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Looking Ahead: Conversations About Cones

A closeup of a white pine tree cone
The cone of a White Pine

The Collins Learning Center is decorated for the holidays, and we invite the community to come by each Saturday afternoon between 1:00-4:00 p.m. to see the handiwork of our volunteers and enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and fresh-popped popcorn. Board games will be set out and available for friends and family to partake in a bit of indoor recreation following an optional hike on the preserve. We will have the fire going indoors and a fire in the outdoor firepit in front of the Center, too.

Also Saturday afternoons, from 2:00-3:00 p.m., our Saturday Science programs will be offered for elementary-aged students and their families … or learners of any age for that matter. This week, our conversations will be about cones.

The Science of Pinecones

This topic came to mind on a recent hike when several visitors seemed puzzled to learn that evergreen trees grow from seeds. They thought baby Christmas trees grew from cones.

An old birdwatcher riddle (birder jokes often are worse than Dad jokes) goes something like: Where do baby evergreens come from? Wood storks bring them. (For those wondering, the wood stork is in fact a wading bird found in coastal areas of the southern United States. They’d have to make a journey worthy of Santa Claus to deliver our baby trees.)

Cones are a part of the actual answer to the above riddle. Evergreen trees are classified as conifers because they bear cones. Cones, however, are not seeds. Rather, they are specialized leaves called scales and they function as the evergreen equivalent of flowers.

A Scaly Situation

Most evergreens have male and female cones growing on the same tree. In spring, the male cones give off copious quantities of pollen, enough that our creek and puddles have a yellow scum on them for a couple of weeks. Once pollen is released, the male cones drop off.

Female cones grow at the tips of evergreen boughs. At first, they are red, but they turn green. If pollen floating through the air lands on the sticky female cones, the pollen grains grow little tubes into the ovules. This can take a while, from a couple of weeks up to a year, but when fertilization takes place, seeds develop under the scales of the cones.

Scales are ideal protection for developing seeds. They grow in perfect overlapping spirals, and as the seeds develop, the scales become brown and woody.

On most trees of our region, it takes two years for the seeds to mature. And when they do, they are tiny and light, usually having little wings that resemble tissue paper. The wings help the seeds blow from the parent trees.

Little mammals probably spread as many seeds as the wind. They carry or drag the cones from place to place, often stealing them from each other. Besides that, little rodents are notoriously messy eaters.

But where do baby Christmas trees come from? They come from tree nurseries.

Curiously, part of the land which now is Crossroads was once a Christmas tree farm … just one of many uses our land has seen since European settlement. And our Saturday Science group will hike to that area, if weather permits.

Looking Up Beyond the Trees

 On Tuesday, December 12, the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting. Tom Minahan will present the program, “When Are We Going Back to the Moon,” in which he will discuss the exciting Artemis Mission.

According to NASA, “The Moon is a 4.5-billion-year-old time capsule. With Artemis missions, we are exploring the Moon for scientific discovery, technology advancement, and to learn how to live and work on another world as we prepare for human missions to Mars … NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before.”

As always, our trails are open all day every day, free of charge. Check the Crossroads website calendar for upcoming events and details.


Upcoming Activities

Saturday, December 9

1:00-4:00 p.m. Fireside at Crossroads

Throughout December, get cozy at Crossroads on Saturday afternoons during our open hours. Stop in to warm up after a hike or to enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and some fresh-popped popcorn around the fire. Board games will be available for use. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay. Free and open to the public.


2:00 p.m. Saturday Science: Conversations about Cones

School-aged children, their families, and learners of all ages will gather to learn about the cones of evergreens found at Crossroads. Weather permitting, a hike will be offered, so dress for the weather. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay.


Tuesday, December 12

7:00 p.m. Meeting of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society

At the final meeting of 2023, Tom Minahan will present the program, “When Are We Going Back to the Moon,” in which he will discuss the Artemus Project. Meetings are free and open to the public. If skies are clear, viewing will follow the meeting. Meet at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center, 2200 Utah, Sturgeon Bay.

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