Beware, Death by Pine Cones is a Real Possibility in Portland

The Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905 put Portland on the map and opened the door to a lot of new things for the city. The expo even started the ongoing trend of everyone and their brother moving to Portland. There was a huge surge of population in the 5 years following the expo, the count grew from 161,000 to a whopping 270,000 residents. We got our nickname “City of Roses” after roughly half a million pink, thorny roses were planted along the streets to decorate. Many are still there, look in Ladd’s Addition. And perhaps the most dangerous outcome, a new and deadly species of tree was brought to the area from Chili that has pine cones the size of pumpkins. Beware of the Araucaria araucana (AKA: Monkey Puzzle Tree).


A branch of a Monkey Puzzle Tree

What is the Monkey Puzzle Tree?

Brought to Portland during the Lewis and Clark Exposition, this pine tree is native to Chili and has a funny nickname for a reason. With it’s spiky needles and gigantic pine cones, it quite simply was thought to leave climbing monkeys puzzled. According to Wikipedia,

The origin of the popular English language name ‘monkey puzzle’ derives from its early cultivation in Britain in about 1850, when the species was still very rare in gardens and not widely known. Sir William Molesworth, the proud owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow garden near Bodmin in Cornwall was showing it to a group of friends, one of them – the noted barrister and Benthamist Charles Austin remarked, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”.[9] As the species had no existing popular name, first ‘monkey puzzler’, then ‘monkey puzzle’ stuck

Why is it dangerous?

Not only are the spiky needles cringe-worthy, the pine cones produced from the female trees are about the size of a pumpkin, with the weight to match. Imagine that falling from a high branch –  and that’s why it is being touted as “skull crushing” in recent news stories. In a San Francisco park, a 16 lbs cone fell on a man who suffered serious injury. He is now suing the U.S. government, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park for $5 million. 

Monkey Puzzle Trees in Portland

Have you seen one before? They are scattered throughout the city, in fact, many are listed as heritage trees. Registered heritage trees receive special protection from the Urban Forestry Commission,  meaning no matter the scuffle over cutting the dangerous Monkey Puzzle Trees down, that actually happening is unlikely.

Pine Cones are Part of what Makes Portland, Portland

Pine cones are ubiquitous in Portland. This time of year, a walk around the block can leave you with plenty of materials to make holiday wreaths, potpourri, or a slew of other crafts calling for that pine fresh scent. Kids are encouraged to explore the biology of pine cones, collect, and dissect to learn more about our sea of evergreens in the Pacific Northwest. But beware the next time your child reaches for the deadly weight of a cone off of a Monkey Puzzle Tree, it could be their last!

Disclaimer: Monkey Puzzle Trees are fascinating, lovely trees. While yes, you can suffer injury or death if one of the pine cones fell on you – the chances of this actually happening are very slim. There are no recorded cases in Portland history and they are not considered dangerous according to most people – use common sense to avoid injury.

Photo by xlibber (Monkey-puzzle TreeUploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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