Pinecones; Celebrating Nature’s Forms

This time of year I love to bring out my collection, yes I have several and no I don’t have Victorian cottages or snow globes or anything else that would officially be considered “collectible”, but what I do have is cones.

Cones varied in size and detail

Cones varied in size and detail

I have been fascinated by the sculptural quality of pine cones, and other conifers, since childhood. I don’t collect them obsessively or even properly but I do tend to keep examples of different kinds of cones as I encounter them. I love the beauty of a single cone as well as the comparison between cones of different species and there’s no doubt that this is the perfect time of year to really enjoy them.

Pinus radiata - Monterey Pine

Pinus radiata – Monterey Pine

Cones are the female, seed-bearing reproductive structures of, usually, evergreen trees (although there are exceptions). Conifers occur primarily in areas around the Pacific Ocean, with the majority of species occurring in western North America and the Asian side of the Pacific Rim. The most well-known, in the west are; pines, firs and redwoods, to name just a few. Where conifers occur naturally they are often the dominant species and are therefore of great ecological, as well as economic, value.

Big Cone Pine

Pinus coulteri – Big Cone Pine

Adding conifers to a garden definitely takes space and planning, as their mature size is usually quite large, although here again, there are exceptions. In fact, I am more often called in to help when a garden owner has become frustrated or overwhelmed by a large existing tree, rather than requested to add them into planting schemes. There are definitely unique challenges to landscaping beneath tall, dense evergreens.

Cones grouped on a branch of Pinus contorta

Pinus contorta – Lodgepole Pine

But whether you are lucky enough to have the space to accommodate a mature conifer or are more inclined to enjoy them with a walk in their natural habitat, it’s always worth a closer look to appreciate the beauty of nature’s sculpture.

Close up on a cone of Pinus lambertiana or Sugar Pine

Pinus lambertiana – Sugar Pine

I love the work of Bay Area artist, and my dear friend, G. Lee Boerger, for elevating the beauty of conifers to a completely different level. Lee and I worked together at the California Academy of Science and she has had a long association with the San Francisco Botanical Garden where her illustrations are used to create the informative signage throughout the garden.

Grand Fir illustration of Abies grandis by G. Lee Boerger

Grand Fir – illustration of Abies grandis by G. Lee Boerger

For her illustration work, Lee captures the important elements of plant specimens with just the right combination of detail and form to be both scientifically accurate and beautiful to the casual observer. But a fascination for pattern inspires her additional work where she explores plants and cones, using a variety of mediums, often resulting in monoprints, on paper or wood.  These more light-hearted works run the spectrum from breath-taking line detail to impressionistic additions of color and texture.

Monterey Pine monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Monterey Pine – monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Lee says that exploring the variation within cones, using a variation of materials, became a way to explore form itself.   “As I experimented with backgrounds and foregrounds, the cone image took on a separate life. …Even suspended in space or shown in a rainbow of color, I have found both mathematical symmetry and abstraction.”

Douglas Fir - monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Douglas Fir – monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

—  What a beautiful concept for that magical place where art and science co-exist.  —


The San Francisco Botanical Garden  also hosts an impressive collection of conifers from around the world.  The Garden is open daily, including holidays, from 7:30 AM to 5 PM.

Montezuma Pine 2 - monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Montezuma Pine 2 – monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Montezuma Pine  - monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

Montezuma Pine – monoprint by G. Lee Boerger

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Categories: Native Plants


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3 Comments on “Pinecones; Celebrating Nature’s Forms”

  1. Susan Duncan
    December 5, 2013 at 1:52 am #

    I too have randomly collected the cones over the years. I guess I need to make it to the Botanical Garden show while G. Lee Boerger is being shown. I love the annual science illustration works displayed annually at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Also reminds me of my once-neighbor who moved to New Mexico and now settled in Mariposa for several years who is an artist with many talents who sells pine needle basketry kits, Nice gifts for beginners with a local connection.

  2. December 5, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Susan and thanks for the link to the cool pine needle basket kits. Yes, I hope you get a chance to visit the SFBG, while Lee’s show is still up, but it’s certainly a great place for a day trip at any time of year.

  3. Sherry
    December 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Joy, I collect cones too! Thanks for sharing!

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