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Friday, February 11, 2011

Giant Pine Cones (Coulter Pine)


A lot of folks appreciate the mundane pine cone, including me, although I'm not quite sure what it is about it that intrigues me. The structure of a typical pine cone is interesting, but somehow seems like overkill for the purpose of holding some seeds. But evolution has forged it into what it needs to be to ensure the propagation of the trees. In its ripened form, the pine cone becomes a wood-like object, which maybe is why I find them so attractive (since I love working wood).

But there's one species of cone that draws attention- nay, awe - and respect from virtually everyone who sees it, and that's the Coulter Pine cone (California). It's the largest of all. With a length commonly in the 12 inch range (reportedly up to 16"), and diameters of 6 or more inches, these monsters can weigh 5 or more pounds when fresh.

I remember my introduction to these oddities. Years ago, a niece asked me where she could get some pine cones to put in a bowl for her fall dining room table. Here in New England, we have only a few species of pine, all with fairly small, unremarkable cones. Shortly after, I happened to be talking with my brother, who lives in California, and asked if he could get any large cones for her (mind you, my concept of a large cone was maybe 4" long, possibly 2" across). He said he was sure he could come up with some, and would mail them to me.

Was I perplexed when a box 4 feet long, and 2 feet high, showed up in my driveway one day? I'd say, "um, yup!". Inside that war chest was a collection of weapons the likes of which I had never imagined. And I only owed him $57 in postage! Thanks, Ron.

Staring back at me were various sizes of Coulter Pine cones, several of which were just incredibly dangerous looking things. The scales on these behemoths are, I'm sure, old bear claws. I can't imagine sitting under a Coulter Pine on a nice day, picnic basket propped open, anticipating a nice lunch in the sun with my gal. You "Holy Grail" fans- remember the line "...for death awaits you all, with nasty big pointy teeth" ? It applies.

At any rate, like I said, many of us are impressed with these giants, and we just have to have one on display. So I came up with a way to do that. I drill a hole down through the center of the cone and glue in a wooden dowel; then I turn a wooden base on the lathe and insert the other end of the dowel into a hole in the base. The cone can then be displayed (upside down) like a small Christmas tree. In fact, some people use them as a miniature Christmas tree.

Coulter Pine Cone on Oak Base
Coulter Pine Cone, Mulberry Base
Here's one (left) mounted on an Oak base. Notice how it dwarfs the coffee mug.
And one (right) on a Mulberry base.

You can see that there's still pine pitch on the scales (but it's dried and hardened, not sticky).

What do you think of them?

Cones like these are available at www.Timberturner.com.

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