Holy pollen, I’ve lived next door to a white pine for years and hadn’t noticed the flowers till today. Now is prime bloom time, so where is your nearest white pine? Surely there is one, or a dozen close by. They are natives here, but are widely planted as ornamentals and living privacy fences. Gated communities adore them because they screen out the riffraff 365 days a year, except when the riffraff comes to mow.
One horticultural source says white pine flowers are “ornamentally insignificant” but such a dopey statement proves horticultural sources sometimes need to sort their priorities. As if ornament is our chief concern, and as if white pine flowers are not, in fact, exquisitely ornamental. Look at this crazy thing:
I say “flowers,” and shall continue to say “flowers,” but this is a pine we’re talking about—a gymnosperm—so botanically, I don’t mean flowers. I mean “reproductive structures.” White pine have male bits and female bits on different twigs, but on the same tree. Wind thwacks pollen from a male bit, and if a grain lands on a female bit (which it will because there are bucketloads of pollen) the female bit will swell into proper cones, each containing hidden seeds.
Trouble is, I can’t see ANY female cones on my neighbor’s tree. I think they must be farther up, where I see mature cones in various stages of development: brown and open; brown and shut; fat and green and tight. Top branches are far too high to see properly, even with my birding binoculars. Dang. I really wanted to ogle the “female strobili.” I’ll check other trees on our dog walk, fingers crossed.
But here’s something neat about the male cones: they ring what right now looks like a spiky crown, like the top of a pineapple. Pine-Apple. The spikes get longer and longer and become the year’s new twig lined with needles. Each green spike you see now is a closed bundle of five needles. I opened a sheath and ate them.
All white pines have five needles in a bundle, and only white pines have five. The number of needles in a bundle is an ID clue: Loblolly pine has bundles of three, Virginia pine has two, etc.
The pollen on these guys is amazing. Supposedly, pine pollen is not a common allergen, even though it lays a carpet on my car.
Here’s my 4 second video of flicking a cone:
By the way, the male strobili are considered food and medicine by some folks. I ate one and was unimpressed with taste and texture. If it cured migraines, I’d eat it by the ton (which shouldn’t be hard to gather).
Now, to go find the lady cones. . .