Seed cones, or conifer cones, are commonly referred to as pine cones and contain the reproductive structures of conifer trees. Many people are familiar with the woody female cone; the female pine cone is the one that contains the seeds. Male cones are much less conspicuous and generally produce pollen.
Female cones more frequently represent a geometric cone, and the identification of seed cones can be important in naming certain types of conifer trees. All female seed cones share some characteristics that will help you identify them as such.
Look at the pine cone and check its scales. Seed cones of the pine family have scales that overlap one another in a spiral pattern, like those of fish. Look at the shape of the cone. Seed cones are conic, cylindrical or egg-shaped.
Determine the type of scales. Female cones have two types of scales: bract and seed or ovuliferous scales. Bract scales are modified leaves and develop first, earlier on in spring or summer; seed scales develop later and cover the bract scales to protect the ovules, which will develop into pine seeds.
Scales open temporarily to receive pollen, close during fertilization and reopen at maturity to allow seeds to escape.
Check for seeds within the cone. If seeds are present and the scales are open, the cone is mature. Many seed cones will dry out and fall to the ground once they have reached maturity, making them easier to find and identify.