed and maintained by Smithsonian Gardens staff.