Differences Between Different Cones on Conifers

Coniferous trees generate both female and male cones, with the male cones providing the pollen to fertilize the seeds of the female cones. The female cones, the cones most people refer to when speaking about conifer cones, then grow to specific sizes, depending upon the species of tree, before releasing their seeds. Marked differences exist between the cones of the conifers -- a group of trees that includes species used in landscaping such as pines, spruces, firs and hemlocks.

Female cones on certain pines feature thick, woody scales armed with prickles.

Where Cones Develop

The position on the branch of a cone often distinguishes one species from another. The cones of pine trees develop on different portions of the branches, as opposed to fir tree cones, which grow upright on the twigs. Spruce trees generate pendant cones; the cones hang downward from the branches. Hemlock cones hang down as well, but are at the end of the branches.

Cone Sizes

The sizes of cones are quite diverse among the conifers, ranging from less than an inch to well over a foot in length. The sugar pine produces very long cones. These cones average between 10 and 18 inches long, with some even longer, states the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. Conversely, the female cones of the tamarack grow to just 1/2 inch long. The size of the conifer does not relate directly to the size of the cones. Redwoods, easily capable of exceeding 250 feet in height, possess cones no larger than 3 1/2 inches.

Shape and Features

The differences between the shapes of cones, even among the same family of coniferous trees, are noticeable. Some pines have elongated, curved cones, while others feature an oval to rounded cone. Spruce cones are oval to elongated, while those of many fir species look like miniature, compact barrels. The cones of the redwoods have an egg shape. The woody scales clustered together to form the cone have different thicknesses and features. For example, those of the hemlocks are quite thin, making for a lightweight cone, while the scales of the bishop pine are heavier, with each one having what C. Frank Brockman, author of "Trees of North America," describes as a "spurlike prickle."


The pines have cones that are typically some shade of brown. Eastern white pine has yellowish-brown cones, while the cones on a red pine are a shiny tint of brown. Ponderosa pine cones are a showy reddish brown, notes the University of Connecticut Plant Database. Many fir trees have cones with distinct coloring. Grand fir's cones are a bright hue of green, while those on the white fir vary between green and purple.