Archive for November 1st, 2013

November 1, 2013

Weekend Nature Challenge: Collecting Cones

by Melissa Harding
IMG_1663O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
– October, Robert Frost

The humble pinecone spends most of its life on the ground, experiencing a bit of short-lived glory affixed to a wreath or scented with cinnamon during the winter holidays, only to be quickly discarded for flashier bits as soon as it has outlived it festive flare. What an unfair neglect of the pinecone. This ordinary little tree part is far more than meets the eye and, if you look carefully, it can tell you an incredible story. To begin with, pine trees are not the only plants to produce cones. All coniferous trees, from spruces to hemlocks to fir, create cones as part of their reproductive cycle. Most conifers have both male and female cones; male cones normally form in small, soft clusters every spring, whereas the bigger, woody cones are female. Female cones start out small and sticky like male cones, but harden and become woody after fertilization to protect the seeds inside.  When female cones are mature, they open up their bracts and release the seeds inside to be dispersed by wind and rain. After they have completed their purpose, they fall to the ground.  Cones of all kinds are an important food sources for a variety of woodland critters, as well as humans, who eat pine nuts in sauces and salads.

This weekend, we challenge you and your family to collect as many cones as you can. Take a hike through your neighborhood or local park to find cones from many different trees; scour the ground to find those that are already open and look up in the trees for those that aren’t.  When you bring the cones indoors, you will be able to observe how each cone is able to detect just the right conditions for dispersing seeds. Watch what happens as the cones warm indoors; move them outside and observe the effect of cold temperatures and humidity. Look for signs of animal snacking on your cones. Use a magnifying glass to examine the woody texture. You’ll be amazed at how much there is to learn about a simple pinecone!

Take the next few days to explore the your neighborhood for cones. What did you notice about the cones that you found? Did you find any cool critters or other things of note? Tell us in the comments below.

Above photo was taken by Melissa Harding.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers

%d bloggers like this: