Here’s something you may not know.

Pines and other coniferous trees do not really have flowers; but they do have male and female cones. The woody cone, called a strobilus, you are familiar with is the mature, seed bearing, female cone. The reddish purple strobili below are of the Western White Pine (Pinus monticola); Idaho’s state tree.

You might also notice a specimen of Idaho wildlife.

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Immature female strobili of Pinus monticola

Pineflower

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Male cones, which produce pollen, are usually herbaceous and may go unnoticed, even when mature, unless you look for them. The name “cone” derives from the fact that the shape in some species resembles a geometric cone. The individual plates of a cone are known as scales.

The male cones of most conifer species are rather similar. Female cones are more variable across species in both structure and color when immature. Female cones are often used to identify conifer species.

For most species, male and female cones occur on the same plant (tree or shrub), with female usually on the higher branches towards the top of the plant. This distribution is thought to improve chances of cross-fertilization, as pollen is unlikely to be blown vertically upward within the crown of one plant, but can drift slowly upward in the wind, blowing from low on one plant to higher on another plant. In some conifers, male cones additionally often grow clustered in large numbers together, while female cones are more often produced singly or in only small clusters.

A further characteristic arrangement of pines is that the male cones are located at the base of the branch, while the female at the tip (of the same or a different branchlet). However, in larches and cedars, both types of cones are always at the tips of short shoots, while both types of fir cones are always from side buds, never terminal.

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