Cones are cool. They are great for craft projects. They are beautiful. They are full of seeds for wildlife to eat. Where do they come from? There are really two different kinds of plants that have seeds.
1. Flowering plants make seeds that are inside of a fruit. Cones are not fruit.
2. Some non-flowering plants make seeds which are not inside of a fruit. The official scientific name of these plants is gymnosperm (sounds like jim-no-sperm) which means naked seed. Some people call them conifers because many of them have their seeds on cones. Some, like the common yew don't have cones. So they are not really conifers. Gymnosperm is still the best name for the seed plants that do not have true flowers or true fruits.
Go outdoors and look for cones. Look under pine trees, spruce trees, hemlocks and fir trees. Notice that these trees are all green during the winter. Because of this, some people call gymnosperms evergreens. This is not a very good name for them either. Not all are evergreen. For example, larch trees are gymnosperms with cones but they have needles which turn color and drop off in autumn. So we are kind of stuck with the name gymnosperm.
Are the scales of the cones you find tightly closed or spread open? Look at the cone from one end. Can you see how the scales are arranged? Does it look like a spiral?
If the scales have spread open, can you see any seeds still inside? What does the seed look like? Does it have a way to move on the wind? If you pull a scale off, how many little cups or hollow spots are underneath? If each of these held a seed, how many seeds were under each scale? How many scales does the cone have? How many seeds do you think the cone had? How many cones can you find on one tree? How many seeds do you think that tree made?
If you find cones that still have their scales tightly closed, you should be able to get them to open up by warming them near a radiator or heat vent for a few days. The seeds can then be shaken onto a piece of newspaper and saved. Take a few seeds outside and throw them up into the air. What happens? Do they fall right to the ground? Do they spin? Do they blow along on the wind at all? How would this help the tree?
Put the seeds in moist sand in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a month or two. Take them out and plant them in soil. Do they grow? Can you find a place to plant them outside in the spring?
Visit our Peeking at Pines page to see how cones begin to grow.
Some animals like to eat the seeds which are found in cones. Watch any trees with cones on them in the winter. Do any birds come and reach into the cones with their beaks? Have you ever found cones that have had all the scales chewed off? What animal do you think did this?
Some people make things out of cones. You can tie a string on a cone and then spread peanut butter on it and hang it out to feed the birds. Some people like to dip the peanut butter covered cones in birdseed before hanging them out.
Cones can be used for craft projects. Check out this website or you can come up with your own craft ideas.