Male Cones – Conifers Have Both Male and Female Cones

male cones

Here is a male cone. Photo via Flickr.

Conifer trees have both male cones and female cones that look very different from each other.  These are necessary for conifers to reproduce.

I wonder if you have ever noticed some strange looking cones on a pine tree in the spring time?  I’ve seen them and before I knew what they were they confused me.  I surmised that maybe those were just not fully formed or mature pine cones.  Little did I know that those strange looking cones were in fact fully mature male cones.

male conesHow Do Conifers Reproduce?

I just want to remind you how conifers or pine trees reproduce before I explain the two different types of cones on conifers.

Conifers are a seed bearing tree, which means that they reproduce by making new seeds.  The seeds are produced inside of the female cones.  In order for this to happen the female cone needs to be pollinated by the pollen from the male cone.  Once pollinated, the female cone will develop seeds.

male cones

A male cone on a pine tree in the spring.

Male Cones

The male cones appear on the trees in the spring time.  The male cones are smaller than the female cones that we typically think of when we think of pine cones.  These cones are softer and are only on the trees in the spring.  After they release their pollen they die away and disappear.

These male cones contain lots and lots of pollen.  Once they are ready, and the wind blows, a cloud of pollen will move from these male cones and hopefully land on a female cone.

male cones

A mature female cone on a Douglas fir tree.

Female Cones

These are the cones that we typically think of when we think of pine cones.  These female cones come in a variety of shapes and sizes on the different types of trees and can be used to identify the tree.

Once a female cone has been pollinated a seed will slowly develop.  It may take up to two years for the seed to fully develop and be ready to disperse.  Then when mature, the cone will have scales and look like what we think of as a pine cone.  Each scale of the pine cone has a seed at its base.

Do Trees Have Both Male And Female Cones?

Yes, usually a conifer tree has both male and female cones.  Often the male cones are located towards the bottom of the tree and female cones towards the top.

The reason for this is to hopefully, prevent a tree from self pollinating.  In other words to keep the pollen from male cones pollinating the female cones of the same tree.  This will increase the genetic diversity and give the trees a greater likelihood of survival.