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California Pine Cone Identification

By Kim Dieter ; Updated September 21, 2017
Juniper trees have fleshy seed cones that look like small blue berries.
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Conifer trees produce male and female cones. The small male cones produce pollen and often stay on the trees for only a few weeks. The more prominent female cones contain the tree seeds. A cone usually consists of tightly packed woody scales that protect the seeds inside. It may take several years for female cones to mature on the tree. During that time the cones change color and size. Of the numerous conifers in California, 12 trees are common forest trees with widely varying cones.

Largest Cones

Sugar pine cones are considered one of the largest cones in the world. They measure 16 to 26 inches long. Another massive cone is found on gray pine trees. The cones measure 8 to 12 inches and some weigh over 2 lbs.

Fir Cones

Douglas, white and red firs grow in California. The red fir cones are the largest of the three types of firs. The 6- to 9-inch cylindrical shaped cones fall apart when mature. This is also true of the 3- to 5-inch cones on white fir. Red and white fir cones that stand erect on tree branches are rarely found on the ground. The 3- to 5-inch cones on Douglas firs have three-pronged bracts that cover the cone sides.

Pine Cones

Ponderosa pines have oval, 5-inch cones with pointed tips that curve outward. Jeffery pines have pointed tips that curve inward on the 5- to 9-inch cones. Lodgepole pine cones are small, 1 to 2 inches long. Lodgepole cones are tightly closed until heated in a fire. Then the cones open and all of the seeds are released.

Giant Trees

Coast redwood trees grow up to 375 feet tall but have 1-inch cones with 14 to 24 tiny seeds. The huge giant sequoias have slightly larger egg-shaped cones, measuring 2 to 4 inches.

Unusual Shapes

Incense cedar trees have 3/4-inch cones with flat, bill-shaped sides. The mature cones look like tiny flying geese. Western juniper tree cones look like berries. The small blue-black female cones contain one to four brown seeds.


About the Author


Kim Dieter has taught agriscience classes, developed curriculum and participated in the school accreditation process at the secondary and community college levels since 1980. She holds a Master of Science degree from the University of California, Davis, in animal science.