I am always amazed at how much there is to see when hiking the same trail over and over again. I was up at my Project Budburst site yesterday, checking on the progress of my plants. The ponderosa pine that I watch is in the process of opening its cones. I’d seen small cones developing on the tree, and I’d of course seen mature cones at the base of the trees. But I had never noticed this just-about-to-open stage of growth before.
The large woody ponderosa pine cones often remind people of a pineapple, although the two plants are about as distantly related as it is possible to get and still photosynthesize. Even at this early stage, you can see the small bristle on the end of the big scales.
Ponderosas produce relatively few cones every year. Because they produce only a few cones and therefore only a few seeds, ponderosas are determined to keep animals from getting the seeds. To protect their seeds, each pine cone scale has a small bristle at the end of it.
Just a few days older, this cone has opened, and is drying out. Soon, it will fall to the ground. Eventually, the seeds will work their way out of the cone, hopefully to be one of the lucky few to slide into a protected crack in the rocks before they are gobbled up by a squirrel or jay.