An evergreen tree 50 to 80 ft high, of pyramidal or rounded form, with an erect, cylindrical bole, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 ft thick, all but the oldest parts prickly with living leaves or the remains of dead ones. Branches produced in regular tiers of five to seven. Leaves very uniform, ovate with a slender spine-tipped point, from 1 to 2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. wide; hard, rigid, and leathery; dark glossy green except at the paler-growing tips of the branches and with numerous stomatic lines on both surfaces. The leaves are arranged spirally on the branch, overlapping at the broad, stalkless base, and are very densely packed (about twenty-four to I in. of stem); they remain alive for ten to fifteen years, and then persist for an indefinite time dead. Male and female flowers are usually borne on separate trees, but not invariably; the former are produced on egg-shaped or cylindrical catkins 3 to 5 in. long, the scales lanceolate, densely packed, with the slender points reflexed, the pollen being shed in early July. The female cones take two seasons to develop; appearing in the spring of one year, and shedding their seeds in August or September of the next; they are globose, and usually 5 to 7 in. thick. Seeds conical, 11⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 in. wide.
Native of Chile and Argentina; originally discovered about 1780, and introduced to England by Archibald Menzies in 1795. Menzies, when attached to Vancouver’s voyage of survey, pocketed some nuts put on for dessert whilst he and the ship’s officers were dining with the Governor of Chile. He sowed these nuts on board ship, and ultimately landed five plants, which proved to be the araucaria, alive in England. One of the five existed at Kew until 1892. The Chile pine, whilst hardy in most parts of the British Isles, attains its finest development in the softer, moister counties, and in good deep soil. It should always be raised from seeds, fertile ones of which are now regularly produced in several gardens. At Castle Kennedy I have seen seedling plants springing up naturally near the trees from which seeds had fallen. Araucaria araucana is of peculiar interest as the only conifer from south of the equator that attains to timber-producing size in the average climate of the British Isles. It becomes over 100 ft high and 7 ft in diameter of trunk in Chile, deriving its name from the Arauco province (inhabited by the Araucano Indians), where it was first found. In its general aspect, and especially as compared with ordinary types of northern vegetation, the Chile pine is the most remarkable hardy tree ever introduced to Britain. It should always be grown as an isolated tree, or in an isolated group, as it associates very badly with ordinary garden vegetation. It was first introduced in quantity to this country about 1839. In the Gardeners’ Chronicle for 25th November 1843, Messrs Youell & Co. of Yarmouth offered ‘fine robust plants four years old and 8 or 9 in. high’ at £5 per 100. Messrs Veitch made a similar offer in May 1843, having raised ‘many thousands from seed’.
The largest specimens of Chile pine in the British Isles stand at around 80 ft high and 9 to 12 ft in girth, but these dimensions are attained only in the moister parts. In the famous araucaria avenue at Bicton in Devon, planted in 1844, the biggest for height and girth measure 85 × 101⁄2 and 78 × 121⁄4 ft respectively (1967). There is another fine avenue at Inishtioge, Co. Kilkenny, Eire, in which the largest tree measures 80 × 10 ft (1966). It is doubtful whether many wild trees exceed these dimensions, though individuals of over 100 ft have been recorded.