The “Naked” Truth
Pinecones or cones are the fruit of Conifers or Coniferae, derived from the Latin word conus, which means to bear cones. They are members of the Gymnosperms, which were the first plants to produce naked seeds. These plants date back about 360 million years, and while most have become extinct, many of the conifers we know today evolved around 100 million years ago with the Pinaceae or Pine Family being the largest group. I won’t get too plant nerdy here, but it’s incredible to think that these plants have been around this long! Their success is due mostly to the fact that these cones protect their naked seeds until they are ready to be released.
All conifers have male and female cones, but it’s the female cone that is the attractive one, the one we commonly recognize lying on the ground or see hanging on the trees (sorry guys). However, without the smaller male cones producing pollen, the existence of these trees would not be possible.
On the lighter side…
Okay, I promised not to get plant nerdy on you, so how about some folklore and fun facts?
- Although their main function is to deliver seeds, they are also food for many animals like squirrels and various birds.
- Ancient Celtic women believed that pinecones were a symbol of fertility and would place pinecones under their pillows as a fertility charm.
- Animals are not the only species to enjoy the seeds of pinecones; some pinecones produce pine nuts, which we enjoy as a tasty treat.
- The largest pinecones come from the Coulter Pines in Baja California, and have dagger-like scales and can weigh up to 11 pounds. They have been nick named widow-makers. I would not want one of those dropping on my head. The longest pinecones come from Sugar Pines and can be as long as 24” (I will have these at my markets this Fall)
- Pinecones are a nature’s barometers of climate. Severe drought one year can produce a bumper crop of cones the following year in order to improve their chance of succession. A tight cone on the forest floor indicates damp conditions, while an open cone tells us that it’s dry and a risk of fire.
- It’s hard to come across a fir tree cone as they grow near the top of the tree and break apart before they get a chance to fall to the ground.
- The pineal gland in the human brain is known as the spiritual or intuitive center, and got its name, as it resembles a small pinecone. This gland is also referred to as the third eye.
- Some pinecones, like the Jack Pine need fire to open the cones to release the seeds.
I am in good company…
Pinecones have also been admired for centuries. Not just for their spiritual and symbolic use, but also for their beauty, as depicted in images that date back to the Mayan, Egyptian & Roman era. In the Roman Catholic faith, the Papal sacred staff is adorned with a pinecone as part of the finial, and a gigantic pinecone statue sits right in front of the Vatican in the “Court of the Pinecone”. As you can see many share my obsession of these perfect little seed carriers.
Conifers dominate the landscape here in BC. You cannot go into a forest without seeing a variety of cones on the forest floor. The most common here are Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and Ponderosa Pine. If you have planted a non-native species in your garden, then you may find other cone-bearing varieties like Norway Spruce, Austrian & Scots Pine. They all have their own beautiful attributes and depending on their size or shape, I have found ways of incorporating them into my life.
- We got married in Whistler 11 years ago, and I chose a botanical image of a pine branch with cone for our wedding invitations, pinecone table markers, and even on pinecones on our wedding cake.
- My mixed wreath designs will usually include a little cone or a cluster of cones as part of the decoration or focal point.
- My wired pinecone wreaths are everlasting, and are perfect both indoors and out, year round.
- The larger cones (Jeffry and Sugar Cones) are great displayed upright in a pot, or as a focal point in a swag or garland.
- I use them scattered in my tablescapes primarily in the fall and winter. My birds-eye maple bowl is filled with Sugar Cones and sits next to our bench in the our main living space, and in the same space, tiny hemlock cones fill one of my glass hurricanes on our media table.
- They also make great fire starters. This November at Refresh Market, I will be introducing Pinecone Fire Starters as part of my Aroma Bundle Kits. Each cone will be dipped in lavender infused beeswax and paired with my lavender aroma bundles. An ideal gift for those who enjoy having campfires or have a wood-burning fireplace.
- As if physical cones were not enough, I could not resist purchasing a pinecone illustration from The Fjord Store last year. Ahem… I plan to put this up in my office one of these days. Until then, a rectangle wooden tray filled with cones already sits on the dresser and a cloche of pinecones by a bedside table. What can I say? I can’t get enough of them!
There is a Pin for that!
I could go on forever about pinecones, and appreciate your time in allowing me to share my indulgence in nature’s most adorable ornaments. If you have caught my “cone bug” or are looking for more inspiration, head over to my Pinterest page. My Pinecone Board is filled with additional pins to satisfy any pinecone fetish. Happy hunting!