Collect, use and recognize pine cones - information, tips & tricks

Collect, use and recognize pine cones - information, tips & tricks

the essentials in brief

  • Pine cones stand vertically on the branch, where they disintegrate and release winged seeds.
  • Intact cones on the forest floor are not pine cones, but come from spruce, pine, larch or Douglas fir.
  • With pine cones you can do handicrafts, decorate, grow new firs, make birdseed cones, fuel and jam.

Pine cones - interesting and amazing facts


Pine cones are female, spike-shaped inflorescences, the scale-like bracts of which form a spiral around an axis and slowly lignify. The male counterpart is smaller, does not lignify and falls off after the flowering period, so that it is not a pine cone in the traditional sense. Even this brief explanation of terms makes you sit up and arouse curiosity for further information about a true treasure of nature. We invite you to follow the development of a pine cone through the seasons:

  • Late winter : male flower buds on the underside of the shoot, female flower buds on the top of the shoot
  • Spring : at the age of 30 the fir tree unfolds its flowers for the first time
  • Flowering period : April to June with yellowish, 2-2.5 cm male flowers, cylindrical, not woody
  • Pollination : transmission of male pollen to female, upright pine cones by the wind
  • Wilt : in summer, the male flowers wither, which fade and disintegrate on the branch
  • Cones ripening : female pine cones from May / June, 10-16 cm long, woody with scales and winged seeds
  • Sowing : from September onwards, lignified scales become detached, seeds escape, the cones on the tree decay

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This résumé of pine cones does not claim to be scientific completeness. Rather, the short version takes a look at the fascinating process from the bud to the ripe, female pine cone, which literally tears itself apart so that the winged offspring can find their way to the forest floor. The sad remnant on the tree is a woody cone, which usually only falls off the pine branch after a few years.

Collecting pine cones - tip for the season

The above history of pine cones reveals that you cannot collect intact pine cones on the forest floor. What covers the ground in autumn are mostly the cones of pine, spruce and other local conifers. To collect authentic, intact pine cones, you don't have to bend your knees, but rather stretch yourself. From late August / early September, look out in the forest for upright, greenish-brown pine cones that stand on the tops of the coniferous branches. Ideally, have bypass scissors with you to cut off a nice tenon.

Use pine cones - idea collection

The interest of children and adolescents should not be limited to the fact that pine cone means fir cone in English. In fact, the woody reproductive organs of conifers surprise with a colorful variety of creative, natural and useful uses for every age group. Let these ideas inspire you for an apt answer to the question: What can you do with pine cones?

Pine cone usageidea
HandcraftAdvent and Christmas decorations
DecorationDecorate balcony boxes
BirdseedCones instead of tit dumplings
Growing firHarvest and sow seeds
FuelPine cones as a fireplace lighter

An exotic use of pine cones is practiced in Siberia. In the cold north of Russia, the cones of fir and pine trees are traditionally used to make jam, cone honey, tea and high-percentage throat cleaners.

Crafting with pine cones - ideas


Tinkering with pine cones in Advent is great fun for the whole family. When it storms and snows outside, young and old gather at the kitchen table to create their own cone creations in a cozy atmosphere or to design some of the following handicraft ideas:

  • Make an Advent wreath or mini Christmas tree out of cones
  • Drill the tenon with a Forstner bit to make space for a tea light
  • Spray the colored pine cones, arrange on a wooden board with a chain of lights, cotton wool and hot glue as a winter landscape
  • Glue the pegs in a circle, use ribbons, beads, balls and similar decorative material to create a door wreath
  • Decorate the large cones with acrylic paint, attach the silk ribbon with hot glue and use it as a Christmas tree pendant
  • Assemble 4-6 pine cones as a star with hot glue, decorate with acorns, dried flowers or pearls

Making figurines out of pine cones also inspires the smartphone generation for creative work beyond the virtual world. The range of imaginative possibilities extends from animals such as hedgehogs, owls or penguins to fairy tale characters such as Pumuckl and Peter Pan. How you can easily make a gnome out of pine cones with your children is explained in the following section with comprehensible step-by-step instructions.


