Zoom December 2011

The function of the pine cone (more accurately called a conifer cone) is to facilitate conifer tree reproduction. Conifers have been around for 200 million years, coexisting with the dinosaurs. The classification includes over 550 species—among them hemlock, fir, cedar, cypress, yew, pine, juniper, kauri, larch, redwood and spruce. Botanically speaking, the conifer cone is a strobilus, a stem surrounded by structures called scales containing reproductive material. There are male and female conifer cones—the male’s scales contain sperm cells encased in pollen and the female’s scales contain egg cells encased in ovules. The archetypal image of the conifer cone is, in fact, the female variety, with some maxing out at over 2 feet in length; the male cone is far smaller, only reaching about an inch at most. When the pollen fertilizes the egg in either spring or fall, via wind, the male cone dies (after an existence of only a few weeks) and the female cone’s eggs become embryos. With the formation of the embryos, the ovules harden and turn into seeds. The seeds are tightly contained in the cone for months or years, but eventually the scales separate, sometimes via exposure to a forest fire, and the seeds get their chance to become a tree. They are dispersed either by wind or through consumption by animals. Windblown seeds are tiny and wing-shaped and seeds eaten by animals are larger and contained in cones strongly resembling berries, commonly seen on yew and juniper trees. And if germination happens, the conifer life cycle begins anew.

michael isenbek

Michael Isenbek, Associate Editor, dabbles in both fiction and nonfiction writing, coordinates the Pulse event listings and writes the text for "Zoom," among other editorial tasks. He has a Master's Degree in Liberal Studies and a Bachelor's Degree in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Journalism from SUNY Empire State College.