Gateway to the Classics: Trees and Shrubs by Arabella B. Buckley
Trees and Shrubs by  Arabella B. Buckley

Trees Which Bear Cones

Pines, firs, and larches grow in almost all parts of England. They are very interesting and useful trees. They all form their seeds in woody cones, and their leaves are very narrow or needle-shaped, quite unlike the leaves of most other trees.

A large part of the timber we use comes from pines and firs, grown in Norway and other countries. It is called pine-wood and deal. No doubt you have noticed the small round pieces called "knots" in deal, and have poked them out, leaving a hole. These are places where branches grew and broke off, and then the trunk closed round them; they are common in deal and pinewood. The sap in these trees is very resinous and they are tapped for turpentine. If you walk in a pine wood, or crush the leaves of a pine or fir, you will notice the strong scent of this resinous juice.

Every country child has picked up fir cones, and you may easily find three different kinds, those belonging to the Scotch pine, the Spruce fir, and the Larch. Of these three, only the Scotch pine is a native of Great Britain, the other two have been brought from abroad.

There were once dense forests of Scotch pine in England, but these have been cut down long ago, and the pine woods we have now, have grown up from the seeds of trees brought from the great forests in Scotland, Norway, and France. It is a tall tree with spreading branches and a trunk covered with a red or brown scaly bark. Perhaps you know it as Scotch fir, for people confuse these two names, and call the same tree "pine" or "fir," though you may know the difference if you look at the cones.

The dark-green leaves of the Scotch pine are very narrow, and about two inches long (see coloured plate). They grow two together in a sheath of brown scales. Its cones have no stalks, and they bulge out at the bottom, and taper away to a blunt point at the upper end. They are made of a number of thick woody scales which look as if they were folded back at the top, making a solid thick knob with a brown scaly spot where the tip ends (see p. 45). These scales fit over each other so tightly that, before the cone is ripe, not even a drop of rain can get in, and they take two or three years to ripen. Sometimes they hang all the time on the tree. Sometimes they fall off earlier. As they ripen, the woody scales bend outwards and you can see two thin, transparent scales inside each, which look like the wings of a fly. They stand upright against the woody scale.

Slip a knife carefully down under these, right to the bottom and pull them out. You will find a seed at the end of each, if you have not broken the tender translucent membrane.

For these are winged seeds, which have no seed-box over them, but grow naked inside the woody scale. After a time they fall out and are blown away by the wind. If you get a cone that is too old they will be gone.

All trees with cones have these winged seeds, and the cones of true pines are very much alike. You will easily know the Cluster pine, which has been brought from France and is found in many English woods among the Scotch pines. Its large cones grow in clusters round the branches, four or sometimes eight, together. They are larger and browner than the cones of the Scotch pine and they often remain a great many years on the tree.

The Spruce fir (2, p. 45) is very different from the Scotch pine. Its spreading branches grow nearly down to the ground, and its needle-shaped leaves, which are barely an inch long grow singly on the stem. Its cones are long and narrow and the scales are not so thick as in pines. But the chief difference is that the tips are not bent back into knobs, they are pointed and bend in a little, and by this you may know fir-cones from pine-cones.


Scotch Pine and Cones - Spruce Fir and Cones

The firs have two seeds inside each scale like the pine, but these ripen in one year. The spruce fir came from Norway, and now grows all over England.


Larch Twig Bearing Cones

The Larch, which came from Switzerland, and the Cedar, which came from Lebanon in Palestine, both grow their seeds in cones, but they are rather different from the pines arrd firs. Their needle-leaves are very thin and grow in tufts eighteen or twenty together in the same sheath of scales. The cones of the cedar stand upright and are shaped like an egg, but the tree does not often bear cones in England.

Larch cones are quite small, not more than an inch in length; they grow along the twigs in a row. The woody scales do not fit very tightly together.


Twigs of Yew

I think you can find the cones of all these trees except the cedar. Of course you must look for fir and larch cones in the autumn, because they ripen each year, but pine-cones are on the trees all the year round. If you look at any of these trees in the spring and early summer, you will see their stamen-catkins hanging from the branches, and the yellow pollen blowing about in clouds so as to fall on the young cones.

Pines, firs, and cedars are evergreen trees. Their leaves remain on the tree three years or more; and as the branches are not of the same age, the leaves fall off in different years, so that the trees are always green. But the larch sheds its leaves every year, and you may easily know it, in the autumn by its bare drooping boughs covered with small brown cones.

Pines and firs will flourish in very poor soil and their seeds grow up easily. If you are near a pine wood, or a wood of mixed trees with pines or firs in it, try and find a seedling tree. It is curious to look at, for it shoots up with a long, thin stalk, and carries up the seed-coat with it. When this coat falls off, you see five or six long seed-leaves underneath, and in the middle of them a bud with the real pine or fir leaves.

There is another tree which you know well, which has needle-shaped leaves. They grow all round the stem, two together in each sheath, but they are flattened down on two sides of the stem like the featherlets of a feather. This is the Yew tree (see p. 49), which you find so often in church-yards. It does not bear cones. Its naked seeds sit each one in a red juicy cup. The stamen-catkins are not on the same tree as the red cups, but if you search well you will find them on another yew tree.

Bring in a bunch of the Scotch pine and the Spruce fir. Compare the cones of the two trees. Try to find a branch of Cedar, a branch of the Larch with cones, a seedling pine or fir, a branch of Yew with stamen flowers in March, and another with the red cup and naked seed in the autumn.

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