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Tree to 35–40 m, 1.5 m dbh, with single straight trunk. Bark scaly, with horizontal striations. Branches in whorls of four to eight, dying from base as tree ages to leave a flat-topped crown of gaunt appearance. Leaves loosely imbricate, lanceolate, 2–6 0.5–0.8 cm, apex acute, leathery and stiff, dark green or glaucous, shorter and more spirally arranged on fertile shoots. Male strobili borne on short fertile shoots, forming dense erect cones to 8–20 1.3–2 cm. Female cones wider than long, narrowing from the centre towards the tip, 12 cm 16 cm, each scale with stout recurved appendage. Seeds edible, cuneiform, 3 cm long, chestnut-coloured. Dallimore et al. 1966, Krüssmann 1985b, Silba 1986, Covas 1995. Distribution BRAZIL: southeast; ARGENTINA: northeast. Habitat Mixed forest between 500 and 2300 m asl on acidic, laterite soils with up to 1500 mm rain p/a. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Critically Endangered, due to logging. Illustration NT22. Cross-reference K51.
Araucaria angustifolia resembles a smaller-leaved, less tidy A. araucana when young and is obviously closely related to that species. (Dallimore et al. 1966) suggest it is “readily distinguished by its softer and more loosely arranged leaves”. The same authors also suggest (as do many others) that it is not hardy in the United Kingdom (Dallimore et al. 1966) but recent experience suggests that it is well worth trying – even in less favoured situations than Cornwall!
The largest tree currently known from the United Kingdom grows in the famous gardens at Tresco Abbey on the Isles of Scilly - in 2016 it was 8 m tall. On the mainland UK it grows well at Casa di Sole in Devon, from where New Trees cited three examples of 6, 7 and 8.7 m when measured in 2006, but by 2017 only two were still recorded by The Tree Register, of 5 and 6 m. A specimen in the Chelsea Physic Garden, London, was 6 m when measured in 2016, while another 6 m specimen was growing vigorously until the mid-2000s in Tony Titchen’s garden at Portishead, Somerset, before it was snapped off at the base by a falling tree. There are vigorous young individuals so-labelled at the Harcourt Arboretum near Oxford, at Bedgebury in Kent, at Nymans in East Sussex, and at Peasmarsh Place in West Sussex. The latter was 3.5 m in 2006, having been planted only in 2001. It was collected as seed in Brazil by Lord Devonport. Young trees have been seen in an ordinary garden centre in Gloucestershire, and it is available in specialist nurseries in Europe and North America. It would seem to be worth trying in the mild parts of maritime Europe and western North America. (Grimshaw, J. & Bayton, R. (2009), The Tree Register (2018)).
In New Trees mention is made of “apparent intermediates occurring in parts of Chile (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007)”. As dicussed here under the entry for the A. angustifolia × araucana hybrid, the native ranges of these two South American species are separated by c. 1,000 km, so it is unlikely that there are “intermediate” forms in wild populations. Nevertheless, A. angustifolia is cultivated in parts of Chile at lower altitudes (pers. obs.) and both species are cultivated together in parts of Argentina where the climate is suitable. The inevitable arrival on the scene of the hybrid, which arose in cultivation in Argentina, makes it easy to imagine an enthusiastic grower receiving seed from Argentina and assuming (or expecting) it to be one species or the other, but overlooking the possibility which we must now acknowledge that it may be a hybrid. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that this scenario is perhaps especially true for A. angustifolia, increasing the likelihood that some plants grown in the northern hemisphere as A. angustifolia - particularly the very vigorous ones that are proving remarkably hardy - are actually of hybrid origin.