Grow a pine tree

How To Grow A Tree or Shrub From Seed

Starting trees from seed can be one of the most rewarding gardening activities, but tree seeds often require a little more preparation than many common flower or vegetable seeds.

In most cases, there are two ways to start tree seeds: The natural way, which often includes sowing the seeds in the fall, or through forced or “assisted” germination, which is initially done indoors.

The Natural Way to Germinate Tree Seeds

Seeds have been sprouting and trees have been growing for an awfully long time without any help from humans. The “natural way” to germinate tree seeds, then, is to allow nature to take its course. Most seeds, when sown in the fall without any pre-treatment, will begin to germinate the following spring. Be sure to sow the seeds at the recommended depth. If the seeds are planted too deep, this could delay or inhibit the spring germination process. With some seed varieties you may see germination spread over two or three years with some seeds germinating in the first spring and others taking longer to break dormancy and germinate.

It is important to remember that many species originated in cooler climates where seeds drop to the ground and are covered by leaves in the fall. Over the winter, the seeds remain bedded in this cool moisture environment. As the warm spring weather arrives the seeds then begin the germination process. For many types of seeds, the embryo inside the seeds is immature and unable to germinate (this is called ‘dormancy’) until it matures in this manner. The delay in the germination process is vital to the survival of many tree species. In a natural forest, if seeds germinated immediately upon falling to the ground in late summer or fall, the tender seedlings would die off during the cold winter.

Forced or “Assisted” Germination

Although natural germination is an acceptable way to start most tree seeds, sometimes better and more consistent results can be achieved through forced or “assisted” germination. Basically, it means using various techniques to mimic the role nature plays in causing tree seeds to germinate.

There are several techniques that may be involved to force the germination of any given tree seed. Please carefully read the recommended steps listed on each individual seed package.

Many seeds require one or more treatment steps to stimulate the germination process. The three steps are: 1) Scarification, 2) Cold Stratification, and 3) Warm Stratification. Keep in mind that not all seeds require all of these steps. In fact some seeds do not require any pre-treatment whatsoever.

Scarification

Scarification is the process of reducing or breaking the seed coat so that moisture can penetrate and the embryo can begin the germination process. Scarification is commonly required on seeds with dense or hard seed shells. Many tree seeds do not require any scarification, and for those that do, the most common treatment is a simple water soak.

Hard seed coats can be broken down by a) a water soak, b) a physical or mechanical breaking of the seed coat, or c) a chemical or acid treatment (not commonly required).

  • a) Water soak: Pour water over the seeds and let them soak for the recommend time, often 6 to 24 hours. Most water treatments are done using room temperature water. It is best to use a glass container for soaking the seeds. Some seeds may require hot water as per instructions. Follow the above noted directions, using water at the recommended temperature.

  • b) Physical/Mechanical: Using a small file or sandpaper, rub the outside of the seed coat to reduce its density or to nick the seed coat so that moisture can more easily penetrate to the embryo. Take care to avoid damaging the seed embryo.

  • c) Chemical (Acid) Wash: The chemical wash method of scarification is generally used by commercial growers for select seed varieties and is often not required for home gardening purposes. If you are attempting it, you may want to consult a more detailed protocol and follow these basic guidelines:
    1) Wear goggles and protective clothing. Wash immediately if any is spilt on your skin
    2) Use a large glass jar or vessel
    3) Place seeds in the dry glass container
    4) Add the sulphuric acid concentrate at a volume about twice the volume of the seeds
    5) Stir the mixture with a glass rod
    6) Periodically check the seed for coat thickness by extracting a few seeds and cutting in half with pruners. Even in the same lot, the coat thickness may vary from seed to seed.
    7) After soaking the seeds, decant acid and seeds through a screening device and wash for 5 to 10 minutes under cold water
    8) Spread the seeds on a paper and allow to dry at room temperature. – be sure to spread the seeds out so that they do not clump

Cold Stratification

Stratification is the process of mimicking the natural over-wintering process by exposing the seeds to cool, moist conditions. The easiest way to undertake the stratification process is:

1) Take a few handfuls of peat moss and soak it in water until it is saturated
2) After soaking, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible
3) Place a layer of the moist peat moss in the bottom of a zip-lock plastic sandwich bag
4) Place the seeds on the layer and fill the rest of the bag with the peat moss
5) Seal the bag closed
6) Store the sealed bag in the bottom of the refrigerator for the appropriate stratification time.

