Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the French call it désespoir des singes – “monkeys’ despair.” In sci-fi that translates to “freaky, green, spiny-armed alien.”
This exotic specimen grows in a planter across from an island of shy orangutans in the Sacramento Zoo. Both tree and animal have come just about equally as far to Northern California – the former originates from Chile and Argentina, while the latter is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. The former is also the national tree of Chile, quite an honor for a species so old that scientists refer to it as a living fossil.
They’re not very common as an import, so this evergreen is something special to behold…that’s behold, because you don’t want to hug this thorny mess. This is a very common street tree in the milder parts of northern Europe and is perfectly suited to oceanic temperate, mild-summer Mediterranean, and maritime subarctic climates, it does not do well in overly hot summers as it comes from a temperate rainforest environment. It will be severely damaged if temperatures in the marginal areas where it is planted drop below -5F for any prolonged period of time, which makes it about hardy to USDA zone 6b. It is also a staple food source in it’s native region, the nuts it produces are highly nutritious and sweet, it is a close relative to tropical species like the Norfolk Island Pine.
Visit California withAtlas Obscura Trips
L.A. Science Weekend: Natural History and Space
Join New York Times Journeys and Atlas Obscura for three days of scientific learning in Los Angeles, focused on natural history and zoology or space and aviation. This two-track program includes panels, exclusive visits and special access to scientists and venues to get up close to everything from telescopes and taxidermy to dinosaur skeletons and space artifacts.