Holiday cones
holiday cones
December 6, 2013
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URBANA, Ill. – Many holiday decorations include pinecones, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“This year I’ve seen cones used in everything from wreaths, ornaments, table centerpieces, fireplace mantle accents, and cute pinecone animals,” said Rhonda Ferree. “Sometimes pinecones are spread with suet or peanut butter and sprinkled with birdseed to make a treat for the wild birds.”

Cones are the seeds of conifer plants. The word conifer is the common name used for a group of plants that possess seed-bearing cones. Examples of conifer plants that produce cones include pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, and cypress.

Cone type is different between and within the type of plant. The most commonly used cone is a pinecone. Mature cones on an Eastern White pine are 6 to 8 inches long by 2 inches wide. They are light brown with white tips on each cone scale. In the east, these cones sometimes grow much larger and are sold as Giant Eastern White pinecones that reach 6 to 8 inches long.

“The true giant cones typically come from Florida. Some of these mammoth beauties are up to 11 inches long and 16 inches around the base. Average ones are about 9 by 12 inches. They come in random colors of brown, gray, or red, and some have green tips,” Ferree said.

If looking for a small round cone, Ferree suggests using those from the Scotch pine. These are 1 to 2 inches tall by 1 inch in diameter. Colors vary from blonde to brown with red or gray tints. Scotch cones have a small pyramid prickle and a rounded bottom. For smaller cones, try those from a Mugo pine that are only 1 inch by 1 inch when mature.

Even smaller yet are the cones from the hemlock tree. Hemlock cones are one half inch around and come in chestnut brown to a dark brown/grayish color. “Hemlock cones are beautiful, sturdy little cones that some people say look like a little rose,” she said.

For a longer, cigar-shaped cone find a spruce tree. The Norway spruce produces the largest spruce cone at 3 to 6 inches long. The Colorado blue spruce cone is 2 to 4 inches long and has a softer, lighter appearance.

If you prefer a fancy cone, try the Douglas fir cone. The Douglas fir is not a true fir but is a relative of the Hemlock family. “The Douglas fir cones are 2 to 4 inches long and are very lightweight, with delicate, papery scales that also have distinctive three-pointed bracts that resemble the tail and hind feet of a mouse,” Ferree noted.

The color of Douglas fir cones range from a gray-brown to rust.

Another benefit of pinecones is the pine nuts. “Pine nuts are sometimes used in recipes, which I especially like in homemade pesto or sprinkled on a salad. Pine nuts come from pine tree pinecones, which are edible,” Ferree said.