On Thursday this week, as the nation went to the polls, you might have missed this lovely article in The Guardian – Monkey puzzles: an iconic tree under threat. It was written by Robbie Blackhall-Miles, a very keen plantsman with his own botanic garden in North Wales and propagator of plants at Crug Farm Plants. And he’s also a monkey puzzle fan, having grown up with one in his childhood garden, and he writes lovingly about ‘his’ tree and how it sparked his lifelong interest in the world’s plants and their evolution. (Robbie’s blog is fossilplants.co.uk. He also tweets as @fossilplants.) The article highlights that the most recent fire that spread through Chile’s China Muerta National Park has burned over a million monkey puzzle trees. Monkey puzzle trees in their native habitat are at risk from fire and also land clearance and logging.
Which means that everything we can do here to protect and continue to grow monkey puzzle trees will help this threatened species. Robbie says:
‘I have become an avid monkey puzzle spotter, and there are many like me.’
Indeed, and I am pleased to say that there are many of us who love this iconic tree. In fact many of you regularly send me your sightings and help me with my personal project, to catalogue and map all known monkey puzzle trees. As I sat down to write this post the catalogue of trees was at 1,123, within a day of Robbie’s article appearing, my email box was filling up with new finds, and from all over the place! Having just catalogued the latest finds this morning, it’s now at 1,174. So there are definitely many of us out there interested in making sure the monkey puzzle tree remains with us. I’ll introduce the new finds but some advice from Robbie first:
If you do decide to grow one, don’t plant it on a whim, thinking that it can just be removed when it gets too big. Take heed of the past. Give it some thought and some space and think of the generations that will appreciate it into the future.
Wise words, my own beloved monkey puzzle tree is still in a pot while I decide where the best final planting spot is for it, knowing how big it will grow.
When I started this catalogue back in late 2013 I posted the pictures of monkey puzzle trees I happened to have. In 2014 I started to go on ‘official’ monkey hunting trips – often with my partner Ronnie Hughes, who very obligingly drove the car while I’d shout out, ‘Stop! There’s one!’ I didn’t know at the time that there were indeed ‘others like me’, but I was soon sent a picture from a very keen monkey fan in Herefordshire… and things just developed from there. I now have around 20 ‘monkey friends’ who spot monkeys – some of them do this on a casual basis whilst they are out and about, others are more serious and take on monkey hunting days out. Some of my ‘monkey friends’ have ‘Agent’ status. I award this to those who are very regular monkey spotters, or who have shown dedication to the task of hunting monkeys. As I have said before, the Agents are unpaid, their work can be dangerous at times, but they are rewarded by helping to create the Monkey Map. Here at ‘monkey central’, usually me in my dressing gown on Saturday mornings, I’ll take on the task of cataloguing the latest finds. So, today, was a regular Saturday and the Monkey Map swung into action. Not many people realise that the Monkey Map is in fact a real file! The catalogue of data is a spreadsheet stored on my computer. I catalogue each tree with a reference which is made up of the letters of the postcode area it is in, and a sequential number. So the unique Monkey Map number is not a postcode as such, but a catalogue reference. If I am given the postcode and full address, I keep these details on the catalogue as it helps me locate the tree. I then map each tree on the Google map.
So, the latest finds are from Agent Queen V in Keensacre, Iver Heath – SL2. Another clutch of CH monkeys from Agent Philip who is often out hunting with Lindsey. All their finds are catalogued as ‘Agent Philip’, as he sends them to me through Twitter, but I’m now wondering if Agent Lindsey should have her monkeys catalogued as ‘Agent Lindsey’? They are both enthusiastic monkey fans, and here they are planting a tree on an allotment… but I understand this is a temporary home and it may be moving soon. Keep me posted!
Their latest CH finds are CH106 in Ashton Park in West Kirby, another one spotted by Philip’s sister Anita. And Philip also noticed that at the base of the tree are stumps that look like there may have been three trees here. I was once a regular visitor to this park so perhaps I should have been keeping my eyes peeled! However I was still in my pushchair at the time… but perhaps someone out there will remember if there were indeed more monkey puzzle trees here. If so, do let us know. Other CH finds from Lindsey are CH107 in Gayton, CH109 in Park Road West, a lovely mature tree:
Also CH110 on Woodchurch Road – a back garden monkey, well spotted! From Philip we have CH108 in Quaker Lane in Heswall, CH111 in Prenton, and another juvenile in Palm Grove CH112 in the same garden as CH55, (strangely with its branches tied up with string).
Ed Mathison from Twitter has been out and about doing what he enjoys most, looking for trees – all trees, but he always keeps his eye out for any monkeys. And here’s his recent find from Oxford in The Botanic Garden, OX2.
And I’ve even managed to enthuse a friend in Kent to start looking – Sue, also a funeral celebrant, has sent me this great photo from Westbere Marshes or Sturry Lakes (known locally as both) in Stodmarsh near Canterbury. CT41. It’s a monster, as you see, Sue is dwarfed by it.
As you can see, this tree is located in woodland, but there is no evidence of a previous home there and it’s interesting to find a tree in this location. Perhaps there was a house here? The woods nearby are called Hospital Wood, so maybe it was
an old hospital once. Sue did know that the Lakes were once a colliery, and in the Telford area we did see a monkey puzzle tree planted by a wealthy mine owner. If you know anything about this area, do let me know.
