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How long does it take for a pine cone to go from green to brown?

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
September 18, 2015


How long does it take for a pine cone to go from green to brown?

Pinecones_DirectorsBlog8Blink an eye, miss a week at the Arnold Arboretum, or neglect to do a turn around your own garden or back woods for a few days, and those flowers you were so looking forward to are faded, or the fruits have dried and fallen before you even had a chance to commune with them.

I have been spending a good deal of time in the conifers recently, and want to share some of the ephemeral events in the lives of a pine tree, spruce, and larch. I tend to think conifers move along slowly compared with flowering plants, but close observation proved me wrong. In this case, skip a week, and I might have missed the dramatic transition from immature to mature cones.

Have a look at Larix x marschlinsii, the Dunkheld hybrid larch (11278*A), on September 1. Side by side, green and light brown cones, suggesting that the final process of cone maturation moves along quite quickly. Even more startling, Picea rubens, the red spruce of eastern North America (1369-85*B), with cones that are turning from green to brown, one cone scale at a time – caught halfway through the process (half green and half brown). And finally, Pinus peuce, the Macedonian pine (396-88*B), photographed on August 27 and then on September 1. Not even a week between visits to this tree and the transition from green to brown and from tightly closed (and narrow) to wide open cones shedding seeds is complete. Make sure to look at the magnificent resin that coats these pine cones. It was hot on those days, and it seemed as if the cones were literally melting!

-Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum

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