2016-12-15 / From The Garden

Pine Cones, Nature’s Ornaments

By Cynthia Gibson

Large sugar pine cones make beautiful decorations for hanging on the mantel, over a mirror, or on a door. Large sugar pine cones make beautiful decorations for hanging on the mantel, over a mirror, or on a door. There is so much sparkle at the holiday season, at times we forget about the beauty nature has to offer for decoration. It should not be taken for granted. Consider the pine tree that comes with its very own ornaments!

A pine cone is an incredible piece of architecture. It is proportioned in its very own way. When closed, it is simply an ovate shape, but when it opens it resembles a wooden flower.

The sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), said to be the largest existing pine tree, produces the largest variety of pine cones. They are about six inches in diameter and can be a foot or more long. The tree itself grows up to 200 feet tall, with a diameter of seven feet. They grow in California, Washington, Oregon, and all the way down the West Coast to Baja, California and Mexico. The largest pine groves are found in central California in the Sierra Nevadas. All you need are three of these dried beauties in a bowl, with a few greens tucked in. Add a ribbon if you must.

Sugar pines get their name from the sap the tree exudes, as it dries it crystalizes and looks like rock candy or sugar lumps on the trees. What is unusual about the sap of this tree is that it is on the sweet side. Native American Indians and early settlers of the West Coast would chew it like gum. If some of the "gum" is still on the cones when they arrive, do not place them on wood.

The more typical, round-shaped pine cones are Jeffersons. They are usually four to nine inches in height. Use florist wire to hang them from your tree or to add to a wreath. I plan on putting mine in a bowl and drizzling a few drops of "Scent of the Tree" on them.

Douglas fir pine cones are far smaller. These pine cones are best kept away from children because of the soft barbs on the ends of each wooden petal. They have a very nice fragrance, so I add them to my greens that I place in tall vases.

The most prolific of all pines on Aquidneck Island are the Norway spruce with their elongated pine cones. At St. Mary’s Church in Portsmouth, the pines line an entire side of the church. Their boughs are laboring under the masses of cones this year.

There is a small white pine in my yard that makes the tiniest, most fragile pine cones I have ever seen. It is time to go out and see how many there are this year. I must work quickly, as the squirrels will beat me to them! Time to trim your tree, swags, and wreaths with the splendor of nature.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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