Collect soiled cones from the forest floor, remove moss, earth and other coarse dirt with tweezers or a brush. To clean, soak the pine cones for 20 minutes in a solution of 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar. Dry the wet and clean cones on a baking sheet in the oven at 90 ° to 100 ° Celsius under permanent supervision. You can open the closed pine cones at the same time by drying them in the oven.

Tinker elves out of pine cones - Instructions

Making a gnome out of pine cones is one of the classics for long autumn and winter evenings when the television, computer and mobile phone need to have a break. The following instructions explain step by step how cones from fir, spruce or pine can be transformed into funny hanging gnomes, complete with pointed hat and beard:


Material requirements

  • Cones from fir, pine or spruce
  • Felt, wine red, dark green, orange, each 95 cm wide, 30 cm long and 0.9 cm thick
  • Pompons, light brown, 4-25 mm thick
  • Spreading parts made of felt, e.g. B. colorful autumn leaves
  • Plush or imitation fur, light gray, 150 cm wide, 30 cm long, 10 mm high
  • Cord, e.g. B. 1 roll of natural fiber cord, 1.5 mm thick, 80 m long
  • Sewing thread, red, green, orange
  • Craft scissors
  • Sewing needles or large darning needles
  • Glue gun and hot glue
  • Chenille wire, 14 mm x 50 cm

You will also need pen and paper to draw a stencil for the pixie cap.

Step-by-step instructions

Please carefully choose the most beautiful, undamaged cones that are destined for a second life as a hanging gnome. It is not a hindrance if you use pine cones, pine and spruce cones of different sizes. These instructions can be adapted to any size and number of pixies you want.

  1. Transfer the template of the pointed cap to the felt with a pen and cut it out
  2. Adjust the hat cut to a tenon, fold and sew or glue together along the two edges
  3. Push the chenille wire under the hat and create a rustic corner shape
  4. Cut the plush fabric into rectangles (e.g. 5 cm x 4 cm) with scissors
  5. Cut a small recess in the middle for the nose, bevel the side edges slightly
  6. Place the cone on the tip and glue the beard to the upper edge
  7. Glue the pompom into the recess as a nose
  8. Put on the pixie hat so that the upper edge of the beard is covered and stick it on
  9. Decorate pointed hat with glued on felt sheets

At the end of the day, the cone gnomes receive a hanger. Thread the cord into a large sewing needle and pull both through the tip of the pointed cap past the stabilizing chenille wire. Do you still have some pompoms and felt sheets left? Then thread this onto the cord as an additional decoration. Now all you have to do is knot the hanging cord and hang the cute gnomes made of pine cones on the Christmas tree.

Pine cones as a balcony decoration - tips & tricks

The first pine cones are ripe just in time for the start of the autumn season. Anyone who wanders through the forest with open eyes from the end of August can collect the cones from the branches before they dissolve into their individual parts. On the forest floor the cones of spruce, pine, Douglas fir and larch are ready to be picked, at the latest after the first autumn storms. Regardless of which conifer the cones come from, they are perfect for creative decoration ideas on the autumn balcony. The following variations may fire your imagination:

  • Attach the pine cones and fairy lights to the branches of the corkscrew willow, arrange in the deep, frost-proof tub
  • Fill terracotta flower pots with coconut soil, insert large pine cones and cover with a moss cover
  • Plant flower boxes in a hardy manner, arrange pine cones, gnomes, colorful balls and fairy lights in a creative way
  • Cover the balcony table with a jute sack, (€ 6.86 at Amazon *) fir green, pine cones and lantern, spray thickly with artificial snow

Empty baskets, glass vases and glass bowls are just waiting in autumn for you to return home from the forest with a bulging bag. In combination with fairy lights, Christmas balls and coniferous branches you conjure up a romantic decoration for the Advent and Christmas season. If you use LED light chains with battery operation, you can also set up the neat eye-catchers there, even if there is no socket nearby.