During the cold stratification process, occasionally check the seeds for signs of early germination. If the seeds begin to germinate in the refrigerator, remove them and plant as normal.

After the prescribed stratification time in the refrigerator, remove the seeds and sow them in the normal manner.

Warm Stratification

The warm stratification step is designed to mimic the seed’s summer dormancy when it is often imbedded in warm damp soil or mud. For warm stratification, follow the same steps outlined in cold stratification, except place the zip-lock bag in a warm location at or slightly above room temperature for a target temperature range of about 72 to 86 degrees F. (Often placing the bag on top of the refrigerator achieves this.)

During the warm stratification process, occasionally check the seeds for signs of early germination. If the seeds begin to germinate, plant as normal.

Planting the Seeds

Seeds may be sown into individual containers or into seed trays. It is important to ensure that the seeds are planted at the recommend soil depth. Most tree seeds are planted much shallower than other annual seeds, but it typically depends on the size of the seed. Please follow the directions on each seed packet for appropriate planting depth. The seeds should be sown in a well-drained medium, such as a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite.

When sowing the seeds, fill the container or seed tray to about ½ inch form the top with the moist medium (soil). Level the medium by gently shaking or taping the container.

For larger seeds – those over a 1/3 of an inch tall, press half the seed into the medium. For smaller seeds, sprinkle them lightly over the surface of the soil. Cover the seeds with a fine layer of sand to a depth about the thickness of the seed.

After planting the seeds, gently water them and keep them moist but not wet. Maintaining high moisture and relative humidity is critical to germinating seeds. You can increase the humidity by enclosing the seed tray in a plastic tent. Be sure to poke some holes in the plastic cover to ensure adequate air circulation. Keep the trays in a warm but dimly lit location.

Germination can be as quick as a few days or as slow as several months, depending on the species and the environmental conditions. Once the seeds germinate, move the seedlings to a brighter location. You may need to nurse the seedlings indoors for a few months before planting outdoors. Try to give the young plants as much sun light as possible.

Trees are such a beautiful part of our world. Not only are they gorgeous and soothing to look at, they provide us with oxygen and shade, shelter for animals, and are incredibly important to sustaining our ecosystem.

So, how do trees grow? Well, it all starts with a seed …

Germination

Seeds can be carried by wind, animals or water to where they will eventually grow. Once the seed finds the perfect place to start the growing process, it relies heavily on the nutrients it has brought with it from the parent tree. The right mix of water, light, warmth, soil and nutrients the seed will sprout, and send its first stem up and its first root down—becoming a seedling.

Cell Growth

As humans our bodies—bones, skin, muscles, etc.—increase in size as we grow. But, trees don’t grow like that. Tree branches and trunks grow as new cells are produced under the bark. Tree growth does not take place at the base of the tree, but rather in the branch tips. Growth also occurs in the trunk but not upward. Instead, the tree increases in diameter. This happens because trees grow by producing those new cells in limited spots throughout the tree, called meristems, and this is where all the growth takes place.

Meristems at the tree’s roots and at the tips of the branches are called apical meristems. Vascular cambium are meristems that cause the trunk, branches or roots to grow in diameter.

The Roots

Meanwhile, under the soil the seedling’s roots are anchoring themselves to the soil and soaking up water and minerals to provide fuel to continue the growth. Once the seedling has gained some strength, the stem breaks through the soil surface and, when its leaves are large enough, the seedling can start to produce its own food through photosynthesis—and continues the meristem growth process.

