The noble fir cone

The cones of the Noble fir (Abies Procera) grow up from its branches like squat fireworks waiting to be lit. In October, they turn from the shade of purple blue found in the shadow of sea-clifffs to a mix of teak and lemon like an overripe pineapple. In a week or two, they will disintegrate, letting the wind take the seeds where it will. I cut one cone down before it was too late.

The defences are built against small predators. They must negotiate those spiral spiked railings, then penetrate between the woody layers of bracht scales to reach the seeds nestled close to the central pillar.

The grey squirrel doesn’t care about such trivialities: she will rip her way into the heart of the cone if she’s hungry. November is a battleground between the squirrel’s autumnal appetite and the speed of the cone’s ripening. This year the squirrels are sated and the cones are spared.

The bracht scales form a perfect spiral staircase, working to Fibonnaci’s famous sequence. Each feather-light pair of seeds lies snug on its bracht, protected by that curling grey lip. As packaging goes, it outdoes bubble-wrap.

Change the scale, and you have slabs of lichen-speckled granite up which the climber labours, girt with rope, drenched by the downpouring of water. One touch, and the slabs float free. A finger will do. The table on which the cone rests is bespeckled with drifted scales.

Soon the whole intricate spiral will fall apart as the wind breaks its last bonds, setting the winged seeds free. But these ones, I shall plant.


14 thoughts on “The noble fir cone

    • Abies Procera’s cones disintegrate. Other firs and pines do things differently. In dry weather the gap between the brachts opens so the seed can be caught by the wind. In wet weather, they close up tight.

  1. It is amazing how nature manage to plan shapes! A fir cone like a shell and all is so perfectly in place. I never tried starting trees from seed: I have no patience and not enough constance, so let us know how your experiment sorts like.

    • No different from starting plants from seed. In fact, rather easier, since many tree seeds germinate well. You can neglect them, or turn them into bonsai, or sell them, or start a forest…..

  2. So beautifully written. I do enjoy a good cone and still remember the mantra for distinguishing the two main types abies stand up, pinus hangs down which I always thought left the poor cedars and their equally magnificent spiralled cones, very confused. I gather noble fir cones from the botanics when I’m down, they smell divine and make for excellent kindling starters. Perhaps I should savour them a while longer rather than rubbing my hands with glee when I bag them thinking of the fiery splendour they will bring once dried. I am a philistine it would seem, although I’d never thought to eat them first……or grow them. Well not here, conifers suffer a long, drawn out soggy death. This is not the place for needled trees of any kind. Good luck with yours!

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