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  • Sara Thompson

Evergreen Boughs

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Group of pine cones on a tree branch
White spruce cones in Broomfield Colorado; photo by Wikimedia user Kpsudeep

All plants and trees begin as a seed. Many use flowers and fruit to produce more seeds, but some trees use cones. Trees that reproduce using cones are called conifers. Conifers and their cones have a variety of other amazing adaptations that help them survive in nature.

One of the most recognizable features of many conifers is their needles. Performing the same function as broad leaves, they are responsible for performing the gas exchange process of photosynthesis. The narrow shape, with the help of a waxy coating help the needles to not dry out in cooler and dryer climates. Needles also do not fall annually like with deciduous trees, and therefore can perform photosynthesis all year. This is one reason you find conifers at higher elevations and latitudes; they are well adapted to those environments.

Conifers get their name from to the cones they produce. The cones are an integral part to the tree’s reproduction as they bear the pollen and the seeds. A conifer tree will produce both cones that contain pollen and cones that contain seeds. Cones that contain pollen are typically grown on the lower parts of the tree, so they do not pollinate the same tree, but instead are dispersed to other trees for pollinating. The pollen cones are smaller than the seeded ones and are usually only present during the spring and summer. Once they have released their pollen, those cones will fall off the tree. The seed-bearing cones are much bigger and are found higher up in the trees. When pollinated the seed can take anywhere from one to three years to fully develop depending on the species. During this time the cone will close up when the weather is cold and dry, and open when warmer. Conifers rely on animals to help distribute their seeds. Squirrels and birds often eat the pinecones and their seeds, transporting and distributing them elsewhere to root and grow.

You can view several species of trees in the Mace Ranch Park, including conifers. Come explore our exhibit Healthy Planet, Healthy You during our Public Hours: Friday 1-4pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-2pm. Make and take crafts available for children before noon on weekends, while supplies last. Father Christmas will be available for photos during Public Hours the weekend of December 11 and 12.


Explorit's coming events:

· Want to keep your students engaged during the winter break? Sign up for “The Science of Winter” camp. Explore the fun frosty phenomena of the winter season! Explorit campers will learn about the winter sky, frozen chemicals reactions, and amazing animal adaptations to the cold. Join us for science activities, games, and take-home crafts. December 20-22, 9am-12pm for grades K-2, December 27-29 9am-12pm for grades 3-5. $100 Members/$120 Non-Members. Camps will take place indoors with air purifiers. Masks required and daily temperature screening and healthy survey at drop-off. For more information and registration visit

· Give the gift of science to a family this holiday season! A gift Membership to Explorit not only supports us but grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. Any level of Membership is eligible as a gift for someone. To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

· Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:


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