Hitting New Milestones

Trees are seedlings as soon from the start of the growing process until the tree reaches about 3 feet in height (this varies between species), and then it becomes a sapling. A tree will remain a sapling until its trunk reaches 2 ¾ inches in diameter, and then the tree is reclassified as a young tree. A tree is considered mature when it’s reached just under 12 inches in diameter.

Want to know more details about tree growth? Check out these great sources:

  • 14 Fun Facts About Trees

  • How to Choose Which Evergreen Plants

  • Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?

  • 8 Steps for Planting a Tree

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Introduction

Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, is from the family Pinaceae it is an evergreen conifer also called the Oregon Pine because it is native to the northwestern United States can be found all around that region and Canada. It can grow to 70-240 feet tall; it is the second tallest growing conifer after the coast redwood. Douglas firs can live for hundreds of years this is due to its thick tough bark that can protect it against some forest fires. It is monoecious which means that both female and male flowers on the same tree, the female flower once pollenated by the wind develops into the cone that produces the seed. Grows best in USDA hardiness zones 4-6 and is shade tolerant when young but requires more sunlight as it gets older. Douglas firs need well-aerated, deep soils with a pH range from 5 to 6; it does not do well in poorly drained or compacted soils.

Douglas firs being grown on a Christmas Tree Farm

Most commonly grown for Timber, but is also used for telephone poles, and Christmas trees. The Douglas fir has been used as a Christmas tree in the Pacific Northwest since the 1920s, because it was one of the most commonly found in the area. Douglas firs grown for Christmas trees take 7-10 years to grow to the right size depending on the growing conditions, the trees are sheared once every summer so they grow in uniformly in shape and size. In the wild its winged seeds are eaten by a variety of different of rodents, and deer, mule, and sheep eat it’s leaves and twigs, and it’s staminate cones and needles are eaten by the blue grouse pheasant over the winter. Its needles can also be used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C and was drunk by Native Americans for medicinal reasons.

a mature cone hanging from a branch

Propagation methods

Douglas firs are normally propagated by seed this is because it is the easiest and cheapest method also it can be difficult to get cuttings to root. Tissue culture can also be used to propagate Douglas firs but the tissue taken must be from younger trees or seedlings. Growing a Douglas fir from seed is the easiest method but special steps are required if you intend to do it with seeds from a cone you find in the woods. Seeds from cones found in nature must first be harvested then over come dormancy before you plant them. This is done by cold moist stratification; this process can be done in a cold frame or in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

Douglas fir tip cuttings

Grafting is an option but only as a way of insuring a desired trait from a stock plant is carried on to a seedling. It is important to note that Douglas firs cuttings can have period of plagiotropic growth, this is more likely the older tree is. This means that a cutting taken from a lateral branch can continue to grow laterally, so for best results cuttings must be taken from seedlings or trees in the juvenile stage of development that are sheared once a year.

Step by step guide

Step 1

First collect cones, you can find the cones on or around Douglas firs in the fall. You want to make sure that the cones you collect have already begun to open; this is to ensure that the seed inside is mature.

Step 2

Remove seeds, this can be done easily after letting the cones dry out for a few hours in direct sunlight then hitting them on a hard surface, or putting then on a baking sheet in the oven at no more than 120°F until they fully open. Once you have your seed rub them between your hands to remove the wings.

Step 3

Stratify the seeds, soak your seeds in water for a day then dry then for another day. You can put them in a plastic sandwich bag making sure there’s plenty of air in the bag, then place the bag in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper drawer for at least four weeks. Or you can then plant them in pots and then place them in a cold frame over winter.

Step 4

Plant in pots no smaller than 6 inches deep, make sure that your potting soil is has good drainage so that it will hold moisture without getting soggy. Plant seeds about 2 inches deep, then cover with soil. Keep in partial shade for the first year; older seedlings will require full sunlight.

