Pine cones are a symbol of autumn. Scattering the woodland floor among crunchy fallen leaves and pine needles, a pine cone hunt can be rewarding for adults and children alike. Here are our tips on gathering pine cones and some fun ways to use them.

When do pine cones fall?

Pine cones mostly fall to the ground in autumn, so can usually be found from September through to December. The best place to look for them is under conifer trees in woods, parks and gardens.

Quick fact

Pine seeds are a food source for wildlife including common crossbill, siskin, pine marten and red squirrel.

What is a pine cone?

Pine cones are the woody fruiting body and reproductive organ of pine trees. 

Once pollinated, the tree's female cones develop as the seeds mature and are usually conical or round shaped. The individual plates on the cones, known as scales, keep the seeds safe from weather extremes and hungry animals, until seeds are mature and it's warm and dry enough to release them to grow into new trees.

Which trees grow pine cones?

Here in the UK, pine cones grow on several types of pine tree, including black pine and our only native species, Scots pine.

These pine trees are from the conifer family. Conifers are a broad group that also includes spruces and firs. They are typically evergreen with cones and needle-like or scale-like leaves.

The UK has three native conifers:

  • Scots pine has traditional pine cones
  • Juniper cones have tiny fleshy scales and look more like berries
  • Yew seeds are encased in arils which look like red, fleshy, berries open at the tip.

Learn more about native UK conifers

5 ways to use pine cones

1. Decorate your home

Pine cones can be used to create a whole host of decorations, no matter how artistic you are! Simply placing some in a vase or bowl can give your home a cosy ambience, especially if you combine them with other autumnal treasures. At Christmas, add fairy lights, tinsel or mini baubles for an easy but attractive feature.

If you’re a bit more creative, you could make pine cone garlands, wreaths, baubles, table place names and much more. Keep them simple and rustic, or add paint and other craft materials for a colourful twist. Let your imagination run wild!

2. Help wildlife

The time of fallen pine cones coincides with birds needing a little extra help to get through the colder months. Pine cone bird feeders are fun to make and watching the birds enjoy your efforts will give hours of extra entertainment.

You can also make a pine cone palace for ladybirds, or add them to a bug hotel for other minibeasts.

3. Organic mulch

Used whole or broken up into smaller pieces, pine cones make a great organic mulch as they take a long time to break down. By laying them around your trees and flowerbeds, they’ll help soils retain moisture and suppress weeds – and they look good too.

They’re also a good natural slug repellent, and provide useful habitat for spiders.

4. Tasty snacks

Did you know that pine seeds are edible? They can be eaten raw but are better roasted or toasted. Encourage your collected pine cones to open up and reveal their seeds by keeping them warm and dry.

As with all our ideas for gathering and foraging from nature, please only take a small amount and leave plenty behind to fulfil its role in nature.

5. Kids’ craft activities

Keep little ones entertained by making any number of pine cone characters and creatures, from elves and witches to owls and cows. Add twigs, coloured paper, felt or paints to make each piece unique.

Explore more activity ideas