Friday, August 14, 2015

An Experiement ~ Lodgepole Pine Cones

When we were hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, E found a cone from a lodgepole pine tree on the trail. He was fascinated by the cone's shape--scales tightly packed like mini pyramids all around the cone; so unlike our long, loose, and flaky white pine cones. I told him that often lodgepole pine cones requite fire to release the seeds and this fascinated him too. He liked the cone so much, he carried it with him all through the rest of our long hike and back to the campground.
That evening, we had a small fire using wood that had been left behind in our site by a previous camper (we did not lug a cord of wood 2500 miles, like we usually do when we camp). After the flames died down to coals, we placed the cone on the grill to see if the heat would release the scales and, sure enough, after a few moments, the cone blossomed open. We took it off the grill and, after it cooled down a bit, E shook out the seeds--tiny little flakes--and C took him up the hill behind our campsite to plant the seeds. They came back with two more cones which we subjected to the same heat treatment.

Lodgepole pines (and other conifer tree species) in Colorado (and throughout the west) are suffering--over the last several years they've been attacked by pine bark beetles. Warmer winters have allowed the beetles to flourish and dryer conditions have made it harder for the trees to expel the larvae with sap. In lodgepole-dominated areas, the hillsides had turned rust-colored a few years ago. Now that the needles have fallen from the trees they appear gray and the devastation is less noticeable. The Park Service has removed trees from campgrounds and picnic areas and other high-traffic areas to prevent deaths and injury from tree falls. I'm not sure if our campground, which is fairly new, was originally unwooded, or if the trees were felled to make way for campsites, but planting a few lodgepole seeds out there felt like a small act of faith, a giving back to the land that we love.

You can read more about the bark beetle outbreak here.


  1. What a lovely thing to do, giving Mother Nature a helping hand. I love bringing pine cones inside and watching as they slowly open. We often have them on our dining room table, and can here then crackling as they open. Love that sound :)

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. What a easy and informative experiment to do with your kids.


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