Step 5

Care for your seedlings by keeping them inside for the first 4-6 weeks then hardening them off before you plant outdoors. If you have a greenhouse you can grow them indoors for the first year before hardening them in the following spring, this will make them hardier. Keep in mind its potential height when choosing where to plant the seedling. Water the seedling 1-4 times a month, you can fertilize it once a month but be sure to dilute it with water to avoid damage to the roots.

Doulgas fir seedlings

Conclusion

Grafting is possible but you first need to make sure the rootstock is compatible with your scion, and the scion is taken from a younger tree in its juvenile stage. Harvesting the seeds from a cone is the best way to propagate the Douglas fir because it’s the easiest and cheapest method. So the next time you’re walking through a forest take a look around you may find a cone you can use to grow your very own Douglas fir. Imagine decorating a Christmas tree you grew yourself, or you could plant them as a living fence lining your property all you need is the seed, the time, and some patience.

Work Cited

Hartmann, Hudson T. Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002. 787. Print.

“Douglas Fir.” USDA. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_psme.pdf>.

How To Grow A Pine Tree From Seed

Growing pine and fir trees from seed can be a challenge to say the least. However, with a little (actually a lot) of patience and determination, it is possible to find success when growing pine and fir trees. Let’s take a look at how to grow a pine tree from seed.

How to Grow a Pine Tree from Seed

You can grow pine trees using seed in pine cone scales that are harvested from female cones. Female pine cones are considerably larger than their male counterparts. Mature pine cones are woody and brown in appearance. One cone produces about two seeds beneath each scale. These seeds will remain in the cone until it dries out and opens up completely.

Seed in pine cones can usually be identified by the prominent-looking wing, which is attached to the seed for aid in dispersal. Seeds can be collected once they fall from the tree in autumn, usually between the months of September and November.

Germinating Pine Seeds

Collect seeds from fallen cones by lightly shaking them upside down. It may take numerous seeds before you find any that are viable for planting. In order to achieve success when germinating pine seeds, it’s important to have good, healthy seeds.

To test the viability of your seeds, put them in a container filled with water, separating those that sink from those that float. The seeds that remain suspended in the water (floating) are generally the ones that are least likely to germinate.

How to Plant Pine Tree Seeds

Once you have enough viable seed, they should be dried and stored in an airtight container or planted immediately, depending on when they were harvested, as pine tree seeds are usually planted around the first of the year.

Start the seeds indoors, placing them in individual pots with well-drained potting soil. Push each seed just beneath the soil surface, making sure that it’s in a vertical position with the pointy end facing downward. Place the pots in a sunny window and water thoroughly. Keep the seeds moist and wait, as germination can take months, but should occur by March or April.

Once the seedlings have reached between 6 inches to a foot tall, they can be transplanted outdoors.

Growing a Christmas tree from seed

Even during this holiday season, with winter upon us, you might find some gardening to do. Growing a Christmas tree from seed, for example.

That’s no short-term proposition. But the long wait is offset by the wide selection of trees from which to choose, their negligible cost and — best of all — the satisfaction you get from growing your own tree. You’re sure to eye your own, seed-grown Christmas tree with more affection than you’ve ever felt toward a tree loaded onto the roof of your car from a sales lot.

Aside from patience, all you need to get started are a plastic bag, a pen, a couple of handfuls of potting soil and the seeds.

Options in procuring seeds

It’s late in the season, but you could collect seed yourself if you know of some nice-looking, mature trees of species suitable for decorating and keeping through the holidays indoors. The most popular trees for this purpose include Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), white pine (Pinus strobus), Norway spruce (Picea abies), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and white fir (Abies concolor).

Then again, your choices need not be limited to those popular species. Maybe your taste runs toward a tree with the long, languid needles of a Himalayan pine (Pinus Wallichiana) or the stubby, bluish needles of a Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens).

Most conifers ripen their seeds in late summer or early fall, the cones’ scales spreading to disperse their seeds in the weeks or months that follow. If you lay hands on some intact, mature cones, put them in a paper or burlap bag so their seeds won’t be lost when the cones open, a process that can be speeded up by keeping them warm or even heating them a bit.

