South Bend Tribune: Look up the next time you pass a pine tree in Michiana — chances are it’s loaded with cones.
Conditions this season are ripe for an abundance of these woody reproductive organs of pine trees, and they’ll soon fall to the ground in both urban and forested areas.
Why so many? Lindsey A. Purcell, urban forestry specialist with Purdue University’s Forestry and Natural Resources Department, said some of the abundance could be the natural two-year, cone-producing cycle of conifers.
One year there’s few, if any, cones, while the following year the trees go into a seed-producing frenzy.
But more pine cones can also mean the trees are producing more reproductive seeds as a way to deal with the stress of a dry or changing climate.
It’s a matter of survival: The tougher, drier the season, the stronger the urge for the trees to reproduce through seeds so the species can survive.
“Drought conditions creates stress, and a lack of water seems to be an important stressor,” Purcell said.
Central Indiana has drought conditions this season, but northern Indiana areas near South Bend have fared better.
Trees have male and female cones. The males produce the pollen, while the female cones are often seen in the upper portions of conifers and hold the seeds that propagate the species.
Once pollinated, the tree’s female cones develop as the seeds mature, and they are usually conical or round-shaped. The individual plates on the cones, known as scales, keep the seeds safe from weather extremes and hungry animals until it’s warm and dry enough to release them to grow into new trees.
The cones are the protective coatings for the seeds, shielding them from water, wind and harsh conditions.
Most pine cone seeds are edible and not poisonous, but experts say Norfolk Island pine and yew trees are not true pine trees and both are toxic and should be avoided.
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Ask an Expert: Tree Selection and Planting, Purdue Extension – Forestry and Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube Channel
Planting Your Tree Part 1: Choosing Your Tree, Purdue extension-FNR YouTube Channel
Tree Installation: Process and Practices, The Education Store
Tree Pruning Essentials, The Education Store
Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources