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Big-cone pine

This tree is sometimes know as the 'widowmaker'; workers beneath big-cone pines are advised to wear hard hats so they don't get injured by falling cones.

Big-cone pine

About Kew's big-cone pine trees

The big-cone pine prefers a light well-drained sandy soil, which might explain why this species does fairly well at Kew. Usually in Britain it is a short lived tree that doesn't often bear cones.

At Kew, a tree planted in 1954 had reached, 40 years later, a height of 12 m and began to produce cones quite consistently in the early 1990s. Another younger tree began to produce cones in 1999.

Take a closer look

  • The sharp needles of the big cone pine grow in threes and stick out stiffly at the end of shoots in a way that gives the tree a fairly sparse appearance.
  • As well as being pineapple-sized (up to 40-45 cm), the pale brown cones are made up of scales with a sharp hook on their tips – handle with care!

Tree biology

The defining characteristic of this tree is, as its common name suggests, its giant cones – as big as pineapples! Pine cones vary greatly in size from species to species and are not always in proportion to the size of the tree. The giant sequoia is the largest tree on earth at over 93 m high but its cones are comparatively tiny, growing to little more than a few centimetres in length. Although its cones are huge, a big-cone pine would be a tall specimen at 24 m.

Cultivation and uses

The big-cone pine's wood is weak and soft, so does not get used for much other than firewood. It is planted occasionally as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, but is not common in Britain. It is generally only found in private collections and a few large gardens, mainly in the warmer south and southwest.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Pinus coulteri
  • Family: Pinaceae
  • Place of origin: southern California and northern Mexico
  • Conservation status: Lower risk/Least Concern
  • Date planted: not recorded
  • Height: 1 m