Toward responsible acquisition of large pine cones
June 14, 2010 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Acquisition of a big pine cone.

I am traveling all around the North American West this summer. Somewhere out here (where?) I understand there to be enormous pine cones---a foot long or so. I would like such a cone, but many ages ago I seem to recall hearing that removing these cones from their natural settings was ecologically irresponsible. Is there a responsible way to retrieve or purchase one of these pine cones for myself? Where should I go? Thanks!
posted by Chef Flamboyardee to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you mean a Coulter pine cone. I didn't see anything specifically endangered about them, but I just did a quick google search. Maybe call or email the specific parks you are visiting and ask if it's ok to take a cone?
posted by funfetti at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2010

You are probably thinking of the cones of the sugar pine. They grow all along the west coast (inland to the Sierra Nevada). While national and state park laws make it illegal to take them from where you find them, you would almost certainly be able to buy such a pine cone at a roadside novelty shop somewhere—maybe outside Yosemite?
posted by cirripede at 7:38 PM on June 14, 2010

Yea, sugar pines and their giant cones are pretty common where I grew up (the west shore of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada). There is concern about Blister Rust, but I could not speak about any cone removal fines, but I’m no authority.

For what it’s worth, as kids in the 80s we would trek out into woods, fill a wagon with these things and bring them into town and sell them to tourists for a buck a pop. We never got hassled by the sheriffs or rangers.
posted by Widepath at 8:00 PM on June 14, 2010

Sugar pine cones are huge, at least a foot long and there are gazillions of them laying about in Sequoia National Park (a few hrs NE of LA; a great place with amazing redwoods). I don't think picking a few from the forest floor will seriously impact the ecological balance; they are renewable.
posted by j810c at 8:14 PM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: According to this page, you're allowed to gather a few cones ("for personal use") in Sequoia National Forest but not in Sequoia National Park. Go figure.
posted by mhum at 8:20 PM on June 14, 2010

According to this page, you're allowed to gather a few cones ("for personal use") in Sequoia National Forest but not in Sequoia National Park. Go figure.

National Forest: OK to gather firewood, wear a side arm, file a mining claim.

National Park: Restrictions on firewood gathering, side arms, and mining. Just in case, y'know, you felt there was a huge vein of gold beneath Half Dome and you wanted to defend it with force after you'd dug it up.
posted by mosk at 9:05 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The cones of the Coulter pine are far more imposing than those of the sugar pine (Coulter Pines produce the largest cones of any pine tree species (people are actually advised to wear hardhats when working in Coulter Pine groves), although the slender cones of the sugar pine are longer); the Coulter, or Big-cone pine cones are just massive (up to 10 pounds), have extremely sharp barbs and are very stiff and generally resistant (I'd have to give some kind of prize to a squirrel who could live on them, but I wouldn't want to present it in a darkened attic).

Because of the size of their cones they are pretty common in institutional plantings-- I have two cones I picked up on the University of Washington campus right under the tree they grew on-- and the best time to look for them is after a big wind. The huge cones look ridiculous sitting out at the end of slender branches radiating from a thick trunk until you realize the dispersal strategy is flinging the cone from a slender whipping branch during a windstorm.

Monkey puzzle cones look even more formidable, but I've never had the chance to hold one in my hands.
posted by jamjam at 11:33 PM on June 14, 2010

I think the Coulter Pine cones are called "widow makers".
posted by jvilter at 6:57 AM on June 15, 2010

Heck, I'll mail you a sugar pine cone.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:55 AM on June 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone! All answers are good---the ones I marked "best" are just the ones listing the courses of action I'm likely to take.

Thanks, HeyAllie, for the offer! I thought about it, but I decided that I'd miss the thrill of the hunt.

Bonus question for everyone: do you know how many pine cones there are in the Soviet Union?
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2010

Nice. Surfing AskMe has now inspired me to stake a mining claim. Francisco D'Anconia, eat your heart out.
posted by joecacti at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2010

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