Forestry Friday … When Is A Pine Cone Not A Pine Cone?

When is a pine cone not a pine cone? The answer,… when it’s not! Folks often see a conifer cone and call it a pine cone, but in reality it may not be a pine cone. There are many types of conifers that aren’t pines, such as spruce, true fir, hemlock and Douglas-fir to name a few.

Pondersosa pine, pine cone, pen and ink, ink, drawing

Ponderosa pine cone in pen and ink.

So why do so many folks refer to all conifer cones as pine cones? Apparently, the pines won the branding contest. In the UK many people call refer to vacuum cleaners as Hoovers, in the USA many people call all colas Cokes and conifer cones are pine cones.
Pine cones have thick scales with a little point called an umbo. These images are some of our local pines.

cones, pine cones, Ponerosa pine, forestry

Ponderosa pine cones are the classic western pine cones.

cones, pine cones, sugar pine, forestry

Sugar pine cones are the longest pine cones and reach 24 inches long. Sugar pine are a member of the white pine family.

cones, pine cones, gray pine, digger pine,, forestry

Gray pine cones are large heavy cones that are very common in the foothills of California.

cones, pine cones, knobcone pine, forestry

Knobcone pine cones are serotinous cones. Serotinous cones can remain attached to the tree for years and open after fire. These trees are referred to as fire pines.

cones, pine cones, Lodgepole pine, forestry

Lodgepole pine are another fire pine. The cones are usually less than 2 inches wide.

cones, pine cones, big cone pine , Coulter pine, forestry

Several years ago my youngest son climbed a Coulter pine tree to collect these beauties. Coulter pine is also called “big cone pine”, because they have the biggest cones of all, up to 10 pounds. These cones resemble a medieval mace.

Many of the non-pine species have thin scales with no point. These are some images of our local non-pine conifers.

Cones, true fir, white fir, fir cones

White fir cones disintegrate when they’re ripe. White fir is a true fir. True fir cones stand upright on the limb.

Cones, true fir, white fir, fir cones

It is rare to find intact true fir cones on the ground. This one was cut out of the tree by a squirrel.

cones, mountain hemlock, hemlock, hemlock cones

Mountain hemlock have a thin scaled small cone.

Douglas-fir, cones, Douglas-fir cones, forestry

Douglas-fir cones have extended bracts that stick out between the scales.

spruce, Sitka spruce, spruce cones

Sitka spruce cones also have thin scales. These spruce grow on the west coast from California to Alaska.

incense cedar, cedar cones, forestry, wooden pencils

Incense cedar have tiny cones. Incense cedar is used for making wooden pencils.

This is a small sample of some of our local conifers. Next time someone calls a non-pine cone a pine cone, you’ll be ready to give them a forestry lesson.

golden retriever

It just seems right to end this post with a picture of Blitz. She’s still here in spirit.


62 thoughts on “Forestry Friday … When Is A Pine Cone Not A Pine Cone?

  1. Awesome post! Love the pen and ink sketch. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and think you are so unique and talented! Great photos of your son and of sweet Blitz 🙂


  2. I love Douglas fir cones. There is an Indian tale about this tree. Summed up:
    Back when animals and plants talked, there was a great fire in the forest. A group of mice asked the maple if they could climb up to be saved from the fire, the maple replied, I can’t help you, I will burn also. So the mice ran to the fir and asked the same question, to which the Douglas fir replied, sure my thick bark will survive the fire, climb up and hide in my cones! To this day, you can see the little mouse legs and tails hanging out from thier hiding spot.
    Happy weekend!


    • I know, I totally and intentially avoided both the redwoods. I went back through my photo archives and didn’t have any pictures to use. Next time I’m over you can bet I’ll be taking some pictures. I knew someone would mention the redwoods. I just have to do another post!


      • One is a blue spruce. The other has drippy branches. The cones don’t have the umbo you speak of. I even went into the backyard to check. So, it must be a conifer because what I have are conifer cones. The branches on the second conifer hang down, drippy like. I love it. Both trees are quite large, now.


          • Skinny (narrow), soft and the parts that open up are thin but more firm than a leaf would be. The closest looking one that you have above is the Sitka Spruce. The branches of this tree flow outward like a Christmas tree would, forming that overall triangular shape, but the tinier branches that hold the leaves or needles droop downward off that main branch. Ha! I just looked it up on images online. It is a Serbian Spruce.


  3. I’m so very sorry to hear about Blitz 😦 I loved the picture of her at the end. And I must say, I just got an education in cones. I never knew that a pine cone wasn’t always a pine cone. I find stuff like this fascinating. Hope you have a great week.


    • Thank you Kirsten. I try to bring new things up for folks that don’t get to do what I do, so I appreciate the comment. It was tough losing Blitz, she was too young. I wouldn’t have included her picture, but that one was too perfect for the post.


  4. Thanks for your post. I know a little more about pine cones and cones. I have read somewhere that trees come with thick barks because of frequent fires. Is it for all trees ? Nice sketch.
    I had taken Muir Trail some years ago and saw some old sequoia and was impressive.


  5. I can;t resist picking up pine cones … but none so impressive as that one in your photo Tim !!
    Seems Blitz was the same . I do hope the gap is getting a little easier day by day x


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