What is a pinecone? (with photos)

Pine cones are the reproductive organs of a pine tree.

The pinecone is an organ of the pine that contains its reproductive structures. Pines are just one of the coniferous or “cone-bearing” plants; others include cedars, spruces, cypresses and redwoods. Pine cones, like the reproductive organs of other conifers, come in male and female varieties. In most pine species, the male and female cones grow on the same tree. The trees of some species have cones predominantly of one sex, with some of the opposite sex.

pine cones.

Pinus is a genus of trees with about 115 species. Although they all produce cones, their size and appearance differ slightly, and male and female cones are also different from each other. The image most people associate with the pinecone, a woody, scaled structure, is actually the female structure. Male cones are smaller, more herbaceous and shorter-lived.

The sequoia is a common example of a coniferous tree.

The male cone is usually no more than 5 cm long and only lives for a few months in spring or autumn, depending on the pine species. It is covered by microsporangia or pollen sacs. After releasing its pollen, it falls from the tree.

After the male cones release their pollen, it travels through the wind to the female cones. After pollination, the female cone takes one and a half to three years to mature. Fertilization, the fusion of the sperm in the pollen with the ovary in the female seed, takes place one year after pollination. There are two seeds in each fertile scale of the female cone; the scales at either end of the cone are too small to support the seeds.

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Female cones are much sturdier than male ones as they are designed to last until the seeds are dispersed. In some species, fertilized seeds are stored for years. Mature female cones are typically 1 to 24 inches (3 to 60 cm) long.

Pine trees are just one of the plants with cones.

In most pine species, the mature female cones open to release their seeds when they reach maturity. Normally, the seeds have wings and are dispersed through the air. In some pine species, however, the seeds have only a vestigial wing and are dispersed by birds. Some pine trees require birds to open the cones for the seeds to be released.

Some species, known as fire climax pines, store fertilized seeds inside pine cones, which can only be opened in the heat of a wildfire. When a fire destroys living trees, the fiery climax pines release their seeds to repopulate the forest.

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