Make birdseed yourself from pine cones


The classic tit dumpling lacks decorative charm. By making winter bird food yourself with pine cones, you serve hungry little birds a richly laid table and at the same time beautify the empty garden and balcony. These instructions explain in detail how you can easily make birdseed cones yourself:

Material and ingredients

  • Cones
  • colorful ribbons as hangers
  • Felt sheets as decoration
  • Hot glue gun and hot glue
  • 1 kg fat, ideally beef tallow from the butcher or coconut fat
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 kg grain mixture for wild birds
  • optional red rose hips and raisins
  • Saucepan, mixing spoon, teaspoon

Pine cones, which you can collect from the forest floor with the scales wide open, are excellent. Cut ripe, brown pine cones from the branch in the closed stage. To open, bring pine cones in the dry, airy place where the process can take up to 50 hours. The closed scales open more quickly in the oven at 90 ° top and bottom heat.


  1. Glue the hanger to the lower end of the peg, decoratively cover the adhesive point with a felt sheet
  2. Melt the fat in the saucepan (please do not let it boil)
  3. Take the kettle off the fire and stir in vegetable oil
  4. Fold in grain feed
  5. Let the feed mixture cool down until it is spreadable
  6. Pour the mixture into the spaces between the cones using a teaspoon
  7. Press on the rose hips

After a few hours the birdseed cones are hardened and ready to invite hungry bird's beaks to feast as a dangling buffet.


Buy pine cones

Collecting pine cones is no unadulterated outdoor pleasure when instead of Indian summer, autumn comes along with wet and cold weather. This is no reason to cross the project crafting with pine cones off your to-do list. You can buy gorgeous, clean pine cones. Recommended and inexpensive sources of shopping are local garden centers and tree nurseries as well as online shops from Amazon, Obi, Ebay or specialist providers of handicraft materials. The prices for 100 grams (e.g. 20 large pine cones or 80 larch cones) range between 2.99 and 5.30 euros. The giants among the cones of the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) with an impressive length of 25 cm and a weight of 400 g cost 12 euros.

Pull a tree from pine cone seeds


Hobby gardeners see pine cones with different eyes than craft and decoration friends. From their point of view, the green-brown cones are primarily a source of germinable seeds from which a new Christmas tree is created. Although sowing and growing conifers is a challenge for home gardeners, the masterpiece can succeed. First of all, you need to get the pine cones to open so that they will release their precious seeds. How you then proceed, the following instructions bring to the point:

  1. the best time is in autumn
  2. Collect pine cones, place on a plate and open by the sunny, warm south-facing window
  3. Harvest the seeds, clean them in a fine sieve under running water and snap off the wings
  4. Soak in water or chamomile tea for 24 hours
  5. Fill the pot with unfertilized coconut soil
  6. Soaked seeds mix with fine sand and sow
  7. Sieve seeds thinly (0.5 cm) with sand or coconut soil and press on
  8. pour on with fine effervescence
  9. set up in the partially shaded location outside

Direct sowing is possible between October and December, provided the soil is not frozen. The particular advantage of sowing outdoors is the natural stratification associated with it. Pine cone seeds depend on a cold stimulus to get the germination process going. For this reason, a location in the open air is advisable for seed pots, for example on a balcony or terrace.

Care until planting

Ideally, a thick layer of snow serves as a water dispenser. If there is no snow, please water the seeds regularly. Drought stress is the most common cause of a high failure rate. Under ideal conditions, you can look forward to the first fir seedlings within 6 to 12 weeks. After successful stratification, you bring the cultivation containers into the house, where growth takes its natural course in the partially shaded, warm window seat.

Fir trees take it slowly with height gain. Water the seedlings when it is dry and do not give any fertilizer at first. Once your pupils have completely rooted the pot, repot the trees. Use coconut soil that you've fortified with liquid conifer fertilizer. In the following three to four years, maintenance consists of watering, fertilizing and repotting. With a height of about 15 centimeters, plant the young trees in a partially shaded location with fresh, moist and nutrient-rich soil.

