Pine Cones 101

A few years ago a pinecone dropped out of the top of a ridiculously tall tree and wacked me upside the head.  It didn’t need to do that.  I learned a long time ago that paying attention to pinecones pays off.

I figured out how pine cones come into being when I noticed a few clumps of needles that had turned red.  Apparently cones don’t start from a special bud, just some co-opted needles.

Male cones

In biology lab I learned that tiny cones like these above are males.  If you spot one in spring, shake it and watch for yellow powder–pollen.  The pollen is tasked with surfing the wind to find a female cone and make seeds.  When the seeds are ready, the cone pops open to free those seeds in hopes that some will find a good spot to become a tree.

Find: a tiny blue cone (top left,) an open cone, a closed cone, 3 clumps of male cones.  Anyone know why the females are so sappy?

Most seeds don’t even make it to the ground.  Below are cores of pinecones ravaged by squirrels.  I’ve seen heaps of them several feet deep under trees that could only watch as their progeny were torn limb from limb and devoured. Wait…maybe trees do have a defensive move.  Maybe the cone that hit me was intended for a squirrel.

Squirrel discards


About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.