Start Small… with a Seed or 12

Back when I was fascinated by bonsai trees I tried in vain to grow one of my own, from scratch. I didn’t start with just any pine tree, though. I started with a lodgepole pine or Pinus contorta. The lodgepole pine was given its common name because it is perfect for indigenous people to use as lodge poles for their teepees.

The experiment failed for a multitude of reasons, and although I did manage to get a couple of seeds to sprout, they never got more than an inch tall. An inch isn’t much for a tree that can grow ramrod straight to 120′ tall.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I’m trying again, hoping to plant one or two on my own property. One of the lodgepole pine secrets is that the variety that grows near the Rocky Mountains is fire-dependant. Nature has designed the lodgepole cones so that high temperatures such as forest fires are required to open the cones and expose the needles to the elements. Not everything about a forest fire is destructive, and in fact, fire is a required part of the forest’s life cycle. More often than not, it’s when we interfere with this cycle (i.e. by extinguishing fires caused by lightning) that we run into trouble. To mitigate that trouble, good forestry management requires us to do “prescribed burns” where the natural cycle is simulated in somewhat controlled conditions. But this post isn’t about first fires, so let’s get back to the pine cones.

I started with a couple of dried-up, rock-hard cones I found in a parking lot. Hopefully, they’re not too old. I can’t imagine that pine cones which require a forest fire to heat them and open them up have an expiry date. You can’t just pluck seeds from a lodgepole pine cone you found lying around, though.

So, how did I get at the seeds?

I put the cones on a layer of aluminum foil in the toaster oven and applied 450F heat for about 20 minutes. I then tapped the cones and knocked the seeds out onto the baking sheet. It worked perfectly.

The next step was to plant them and to make it as easy as possible I went to the source of all that is inexpensive and simple… Dollarama. They’ve now got all of their spring planting supplies out so for $3.50 I picked up one of their Peat Pellet Greenhouse 12 greenhouse kits that is so simple to set up that even I can do it. Add water, add seeds, cover with included lid, and wait, while checking regularly to make sure the peat moss doesn’t dry out.

The tiny seeds harvested from the cones after heating them to 450F for 20 minutes. Notice the tiny little ‘wings’ on the seeds, to help the wind carry them far and wide.

Here are photos to show how simple this is.

Water is added to the tray and the peat pellets absorb it, beginning to expand.

A tiny Lodgepole Pine seed
is placed on the water-logged peat pellet.

The seed is pushed into the moist peat, about 1/4″ inch down.

The kit’s included lid is placed on the tray,
completing the little greenhouse.

Here is the complete greenhouse, already steaming up and creating the growing environment for the seeds.

Easy peasy! I put one seed in each peat pellet and have a dozen or so seeds left over, just in case this batch fails.

Now, one last little bit, and this is the really important part (which is why I made the letters bigger)…

Do NOT ever harvest/pick up/take your lodgepole pine cones (or any cones/seeds/flowers/rocks/creatures/plants etc.) from within a provincial, state, or national park.

In most countries around the world, it is against the law to remove anything from a government park except the garbage you brought in.

As the signs in our parks have been telling us for decades:

“Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”

That’s it, that’s all for this week. Not too exciting, and not about writing, but I’ll keep both of you updated.

Ciao for now,



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