Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

ID Guide

Winter Pine Cones

To find these look on the ground and beneath the leaf litter, as well as on the trees themselves, as cones drop off during winter. Some may also have been attacked by birds and mammals. The shape of the cones often helps you to make a positive identification of the tree – which is often difficult with evergreens.

Download our ID guide to Winter Pine Cones to take with you and identify the species you see; don't forget to send us in any sightings


Yew, Tristram Brelstaff
Yew - Taxus baccata
The quality of the Yew’s timber meant it was highly prized in the middle ages for making longbows; they were so in demand that suitable trees were soon exhausted and timber had to be imported. The Yews that remain, therefore, represent and are descendants of these imported trees. The seed cones are highly modified, each cone containing a single seed 4–7 millimetres long partly surrounded by a modified scale, which develops into a soft, bright red berry-like structure called an aril, 8–15


Scots Pine cone, John Haslam
Scots pine - Pinus sylvestris
The Scots pine is the most widely distributed conifer in the world and they grow to around 20 metres (65 feet) tall and can can reach even greater hights. The cones take around three years to mature, are egg-shaped and have woody scales to protect the seeds inside. Fertilised female flowers take around two years to become a fully-grown cone and a mature tree can produce 3,000 cones, occurring every 3-5 years.


Douglas Fir cone, Roland Tanglao
Douglas Fir - Pseudotsuga menziesii
The mature Douglas fir is one of the tallest trees in Britain – reaching a height of up to 65 metres. The cones are a distinctive egg shape, hanging downwards with a distinctive three-forked bracts between the scales on the cones which are green when young, turning to brown as they age. They are 5-9 cm long and mature in one season.  Inbetween the bracts there are winged seeds which fall out flying to the ground where they are often eaten by birds and small animals, with only the lucky ones germinating. The seeds have wings that are around 20 mm long.



Sitka Spruce, Axel Kristensson
Sitka spruce - Picea sitchensis
The Sitka spruce tree produces pine cones that are 6-10cm long and 2cm wide when closed and 3cm wide when the cones fully open. The cones of this species have the largest bracts just above the scales than any other spruce species known. The scales are really flexible and are 15-20 mm long. The cones mature to a pale brown colour 5-7 months after pollination and they have 3 mm long seeds which are black, with thin, 7-9mm long pale brown wings. These wings are to help carry and disperse the seeds away from the parent tree.
Norway Spruce cone, david hosford
Norway spruce - Picea abies
The beautiful spindle-shaped cones are a distinguishing factor of this tree, these are a particular favourite of squirrels. The smaller trees are the ones traditionally chosen as our Christmas tree. The tree was native before the last ice age, but did not return naturally and was reintroduced pre-1500. The pine cones of the Norway spruce is one of the largest cones at 15cm long and can easily be seen hanging down from the branches. The scales of the cone are soft and thin, the cone ripens to a brown colour.





Lawsons Cypress, Bri Weldon
Lawson’s cypress - Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
While a popular and widespread garden conifer, natural populations of Lawson’s Cypress are restricted to a small range and have declined significantly over the past 150 years. Male and female cones are borne on the same branches but are very different in appearance; male cones are small, red-brown and oblong, whilst female cones are relatively large and spherical, and begin green but turn red-brown at maturity. There can be any amount from 6-7 scales in the cone usually bearing 2 to 4 seeds. Each fertilised cones seeds take up 20% of the cones weight.



Western Hemlock, Peter Stevens
Western Hemlock - Tsuga heterophylla
Plantations with Western Hemlock are often very dark places as they cast very dense shade and little else can survive beneath them. The cones are brown, can be small and inconspicuous, they are small (2-5cm) with egg shaped scales The needles are soft, flat with two white bands/stripes on the underside and have rounded ends.







Cedar of Lebanon cones, Wendy Cutler
Cedar of Lebanon - Cedrus lebani
The Cedar of Lebanon was originally a mountain species but has been planted in a variety of situations in this country during the 18th Century. Since then, it has become scarcer as many have been felled but it is easily distinguished by its multiple trunks and horizontal layers of foliage. The seed cones are produced often every second year, and mature in 12 months from pollination; mature cones in late autumn are 8–12 cm long.



Giant Sequioa cone, trees-species
Giant Sequoia - Sequoiadendron giganteum
These massive trees have soft, spongy bark which is frequently excavated by treecreepers for winter roosts. In contrast to the tree’s scale, the cones are small and rounded, both male and female cones are carried on the same tree; female cones are up to 7.5cm long composed of spirally arranged scales. They are reddish-brown when mature and contain numerous, flattened, winged seeds. It is believed that the Giant Sequoia takes its name from the famous American Indian Sequoyah.
European Larch cones, anemoneprojectors
European Larch - Larix decidua
It is thought the European Larch was introduces to Britain in about 1620 and are now part of the natural scenery of the area. Cones occur all round the twigs and are egg-shaped with tight scales; they tend to stay on the tree several years after the seed has fallen.
Monkey Puzzle cones, Wendy Cutler
Monkey Puzzle – Araucaria araucana
Monkey puzzle trees are highly distinctive, with mature trees possessing a tall, straight trunks and an umbrella of branches at the crown. Cones are pineapple-shaped and ripen to green with golden spines
Austrian Pine cone, Roberto Verzo
Austrian Pine - Pinus nigra
Introduced to Britain in 1835 as a plantation tree for wood, its dense and dark foliage makes it stand out from other trees. It was not successful as a timber tree because it is coarse and its heavy branches form large knots weakening the timber. Ripening cones are green and elongated; when they are mature the cones are large, brown and rounded. They take over 2 years to ripen.