Not to be confused with : Monkey Orchid [a plant with similar name]
Uniquely identifiable characteristics
Distinguishing Feature :
The Monkey-puzzle tree is one of the oldest trees still extant in the modern world, sometimes described as being a living fossil because of the species enormous age. They can also live enormous lifetimes; the oldest known is 800 years old. It grows up to 40m high but at a slow rate, growing at a rate of about 35cm per year.
It is a hardy conifer, a native of Chile and Argentina, but able to withstand the coldest of the UKs bitter winters with apparent impunity. It is very hardy and will also tolerate a maritime location with salt-laden winds but dislikes atmospheric pollution. It is usually dioecious, meaning that the male cones and female cones are on separate trees. Occasionally it is possible to find individual trees bearing both types of cone. It is impossible to tell whether an individual tree is male or female until it produces cones. The male cones are cucumber shaped up to 8 inches long by the time it releases its pollen. On reaching maturity the fertilised cones disintegrate releasing nut-like seeds 3cm to 4cm long which are then dispersed by squirrels and jays.
In the UK there is only one species that grows in the wild, but in other parts of the World four species in the Araucaria Genus are known.
An evergreen tree with distinctive and unmistakable branches covered in short leaves close to the branch and resembling a monkeys tail. The tree is dioecious with both male and female flowers on the same tree. The female cones are largest, green at first, but taking two to three years to ripen to brown, when they drop off the end of the branch. The male cones are a lighter brown, much smaller, and occur in multiples at the ends of (some) branches. The nuts are edible and best roasted. Without the nearby presence of a male tree, the female cones will not produce viable seed.
The seeds, about the size of an almond each, are edible either raw or cooked and are delicious, and are a staple food for native Indians in Chili. Each (female) cone produces about 200 seeds. They are soft and taste a little like cashew nuts.
Unlike most conifers, the trees can be coppiced. The wood is of good quality, pale yellow, taking a good polish and is used for carpentry and joinery. The tree produces a resin which has claimed medicinal uses, applied topically for wounds and ulcers.
It contains three main active ingredients,
15-AcetoxyImbricatolic Acid, which are said to give some gastric protection from acid reflux similar to that given by Lanzaprazole. Imbricatonic Acid is also found in some species of Pine trees, in the fungal component of the lichen
Cladonia rangferina and in the ripened berries of Common Juniper (as is
15-Hydroxy-Imbricatolal). It also produces
Junicedric Acid, which is similar to Imbricatolic Acid but with two carboxylic acid units.
Labdane is a labdane diterpene which occurs in Monkey Puzzle and several other plants and lichens and is the precursor to many of the molecules depicted below which are labdane-type diterpenoids. It was first found in Labdanum (aka Ladanum and Ladan), a resin obtained from Rock-Rose (both Cistus ladanifer and Cistus creticus) plants, hence its name. Labdanum is much valued in perfumery and has a smell reminiscent of ambergris.
This particular Monkey Puzzle tree also produces the diterpenoids (-)-
Kaurene (cf ent-Kaurene), (+)-
Kaurene is not only isomeric with Atisirene and with Trachylobane but also with
Beyerene (not shown because it appears not to occur in Monkey Puzzle, although that's never stopped your Author before). Kaurene is a precursor to Gibberellic Acid and other plant hormones called
Gibberellins. Trachylobane has 3 six-membered rings, a five- and a three-membered ring and diterpenoids with this skeleton are also found in abundance in Annual Sunflower. They have anti-microbial properties active against Staphylococcus aureus and Mycobacterium smegmatis.
As well as several biflavones based upon the flavone Apigenin (and its Methoxy substitutes) twinned together in various places. Several sesquiterpenoids are also produced such as Limonene, (+)-γ-
STEVIOL GLYCOSIDES (SWEETENERS)
(From Stevia rebaudiana)
Steviol is not found in Monkey Puzzle Tree, nor are the Steviol Glycosides, but they are related to ent-Kaurene, with the addition of two -OH groups in the case of Steviol. Steviol is the aglycone of the Steviol Glycosides and is not sweet. Steviol is not found in Stevia rebaudiana (a plant belonging to the Asteraceae family and which is non-native to the UK) but its very sweet glycosides are and are used as (natural) sweeteners.
The Steviol glycosides with the highest abundance in the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana are
Stevioside (5-10% by weight),
Rebaudioside A (2-4%),
Rebaudioside C (1-2%) and
Dulcoside A (0.5-1%).
Each of the eight in total steviol glycosides occurring in the plant has a differing Quality of Taste (QT) which varies from very good (+3) for
Rebaudioside D (which is also the sweetest but only present in minute quantities) to poor (-2) for
Dulcoside A (which is not the stevioside glycoside which is the least sweet). It should be noted that these are diterpenoid glycosides rather than triterpenoid or steroidal glycosides, although they do resemble steroidal compounds in some ways.
They have between 2 to 5 sugar units attached (at between one and two locations, shown as R1 and R2). The sugar units are either Glucose (Glc) or Rhamnose (Rha). Those Steviol Glycosides with a carboxylic group (i.e. lacking a glycoside in the R1 position, such as Steviobioside and Rebaudioside B ) are the least sweet for they are acidic. Those with one or more Rhamnose glycosides exhibit the poorest Quality of Taste (QT).
Rebaudioside A is the glycoside normally used as the sweetener in Stevia type sweeteners, which has a Quality of Taste (QT) of +2, which is lower than that of Rebaudioside D but that occurs only in minute amounts in the plant. Rebaudioside A also tastes less metallic or liquorice-like than do the other Stevia glycosides. The quality of sweetness is enhanced more by blending with other sweeteners, where a synergistic effect is observed with sweeteners such as
Cyclamate, but not with
Saccharin. Sucrose or Fructose can also reduce the aftertaste which can occur with many extremely sweet compounds, which linger in the mouth.
Steviol Glycosides are non-toxic, but Steviol, the human metabolite of the Steviol Glycosides, is known to be genotoxic and to induce developmental toxicity in humans, hence there are some safety concerns regarding the use of Steviol Glycoside Sweeteners.
OTHER SWEET COMPOUNDS
Sweet compounds come in many different shapes and sizes, there is no apparent order. Many sweet compounds are steroidal glycosides such as Osladin, Polypodoside A which are found in Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) and
Glycyrrizin which is found in
Liquorice (Glychrrhiza glabra). On the other hand, many steroidal glycosides taste extremely bitter and are highly poisonous, such as Digitoxin and Convallotoxin.
But there is a difference between compounds that taste sweet and those that can be used as sweeteners to replace sugars. Anethole tastes sweet, but strongly resembles aniseed! No one would put anethole in their coffee.
These do not occur in either Stevia rebaudiana or in Monkey Puzzle Tree.
If ever the Author puts the non-native plant Stevia rebaudiana on his website (un-likely) then this box on Steviol Glycosides will be moved into it, since they do not occur in the Monkey Puzzle Tree (although are related to ent-Kaurenes which do).
Geraniolene is a Terpene which does occur in the Money Puzzle Tree and is used as a component of some perfumes but is not licensed for use in confectionery.