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.