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An artificial winter

Many conifer seeds will sprout quite readily if sown fresh out of their cones, although sprouting is often erratic. Once stored though, they usually need some treatment before they’ll come to life. Start that treatment — essentially an artificial winter — by soaking the seed for 24 hours; that’s “autumn rain.” Then rinse the seeds well to wash away any germination inhibitors; drain; and put them into a plastic bag along with moist potting soil.

Seal the bag shut and put it in your refrigerator. The seeds need to sit in the moist coolness of the refrigerator for one to three months, after which they’ll be convinced that winter is over and it’s safe to sprout.

This treatment might be advisable even for freshly harvested seeds to improve or make less erratic their germination. Now, anyway, isn’t the best time of year for seeds to be sprouting.

Nursery care

Leave that plastic bag tucked away in the back of your refrigerator until spring. Check it occasionally because once some seeds think winter is over, they are so eager to get started that they’ll actually sprout in the refrigerator.

Conifer seedlings grow slowly and offer little competition to weeds, so when you do plant them, do so either in containers or in a carefully tended garden row. Seedlings in containers need more watering care; seedlings out in the garden need only occasional watering, but close guarding against weed encroachment.

Neither the containers nor the garden row will be the plants’ permanent home, just nursery areas. After a couple of seasons in the nursery, transplant the trees, which will still be quite small, to more permanent locations where they can grow until ready for cutting.

Plan on about 10 years until harvest, depending on growing conditions and the kind of tree.