And Robbie was in Sweden recently and spotted this tree, which had survived a minus 30 degree winter:
(Please note, the international monkey puzzle trees – the few that I have so far – are not on the Google map yet. I would love to see more worldwide monkeys on the catalogue).
And Agent Simon has been busy again, which puts the SY catalogue at 117. Now, as you’ll have read this is a project to map all monkey puzzle trees, not a competition. However, I have noticed that those of us who have large catalogues find ourselves pleased to be ‘in the lead’ (including myself!). So – Agent Simon is now officially ‘in the lead’ with 117 trees in SY, Agent Philip and Lindsey have 112 in CH (although I did spot the first 23 and a few others), and I’m coming up the rear with 110 trees in L. It should also be noted that SY is an immense geographical area compared to CH and L, so it was always likely that it would have plenty of trees. Good work Simon.
Agent Simon always sends me very detailed information about his finds and where they are located. His latest finds are SY105 in Hopton Heath, SY106 and SY107 in Church Stretton – these were the only two he could find, which he notes is surprising as this is large unspoiled Victorian resort along the same lines as Malvern (where we’ve got a good number, see the blog post here). SY108 near Wenlock Edge, and SY109 in Cardington, a very fine a churchyard tree.
SY110 at Botvyle Farm, at the foot of the Lawley. Simon has found reference to this monkey puzzle tree here, in the caption of a 1962 photograph, but the tree there now is certainly not 50 years old, so he assumes it is a replacement. SY111, youngish monkey near a barn conversion, well spotted from a distance. SY112 and SY113 in the village of Woolstaston – Simon found three on Google but could only find two in person and the remains of one that had been cut down. SY114 and SY116 in Bayston Hill, and SY115 on Lyth Hill Road not far from SY15. SY117 is clearly seen from the footpaths on the edge of Shrewsbury in a part of the town called ‘the old river bed’ and the remains of a large meander of the Severn which was cut off thousands of years ago, but which is still underwater in the winter months. Simon sent this photos of the area:
And also this native black poplar, a lovely tree (and we are tree fans here after all):
Since Robbie’s article has been published I’ve had some new monkey hunters reveal themselves to me. Joanne Smythe send this lovely photo of a tree in her parents’ garden at Rose Cottage in Pollington, East Yorkshire. They planted this in 1987. Although they sold they house last year the new owners promised to take care of it. As Joanne says, it’s ‘magnificent’! DN7
Justine Altman sent me ‘her monkey’ from her front garden in Bushey. WD5
Janice Edwards sent this splendid monkey from Spean Bridge in Perthshire whilst on holiday there. PH1, yes a first for Perthshire, but I’m sure there are plenty more there as Perthshire is known as ‘Big Tree Country’.
Janice also tells me that she got two for friends in Orkney, which would be a first for there. But the Scottish collection is doing well: Hilary Williams in Derby sent me details of five trees in her area around Derby, she says most of them are ones she drives past with her daughter, ‘who is excitedly telling me they are there – she loves them!’ I’ve only been able to find three of Hilary’s trees on Google, these are DE10 in Ticknall, DE11 on Ashby Road, and DE12 on London Road. So please do send photos of the others if you can – there is another on London Road in a front garden, and also one in a back garden in Meadow Way in Chellaston. Using Google Street View is a useful way to find trees you see whilst driving, especially if you’re unable to stop at the time. When I was starting up the catalogue I also realised that it could be a way to find trees generally – as could other photographic databases available to us, like Flickr or Geograph. However, I think Agent Green made an interesting point about this technique. Agent Green has a blog about monkey puzzle trees, but only trees he has actually seen himself. He wrote a piece about Google Street View Dilemmas and I think that’s a very valid point:
It also got me thinking that I might be able to use this method to track-down more Monkey Puzzle trees to see but after careful consideration I decided it may be best to look for them in some other way. Unless I want to cease interacting with the World like any normal(ish) human being does, as I found it can be quite addictive picking random places from my past and scouring them for Monkey Puzzle trees on Street View, not to mention the prospect of picking random places I’ve never been to and seeing if there happen to be any Monkey Puzzle trees there.
So, one of the things that I am particularly pleased about is that real people get excited about finding trees, and then send me their photographs – so please keep sending them in! Randy from Florida also wrote to say how much he enjoyed the blog – and how he’d seen lots of monkey puzzle trees on his travels in Europe. Let’s hope some of them find their way here to be catalogued!
And finally, a fabulous find from Helen in Bristol, who has immediately been elevated to ‘Agent Helen’. She read my post called Bat shit about Tyntesfield and immediately shot off to investigate further. We like keen hunters like that. She came back with a fabulous clutch of 22 monkey puzzle trees in the grounds. I’ll be adding those to the original post about Tyntesfield – here. So – good work everyone! It’s been great to find others ‘like me’, and look forward to growing the Monkey Map catalogue together.
This ‘Monkey Map’ project is a personal project and the work of me, Sarah Horton. I am helped by my task of cataloguing all monkeys by keen monkey puzzle hunters who also do this in their free time. It is a work of personal passion and brings me great joy. Thank you everyone for your support.