Identify cone types - accurately distinguish between pine cones


When cones lie on the forest floor, identification becomes a guessing game. Especially when the site is surrounded by different species of conifer, the exact origin is difficult to trace. If, on the other hand, you are familiar with the distinctive properties of cones, you can draw well-founded conclusions as to which tree brought you the treasures. The following table lists important identifying features of six native cone species so that you can accurately distinguish between pine cones in the future:

Identify pine cones: six types
pineconeSpruce conesBlack pinelarchDouglas firScots pine
length10-16 cm10-18 cm3.5-12 cm2-6 cm2-5 cm3-8 cm
width3-4 cm3-5 cm2-4.5 cm1-2 cm2-3 cm3-5 cm
Color in autumngreenishbrownlight brown / yellow brownlight brownred brown / browndark brown / black
hanging / standing / horizontalstandinghanginghorizontalstandinghanginghorizontal
Feature of cone scalesfan-shapedsmooth edgescovered parts blackwavy scale edgeselongated awn-likeprotruding far
Condition on forest floordisintegrateas a wholeas a wholeas a wholeas a wholeas a whole

If you find intact cones on the forest floor, it is therefore almost certainly spruce or pine cones. You can only collect intact, large pine cones directly from the tree, where they are enthroned upright on the branches. If pine cones fall from the tree, they are already in the state of dissolution, clearing the way for their winged seeds.

Pine cone jam - a recipe for those with a sweet tooth

Do you have some pine or pine cones left? Then dare a culinary journey of discovery with pine cone jam. You can conjure up a furious jam from 2 kilograms of cones that will cause a stir in the glass. In addition to the cones of fir, pine or larch, the delicious spread also succeeds with the spruce cones, which are omnipresent in the forest. The following recipe explains how to do it:

  1. Wash fir or pine cones
  2. Boil in bubbly water for 30 minutes
  3. let stand in a dark, cold location for over 12 hours
  4. Take the cones out of the water with a ladle and set aside
  5. Add 1 kg of sugar to the water and bring to the boil, stirring constantly

The jam stock is ready when it thickens and takes on a purple color. Now take clean one-liter jam jars with screw caps to hand. Put 6 to 8 of the cooked pine cones in each glass. Pour the hot brew over the cones, tighten the screw cap and let the glasses cool down upside down.

frequently asked Questions

When do pine cones fall from the tree?

Pine cones never fall from the tree in one piece. When the cones of a fir tree are ripe, they open and release the winged seeds into the wild. During this process, pine cones lose their woody scales and fall apart. Only the woody central axis remains on the branch, which only falls off after a few years. For this reason, you can never collect intact pine cones from the forest floor for handicrafts or as decoration. Beautiful, undamaged cones that you discover on the ground in the forest mostly come from spruce, pine or larch.

What is the difference between pine cones and spruce cones?

The clear difference is the position of the cones on the tree. Pine cones stand upright on the tops of strong coniferous branches. Spruce cones hang down from the shoot. Another difference should be noted that pine cones linger on the tree, where they dissolve into their components. Spruce cones fall in one piece to the forest floor in autumn.

Are pine cones suitable as fuel for the fireplace and stove?

In fact, you can use pine cones as fuel. Cones from spruce, pine, larch and other conifers can also be used to fire the fireplace and stove. In view of the small amount that comes together even with diligent collecting, we recommend the use of pine cones as natural lighters for free. You can make lighters from pine cones yourself by wrapping a dry cone with cord as a fuse. Then wrap the cone halfway in old newspaper, put it in a muffin tin, pour melted candle wax over it and let everything cool down.

I want to draw pine cones with my elementary school child. Are there any child-friendly templates to paint over?

Drawing a pine cone freehand is an artistic challenge even for gifted adults. So that your primary school child can paint a beautiful pine cone, there is a varied selection of templates at Etsy and Amazon have reusable stencils on offer as wall decoration or for crafting with pine cones.

We want to collect the largest possible pine cones. Which tree has the largest cones for crafting and decorating?

The term pine cone is synonymous with the cones of all conifers. Unless you collect large pine cones for crafting, keep an eye out for spruce and pine trees. Their cones are 16 to 18 cm long and fall as an intact unit suitable for handicrafts on the forest floor. Pine cones, on the other hand, remain on the tree to the bitter end, where they fall apart. The titans in the realm of the pine cones are up to 40 centimeters long and come from the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) from California. You can buy the fine specimens on the Internet, for example on Amazon or Ebay.


If you enjoy tinkering with pine cones, please do not cut off the whole branch when collecting. It is gentler on the tree if you pick or snap off ripe cones. As conifers, firs are extremely sensitive to pruning. If you want to use a needle branch with a pine cone as decoration, please place the scissors in the green needled shoot area. If this is the case, the fir tree can fill the gap over the years.