Female Pine Cones Stock Photos and Images

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  • Dawn redwood female pine cones (Metasequoia) with single white pine cone form a graphic pattern.
  • Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, female cones before opening, and needles.
  • Scotch pine, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), young branches with female cones, Germany
  • Female Cross-bill perched in pine tree looking to collect seeds from the pine cones.
  • Pinus mugo. Swiss mountain pine or Mugo Pine
  • Pine cones, female, pitch pine tree, Pinus rigida
  • A person using secateurs or cutters on string A box of pine cones
  • Pinus mugo. Swiss mountain pine or Mugo Pine
  • Close up at the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and its female pine cones, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States
  • Collecting pine cones in forest
  • Close up of little girl’s hands holding pine cones
  • Female cones on a Chinese White Pine, Pinus armandii.
  • Young hiking couple picking pine cones in forest
  • Branch with female flowers and cones of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Belgium
  • Pine Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus adult eating pine cone Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado USA
  • Young hiking couple collecting pine cones in forest
  • Cute little girl sittting and holding pine cones outdoors
  • Female cones of Pinus mugo, known as creeping pine, dwarf mountainpine, mugo pine, mountain pine, scrub mountain pine or Swiss mountain pine
  • Female cone of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Separate male and female cones appear on the same tree. Maligne Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada,
  • Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) cones. Artwork of female pine cones on an Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) tree.
  • Mountain pine, Pinus mugo, with male flowers and female cones, Swiss Alps.
  • Scotch pine, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), young branches with female cones, Germany
  • A woman threading Christmas shiny round ornaments on a piece of string A small group of pine cones
  • Children playing with pine cones in forest
  • Pine cones, female cones, pitch pine tree, Pinus rigida
  • Pile of female pine cones.
  • Wollemia Nobilis. Wollemi pine tree foliage and round female cones
  • Close up at the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and its female pine cones, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States
  • An alert female cardinal bird perched on a pine tree branch with cones around her.
  • Cones females of maritime pine in spring.
  • Female Cross-bill perched in pine tree looking to collect seeds from the pine cones.
  • Developing immature female Jack Pine Cones Pinus banksiana Northern Michigan USA
  • Branch with female flowers and cones of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Belgium
  • A stunning rare female Parrot Crossbill (Loxia pytyopstittacus) perched in the branches of a pine tree eating the cones.
  • Female cones on the spiky branches of Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree.
  • Red pine (Pinus resinosa) Reproductive cones, Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
  • Female cones of Pinus mugo, known as creeping pine, dwarf mountainpine, mugo pine or Swiss mountain pine
  • Female cone of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Separate male and female cones appear on the same tree. Maligne Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada,
  • Monkey puzzle tree female cones
  • Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, female cones before opening, and needles.
  • Scotch pine, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), young branches with female cones, Germany
  • A female Golden-crowned Kinglet, Regulus satrapa, perched on a tamarac pine branch in the Fall, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Female Parrot Crossbill Loxia pytyopsittacus feeding on pine cones in Essex, UK
  • female person making a christmas wreath
  • Conifer cones. Scots or scotch pine Pinus sylvestris male pollen flower and young female cone on a tree growing in evergreen coniferous forest. Poland
  • Wollemia Nobilis. Wollemi pine tree foliage and round female cones
  • Close up at the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and its female pine cones, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States
  • Ephedra pachyclada female cones from arid mountains
  • Cones females of maritime pine in spring.
  • Developing purple colored female cones of Pinus mugo mughus (dwarf mountain pine) during springtime
  • Female toddler playing with pine cones in forest
  • Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) female flowers on tip of bud with a one year old cone, Belgium
  • Mugo Pine Female Cones in Winter
  • Cones on a tree with blue sky
  • arrot Crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus) adult female eating seed from Pine tree
  • Fresh cones of Picea abies, the Norway spruce or European spruce
  • Male pollen-bearing cones of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Separate male and female cones appear on the same tree. Maligne Lake, Jasper, Alberta, C
  • Mature and Young
  • Turkish Pine or Calabrian Pine, Pinus brutia; female cones on branch. Rhodes.
  • Scotch pine, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), young branches with female cones, Germany
  • Female Alder Tree Catkin (Alnus glutinosa). Exeter, Devon, UK.
  • Cedrus atlantica pine cone. Atlas Cedar.
  • Female cones of Araucaria araucana, Monkey Puzzle Tree on background of blue sky.
  • Pine Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus adult eating pine cone Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado USA
  • Pinus Armandii. Chinese White Pine cones
  • Close up at the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and its female pine cones, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California, United States
  • Norway spruce (Picea abies) female cones , Regional Natural Park of Northern Vosges , to Bitche, France
  • Cones females of maritime pine in spring.
  • Pinus mugo mughus (dwarf mountain pine) during springtime with young shoots and developing female cones
  • loblolly pine cones at Assateague Island, Maryland
  • Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) female flowers on tip of bud with a one year old cone, Belgium
  • Pine cones on a pine tree, pinus in the garden. Pine branches on the blue sky background.
  • Cones on a tree with blue sky
  • arrot Crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus) adult female eating seed from Pine tree
  • florist making Christmas wreath
  • Christmas composition with notebook, female hands green pencil small box, snowflakes and spruce branch red berries cones. Concept , new year plan. Flat lay. Light gray background.
  • Wild female turkey standing among pine cones under an evergreen tree. Other turkeys are sitting in the background.
  • Turkish Pine or Calabrian Pine, Pinus brutia; female cones on branch. Rhodes.
  • Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), blooming female cone
  • Female Alder Tree Catkin (Alnus glutinosa). Exeter, Devon, UK.
  • Cedrus atlantica pine cone. Atlas Cedar.
  • Monkey puzzle tree
  • Red Squirrel, Pine Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), adult eating pine cone, Grand Teton NP,Wyoming, USA
  • Pinus Armandii. Chinese White Pine cones
  • Male strobilus and female cone of pine in cross section.
  • Pine Tree with Cones
  • Cones females of maritime pine in spring.
  • Close Up Of The Female Fruit of the Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana). The Nut-like Seeds Produced By The Female Cones Are Edible.
  • loblolly pine cones at Assateague Island, Maryland
  • woody female stone pine cones on a stone background – natural decorations
  • Pine cones on a pine tree, pinus in the garden. Pine branches on the blue sky background.
  • Cones on a tree with blue sky
  • arrot Crossbill (Loxia pytyopsittacus) adult female eating seed from Pine tree
  • florist
  • Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in flower. Close-up of female cones (flowers) on a Scots pine tree.
  • Young woman holding a bowl of pine cones and looking sideways
  • Mountain pine, Pinus mugo, with male flowers and female cones, Swiss Alps.
  • Chilean pine (Araucaria araucana), branch with female cone
  • Female Alder Tree Catkin (Alnus glutinosa). Exeter, Devon, UK.
  • Cedrus atlantica pine cone. Atlas Cedar.

