Pine cones are amazing, right? I think I wouldn’t be wrong in assuming most women have a habit of collecting some beautiful woody ones when we happen upon them.
I mean why are they so pretty, yet sturdy and seem to have such a perfect design? After a while of contemplating a couple of large ones I had collected, I felt compelled to draw one.
It took me a few tries, but finally I came out with a watercolor illustration that I’m satisfied with. Drawing plants is a new habit of mine that I really enjoy. It helps you to understand the fine details of your subject and develop a deeper appreciation of it.
I was delighted to find out that this cone is from a White Pine tree, one of the first trees I learned to identify. Their needles are most commonly used for pine needle tea, and are said to contain 3-5 times more vitamin C than an orange.
Its surprising to me that I’ve lived around these trees my whole life and didn’t even know that they have edible and nutritional properties! I think this is the case for most people in North America, to be totally oblivious to nature their whole lives, and I think I will continue to have the same shock every time I learn a new edible species.
Anyways, one of the characteristics for identifying this tree is by its needles which grow in clusters of five.
After doing this study, I had to of course read all about White Pines and their cones, so the rest of this post is some interesting facts about that… If you’re ready to geek-out with me, read on …
I for one, was fascinated to find out – and I think you will be too, if you didn’t know it already – that all pine cones are female!
Okay, well there are male pine cones but they don’t look like what we think of as a pine cone. They are very small little tubular looking things that grow in clusters that come out in the spring.
On the Eastern White pine, the males are only 8-10 mm long, whereas the females grow up to 8 inches long at maturity.
The males have a very short lifespan of only a few weeks.The females on the other hand, can live for several years.
The male pollen cone clusters develop near the base of the tree, and the female ones are usually up higher. Males and females develop on the same tree, but their placement on different heights helps to prevent inbreeding.
Once a female cone is fertilized in the springtime by wind-borne pollen, it takes 12 to 13 months for the development of the seed. In August through September of the second year, the cone opens up its scales, releasing seeds into the wild which are dispersed by wind or squirrels. They then fall to the ground, and that’s when we collect them :).
White Pine trees produce female cones after about 5-10 years of age, and continue to do so every year after.
Other Special Things About White Pines
They are the Provincial tree for Ontario.
The White Pine was a sacred tree to Native American people. The inner bark is sweet and edible in the spring, and the seeds from the cones are nutritious. The bark and resin were used for medicinal properties, and also to make baskets and seal canoes.
They are the tallest tree in North America. When Europeans first arrived here, there were immense spans of White Pine trees, some of them growing up to 230 feet tall. Many of these ancient pines were cut down to make settlements and ships. They now grow up to 110 feet tall ( I guess that’s because the remaining ones are not as old?).
Europeans were able to survive from scurvy and nutritional deprivation because of evergreen tea given to them by Native American tribes.
The White Pine was a favorite tree of naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau, one of my favourite philosophers.