Araucaria

Bunya Monkey puzzle

Araucaria is a family of trees that grow in the South Pacific region and neighbouring countries. I grew up familiar with two species, the bunya pine and the Norfolk Island pine; hoop pine is also common in Queensland. Bunya (shown in the first picture above, taken in the Bunya Mountains) is unmistakeable, with its savage prickly leaves and its cones, spherical and football-sized, which sometimes fall on cars parked underneath the trees. (The nuts have a delicate flavour which is much prized.) Norfolk Island pine and hoop pine are similar to one another, but the twigs of the first resemble toothbrushes, the second are more like toilet brushes.

There is at least one more Australian araucaria, the Captain Cook pine, that I saw in the botanic gardens in Melbourne last year. I described it in my diary as “like a Norfolk Island pine with a curl at the end of its moustaches”.

Norfolk Island pines are common in Portugal. (There is at least one bunya there as well, in the gardens at Monserrate.) But the only common araucaria in Britain is a Chilean tree which is referred to, for obvious reasons, as the monkey puzzle tree (see the second picture above).

It was for this reason that my favourite crossword compiler, John Graham, took the pseudonym “Araucaria”. His puzzles appear regularly in the Guardian, and delight his large following throughout Britain and beyond.

Yesterday, reading the paper in the common room, I noted that it contained an Araucaria puzzle, but by random chance I didn’t buy a copy of the Guardian to take home. Today I read on the BBC news website that Araucaria had used the crossword to announce that he is suffering from oesophagal cancer, and the doctors have told him that it can’t be treated.

But it’s not farewell yet. Today’s paper has an item on the front page (except that the reporter got the headline wrong) about this, in which he declares that he will continue setting puzzles while he can.

Bravo!

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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4 Responses to Araucaria

  1. Ralph Dratman says:

    Near the beginning of Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, the protagonist, Harry Haller, sits in his building’s stairway to meditate on a perfectly-tended little Araucaria outside an exemplary middle-class flat. The charming alcove in which the plant stands epitomizes a life Harry genuinely seems to long for, but in which he can never again participate; he has lost his faith, not only in God, but also in the comforting bourgeois ideals and rituals still in evidence all around him.

    Harry lives alone in some German city around 1925, struggling with deep despair and thinking every day about ending his life. He has been writing books, as well as some columns for the newspaper, denouncing preparations for a new war, after the catastrophe of the first. His onetime friends cannot bring themselves to believe he might be the “rotten patriot” who writes traitorous rants over the signature “Haller.”

    Though I am a longtime fan of Hesse’s often-criticized novel, I had no idea what an Araucaria might be until I read your post here today.

    • I’d forgotten that.

      There are a couple of monkey puzzle trees in the gardens of the art gallery in St Andrews. They were already there in 2005, and now there are about my height or a little more. So maybe the fact that they are so slow-growing makes them suitable for the alcove outside a flat.

  2. Nigel White says:

    I’ve being doing Araucaria crosswords ever since I first started buying the Guardian as a student 38 years ago. I particularly remember the specials, originally only published on Maundy Thursday and Christmas Eve, which used weird and innovative grids and constructs. I’ll cherish his remaining puzzles recognising that eventually all good things must come to an end.

  3. A nice Araucaria clue (worth reporting here) from last Saturday’s Guardian:

    Said to have acquired chopper when on the rocks (Guardian series) (3,3,5,4)

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