How to locate male & female pine cones

Written by bonnie grant
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How to locate male & female pine cones
The female pine cone is the larger of the two and contains the seeds. (winter pine cone image by Mary Lane from

Pines are members of the Conifer family, and as such they produce cones as part of the reproductive cycle. Pines have both male and female cones. Female cones are larger than male cones and contain the ovules in the form of seeds. The small male cone lives only a few weeks, after which the pollen sack inside is released. The wind carries the pollen, with some of it hopefully landing in the scales of the female cones. You can walk in almost any evergreen forest and find cones littering the ground. One way to identify the cones is to harvest them directly from a pine tree.

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Things you need

  • Ladder
  • Gloves

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  1. 1

    Identify a pine tree by looking for a few characteristics. It must be evergreen, bear cones and have needles. The needles are bundled together in groups of two or five and are usually long and rounded. Proper identification of the tree is crucial so that the harvested cones can be verified as pine cones.

  2. 2

    Set up the ladder. You will have better luck finding both sexes a little off the ground. You don't need to go very high; however, as the higher cones drop first in wind gusts. Put on your gloves to protect your skin from sticky and hard-to-remove pine pitch. The gloves will also protect you from the needles.

  3. 3

    Look for a female cone, which is easier to recognise. It will have thick scales with a little barb at the end. If the cone scales are open, you can see the dark brown seeds with a membrane attached. Depending on the type of pine, the female can be as small as 1/2 inch or as big as 2 feet in length.

  4. 4

    Find a male cone. They will be small and set in the needles in a cluster formation. The colour is a more reddish brown, and the cluster looks like tiny cones in a bundle. Each tiny cone has scales, and they are soft in comparison to the female scales. Each scale will develop a pollen sac, where the pollen grains are formed. Pine pollen is a very fine, sulphur-yellow dust. The males may be easier to find in the spring.

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