Harrison’s unique “Monkey Puzzle Tree” on Lillooet Avenue has been taken down, but the tree’s story isn’t quite over.
Described by resident John Allen as a “well-loved local landmark,” the tree was planted on the property adjacent to Spring Park between 40 and 50 years ago.
With its unique, spiraling branches and thick, spiked leaves, the Monkey Puzzle Tree looked like something from the Jurassic period. That’s because the Chile-originating tree’s ancestors existed with the dinosaurs. The seeds of the Monkey Puzzle Tree are a delicacy in Chile, where they are eaten raw, baked or roasted.
According to Allen, the tree’s name comes from the “puzzle” monkeys would face if they tried to climb the tree’s strange branches.
Property owner Ann White and her family are building two homes on the land across from Spring Park for themselves and extended family. She says removing the tree was a hard decision but came down to safety and logistics.
“We loved the tree, it was something we were excited to keep on the lot when we built,” White says. “We even had it drawn into our landscape for our house.”
But builders determined the tree would be too close to the home, and the roots could interfere with the foundation, causing more problems down the line if the tree’s roots died.
“It could be a major problem because its right close to the hydro wires and the cables and then the house itself,” White explains, adding the tree’s proximity to the sidewalk created even more safety issues.
After consulting a number of experts, including an arborist, the White’s came to the conclusion that the only option was to remove the notorious tree.
In a bid to save it, concerned citizen Allen sent a letter to the Village of Harrison with a quote for the cost to move the tree and a proposal to have it moved to the East entrance to Spring Park.
“If the Village does not want this landmark tree to be saved as a feature tree in this public park, it will either be moved to private property or simply cut down,” wrote Allen. “That would be a shame.”
Village of Harrison Mayor Leo Facio says the village didn’t get involved because the tree is on private property.
Out of options, the Whites wanted to find a way for the tree to keep “living.”
“It was sad, we anguished about it for a long time,” White says. “[We] could have hired somebody to come and take the tree down and just chip it, but it didn’t seem like a good option.” The family advertised the tree online, looking for someone who could find a purpose for it after it came down.
After creating a shortlist, the family selected an artisan wood turner.
“He was excited [and] had a passion about the tree. I guess that’s what I liked the most about him,” recalls White. “He was as passionate as we were, and trying to do something that would live on with the tree.”
White says they will be using wood from the tree to make a bench for their property, along with using a round slab of the tree for their address.
“It seemed the best alternative to a kind of a yucky situation,” she says. “I know that a lot of people cared about the tree as well.”
White has kept the coconut-like seed pods from the Monkey Puzzle Tree and is offering them to anyone who would like a memento. The seeds can be planted or even eaten, she adds.White can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.