Jun 24, 2003 22:11 PDT 
Hello gang,

Two days ago while walking through a mixture of rain, sleet, hail and snow
(the first moisture I have seen since arriving in CA three weeks ago) as well
as dodging lightning bolts with a handful of sooted aluminum track plates in my
hands I was surprised by a large Jeffries Pine Cone that fell from the sky
crunching heavily into a large rock not far from my head. The experience got me
to thinking. No, not about gravity. What I was wondering is what has lead
these western pines to develop such large, heavy duty cones in their various forms
while our eastern pines are much smaller and more delicate for the most part.

I was also wondering why firs seem to hold their upright cones until they are
eaten away by birds and squirrels while pines are quicker to drop their load.

Re: Cones    Don Bertolette
   Jun 25, 2003 21:13 PDT 

Study up on Coulter pines before entering their habitat in a windstorm!
While I've no text support handy, my recall has it that these western pines have the heaviest of cones ranging up to 15 pounds, with tight scales turning outward an inch or so, and functioning much like a mace would.

I wouldn't rely on run of the mill hard hats for protection, as I believe they would both overwhelm the suspension system with their weight, and puncture the hat as well...
Let's see, mechanisms of dispersal...upright cones eaten by birds and squirrels, heavy pine cones tending to the lower elevational ranges in mountainous terrain, subject to gravity, gaining momentum...

Re: Cones    Don Bertolette
   Jun 26, 2003 20:54 PDT 

Here's another factoid...Park rangers down at Phantom Ranch often bring a small battery powered black light for nightime of the surprising features of the scorpion is it's exoskeleton fluoresces under a black light...dozens of scorpions appear almost as if by magic, as they are otherwise quite good at remaining unseen.

Re: Cones    Don Bertolette
   Jun 26, 2003 21:04 PDT 
A quick internet search yielded a couple of pages of commercial coulter pine cone offerings, which makes me concerned for their continued reproductive options!
The following factoids came from

The cones will remain closed (cone scales tightly tucked together) until the cone is mature and for a variable length of time after maturity is reached (depending on species. Generally, the heat of the summer will cause the cones to open - exposing the individual shape of the cone scales.

Which make sense, as an unopened cone would roll farther, aiding dispersal of to size, I'm still looking!
RE: Cones    Paul Jost
   Jun 26, 2003 21:32 PDT 

Did you just answer your own question? It makes sense that large, heavy,
round cones that are closed when they fall would roll a long way down a
mountain to disperse seeds. In the mostly non-mountainous east, rolling
cones would not be a significant advantage for seed dispersal. In the
mountainous west, this would greatly help to spread seeds. A larger cone
would give it more momentum to roll farther on uneven or rough slopes that
would stop a small, light cone. In the east, seeds are dispersed by animals
and the wind. In the west, they are dispersed by mother nature doing a
little bowling! Go figure!!

Paul Jost
Re: Cones
   Jun 27, 2003 20:23 PDT 

The coulter pines I ran into on the southern portions of the Pacific Crest
Trail did grow in very dry conditions. I also remember piles of the giant cones
in small gullies and depressions at the bases of hills. Seems like the bowling
ball theory has some merit.