Seed - raw or cooked. Rich in starch. The seed is soft like a cashew nut and has a slight flavour of pine nuts. This is a delicious seed and it makes very pleasant eating. It is a food that can easily be eaten in quantity and can be used as a staple food in the diet[K]. Fairly large, the seeds are about the size of an almond and can be 3cm long x 1cm wide. They are harvested in the autumn and, when kept in cool, dry conditions will store for at least 9 months[K].
Very tolerant of maritime exposure, trees can be grown as part of a shelterbelt, though they are very slow growing and have an open canopy and so do not give a lot of shelter. A resin is obtained from incisions in the trunk. This is used mainly for medicinal purposes. Wood - pale yellowish, good quality, takes a beautiful polish. Used for joinery and carpentry.
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame or it can be stored cool and moist then sown February in a greenhouse. Although the plants are quite cold-tolerant, the root systems of seedling plants can be damaged in spells of very cold weather so give some extra protection at this time if necessary. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 2 months at 15°c. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots. The plants have a rather sparse root system and are best placed in their final positions as soon as possible. Give them some protection for their first winter[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, May to July in a cold frame. Only epicormic side-shoots should be used, normal side-shoots do not develop properly. An epicormic shoot is one that develops from a dormant bud on the main trunk of the tree[K].
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Prefers a deep well-drained soil. Dislikes hot dry soils. Dislikes atmospheric pollution. Very tolerant of maritime exposure and salt laden winds. The monkey puzzle is a very slow growing tree that can take 5 - 10 years before it even gets above grass height and then grows around 35cm a year. New growth takes place from late June to September. The seed forms a staple food for the native Indians in regions where it grows in Chile, it is also sold in local markets there. This tree has an excellent potential to become a commercial crop in the western parts of Britain, it is high yielding, has large tasty seeds and is easily harvested. Its main disadvantages are its slow rate of growth and the time it takes before the first crop is produced - this can be up to 40 years from seed though we have often seen plants less than 20 years old produce cones[K]. The plant is dioecious so at least one male plant needs to be grown for every 5 - 6 females - unfortunately there is no way of telling the sex of the tree until it flowers. There are means of vegetative reproduction and it might be possible to produce clones of known sex in the future - these will probably come into bearing at an earlier age. If you have the space to plant at least 5 trees, and the foresight, this is a tree that will be a very valuable food crop in the future[K]. It is said that 18 good-sized trees can provide enough for an adult's sustenance all year round. Plants grow best in S.W. England and along the west coast of Britain where they produce seed regularly and abundantly. Female cones take 2 - 3 years to mature and break up at the end of the year. They contain up to 200 large seeds. Plants self-sow in Cornwall. We have records of trees regularly producing good crops of seeds in various sites in Cornwall, Devon and the west coast of Scotland. We also have one report of an excellent crop in 1997 from trees at Alvaston Castle near Derby and of a tree in Bedfordshire producing a heavy crop[K]. Trees are notably susceptible to honey fungus. Unlike most conifers, this tree can be coppiced.
Problems, pests & diseases
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