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Coniferous Cones

It might not surprise you to hear that pine cones come from pine trees, but pine trees aren’t the only trees that make cones. In fact, most coniferous trees do. Cones from coniferous trees, including pine trees, are called conifer cones.

Different cones have different roles. Did you know that some cones are female, and others are male? Female cones are the big cones you’d picture when you think of pine cones. They have a seed in their open scales that becomes a new tree when it gets pollen from a male cone.

Male cones are a lot smaller than female cones and their scales aren’t as open. Each scale in a male cone contains the pollen that can spread to a female cone to make a seed.

The way a conifer cone looks can help us figure out what type of tree it comes from. While the shape of the cones can be pretty similar, different conifer trees within the same family can produce very different cones.

Take a look at these cones and let us know which ones you’ve seen in your neighbourhood.

Pine tree. Flickr Credit: mricon

If you find a cone that looks like this, it could come from a
fir tree.

Fir tree. Photo Credit: Roger Culos

If you find a cone that looks like this, it could come from a
spruce tree.

Spruce tree

If you find a cone that looks like this, it could come from a
hemlock tree.

Hemlock tree. Flickr Credit: Chris Breeze

If you find a cone that looks like this, it could come from a
larch tree.

Larch tree. Photo Credit: Walter Siegmund

If you find a cone that looks like this, it could come from a
cedar tree.

Cedar Tree. Photo Credit: Walter Siegmund

Learning About Pine Cones

While collecting pine cones in the park for my crafts, I observed which pine tree they came from and the best time to collect them. I saw that some of the pine cones had seeds inside, but I was intrigued that some of them weren’t woody. A quick search on the internet showed me the difference between the cones. The cone is an organ which contains the reproductive structures of the Phinophyta (conifers) division. Its botanical name strobilus comes from some of the species’ geometrical cone form of this organ. The woody cones, as we know it, are the female cones which produce seeds.

Male cones (microstrobilus or pollen cone) are herbaceous and produce pollen. They are structurally the same on all conifers, with small differences from species to species. At first glance, they all seemed like cones to me, but now I know what they are. They are growing on a central axis, from modified leaves (microsporophyllis) under which the pollen sacs (microsporangia) are growing. The male cones are usually colored differently from the female cones, in yellow, red, purple, green or grey. I had these male cones in a a potpourri on my table and I didn’t know what they were. They are dry, but still have the male cone form.

The female cones (megastrobilus, ovulate or seed cone) contain ovules which become seeds when fertilized by pollen. The female cones are different from species to species, making possible the identification of many conifer species. The plates of a cone are called scales and they differ from species to species. Female cones have two different types of scales: the bract scales, derived from a modified leaf and the seeds scales, derived from a modified branchlet.

First appear the bract scales, and after pollination the seeds scales develop to enclose and protect the seeds. The cones close during the fertilization, then re-open to let the seeds go. Cones can open and close many times as long as the cone is on the branch, even if all the seeds are gone.

On most conifer species, male and female cones grow on the same tree; usually the female are on the upper part, while the male cones are on the lower branches. The explanation of this particular arrangement of the cones in a conifer tree is very interesting: the male cones grow on the lower branches so they can pollenize the female cones from another tree and not from the same. The wind takes the pollen up in the air, usually over other trees nearby. This way the species will remain strong and live on.

The conifer families have different forms of female cones:

Pinaceae, which have “archetypal” cones. This means that their scales are overlapping each other like fish scales. The scales are spirally arranged in fibonacci number ratios.

