Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pine Droppings

Every now and then you have to stop and marvel about nature.  Nature creates some isolated patches of wonder that will catch your eye and you just have to enjoy them.  This past weekend I was able to get out for some geocaching and one of the last caches we found that day was hidden at the base of a Coulter pine tree.  I love Coulter pine trees for a couple of reasons.  First, they have an awesome pine cone and second is I have a couple of friends who resemble the tree in some way or another.  They'll understand.

If there aren't any pine cones around the pine tree, it's sometimes difficult to identify the Coulter pine.  Not so when there are any pine cones either in the tree or on the ground.  In fact, when you see them on the ground, you instinctively look up.  These cones are massive.  My pictures don't do them justice, but the first one was probably close to 9 inches long.  They weigh a lot too, so looking up is really a good idea.  If one should fall and hit you, you're going to be severely damaged.

The damaged tent came from a small sugar pine cone that a squirrel chewed through and ended up dropping onto our tent when we were camping in Sequoia National Park.  We'd been out caching and hiking that day and came back to camp.  I looked at the tent and couldn't tell what had happened at first, but when I got closer I figured out quite quickly.  Not only did the pine cone go through the side of the tent, but it had enough force to go through the bottom of the tent as well.  And where it landed was about a foot away from where my son would lay his head while sleeping.  That particular pine cone probably weighed no more than a pound or so.  Imagine a 4 to 10 pound Coulter pine cone coming down.  It's no wonder the Coulter pine was nicknamed the "widowmaker."

The Coulter pine is found in the coastal mountains of Southern California and Baja California.  It has a very limited range, but is not threatened or endangered and you can find isolated groves as far north as the Bay Area near San Francisco.  They are pretty plentiful in our local mountains.  I've hiked through one small grove on a caching expedition near the Devils Punchbowl, which is located north of me on the desert side of our local mountains.

I can remember as a child going out on outings with my parents to our local mountains near Big Bear, California.  My mom was always collecting Coulter pine cones to create Christmas decorations.  She'd spray paint them green and create miniature Christmas trees out of them.  They usually have a large base on which they stand and when not their natural color do resemble a squat Christmas tree.

I'm not sure how many people outside of Southern California are familiar with the Coulter Pine.  It's probably not many, but then again, I'm pretty sure I'm not familiar with all of the native flora that grows only in other areas of the country.  This particular pine is rather distinctive.  Just make sure if you're walking through a grove to watch overhead.  You wouldn't want to become the latest statistic of a Coulter pine.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
A Forest Adventure - by Kit Fox
California Hoax - by Radikel

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Erika Jean said...

Ah yes, pine cones as big as your head - I've seen some in Cali. Kind of scary about it falling on your tent... glad no one was in it. Even if you were, and didn't get hit, I could imagine it be pretty frighting int he middle of the night!

Anonymous said...

Oh my word, that's a big pine cone!!! Never seen one over here that big (England) I think the biggest I've ever found were about 3 inches tall and even then I was shocked at the size. Only just found your blog. Having a good read now :)

Webfoot said...

Geocass - welcome and please continue to follow the breadcrumbs.

We have Sugar pine cones that are longer than the Coulter Pine, but not nearly as massive. The Coulter are about as big as they get out here.

chaosmanor said...

You don't want to step on a Coulter Pine cone, either! Those spurs on the end of each scale (the segments of a cone) are hard and sharp; I've cut mysewlf more than once on a Coulter cone :-(

Now, for truly gigantic cones, you want the Bunya-bunya (Araucaria bidwillii), also called the Bunya Pine and the False Monkey-Puzzle tree. When we lived in Riverside, we knew of at least one death caused by a falling "Bang-ya' Bang-ya'" tree, as they were called, locally. A number of them were planted starting in the 1880s, when British expats settled in the area, and began the development of Southern California's citrus orchards. In one area of the downtown "Mile Square", signs were put up warning walkers of the hazard. A number of the trees were cut down until a public outcry stopped it. The cones weight over ten pounds at full maturity, and as the trees can grow to 100 feet high, the force of a falling cone is pretty high. I saw a cone fall once, and it left a divot three-four inches deep; I made a point not to walk near the things!

As we do most of our camping in the redwoods, we don't have to worry about falling cones: redwood "cones" are pretty small. Of course, the trees, themselves, can fall without warning :-o