White Pine Pollen and Cones

I was out on the Kickapoo with some friends recently, and the white pine got our attention. It’s that time of year with every branch is studded with new….. what do you call them? flowers? catkins? cones? That got us talking.

Are they immature cones? They sure look like it- a Fibonacci spiral that’s just beginning to show itself.

But surely they aren’t “cones”, I thought. Cones are the female reproductive organs that hold the seeds. These are the male parts- the pollen producers.

Then another friend chimed in about the health benefits of pine pollen and how she heard there’s a difference between the male and female cones.

Hmm.. I had to do some fact checking. I’d never heard of MALE pine cones!

So here’s what I found:

Folks are indeed calling the male pollen-producing apparatus of a pine tree ‘cones.’   They’re not what I think of as a true ‘cone’ though. The aren’t like the ones people use for holiday decorations  (those are female) – male ‘cones’ look more like fuzzy caterpillars when they’re mature.  I was right about the function though- males produce the pollen, which is carried by the wind to the female cones. The seeds in the female cones then disperse (via gravity or birds) when the female cones mature and pop open to launch their offspring out into the world.
And that notion of pine pollen having health benefits- well it seems like kind of big deal. People are harvesting it all over- just look it up online and you’ll find all sorts of info. Who knows,  it might even be the new Chaga!