Araucariaceae, is a very ancient conifer family with three genera: Agathis, Araucaria and Wollemia which have globose type of cones.

Araucaria genus is different from the other two because the male and female cones are found on different trees, like the Araucaria araucana also called the Monkey tail tree. I was lucky to see the one in the picture, with male cones, growing in a garden in Italy.

Podocarpaceae is a member of the Antarctic flora and has very different type of cones, berry-like.

Cupressaceae, the Cypress family with the genera cypresses, arborvitae, junipers and redwoods have the bract and seed scales fully fused. The cones are usually small and spherical, like those of Nootka cypress.

From the cypress family is also the Bald cypress – Taxodium distichum – also called Swamp cypress, one of the few decidous conifer species, meaning it looses its leaves in the fall. When I was living in Bucharest I saw many Bald cypresses in the park, along the lake. One fall I took pictures of their beautiful and interesting cones.

Sciadopityaceae has only one genera endemic to Japan, with cones similar to those in the Cupressaceae family, only larger.

Taxaceae, the yew family, and Cephalotaxaceae have cones with a few scales which develop into fleshy arils.

I have two conifer trees from the Pinaceae family in my garden, a Norway spruce – Picea abies and a Colorado blue spruce – Picea pungens glauca. Last month I saw many buds forming on their twigs. The first time I saw them last year I thought they were cones. They looked like very small cones, but later in spring I saw new growth sprouting from those “cones”. Now I know that they are only buds which will open up in spring. Norway spruce and the Colorado blue spruce will make cones after they reach maturity, after 20 years of growing.

However, one of the Chinese arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) in my garden is old enough to have cones. They are now open and releasingthe seeds.

A few years ago, while walking through a park, I saw some open thuja cones, picked up a few seeds and started a few plants which are now taller than me. One of them has formed many cones this summer – those are open now. The other thujas have started to form the pollen bags on the branches. They will pollenize the cones which will start growing in the spring. The thuja cones are green and soft at first, then become woody, just before opening to let the seeds out.

I’m happy to have some nice conifers in my garden to study their cones, but I’m also happy for those which aren’t making cones yet. Christmas is near, so I might start doing more cone crafts. I will make a pine cone candle holder and a new pine cone Christmas tree. I could use the Loblolly pine cones I already have, but yet a walk in the park for collecting more cones would be nice, while it’s still sunny and no snow. I hope you will join me and do some conifer cone Christmas crafts. It’s such fun, you’ll see!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Remember you can move the mouse over the pictures to read more information, too.

, , , , , , , – Wikipedia article on Pines

– Wikipedia article on Auracaria auracana

– Wikipedia article on Taxodium distichum

– Wikipedia article on Picea abies

– Wikipedia article on Picea pungens

– adisasullivan.wordpress.com

plant reproduction: pine tree

NARRATOR: The familiar pinecone is the reproductive structure of the pine tree. But pine trees actually produce two kinds of cones: a female cone and a male cone. Cones are modified stems that have been retasked for reproduction. The female cone, which is larger than the male cone, consists of a central axis and a cluster of scales, or modified leaves, called strobili.
The male cone produces tiny amounts of pollen grains that become the male gametophyte. Each pollen grain is reduced to two or three cells in a waxy protective coat. These grains have winglike structures that allow the wind to carry them up the tree to the female cones.
Deep inside the female cone, ovules develop into the mature female gametophyte that bears fertile egg cells.
When the egg cells are ready, the pollen grain enters the micropyle, an opening in the female cone near the ovule. The pollen grain germinates and constructs a special pollen tube so that fertilization can take place. One of the two male gametes produced by the pollen then fuses with the female egg cell. This union of gametes produces an embryo of the sporophyte generation. The embryo is protected inside the cone by a tough seed coat, which is surrounded by a papery wing case.
Later the scales open up and the seeds are blown away by the wind. Under favorable conditions the seed germinates and grows into a new pine tree.

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