Naked baubles

pine cones

Posted on: 1st December, 2014

Category: Home & Garden

Contributor: West Cork People

‘Making’ Christmas is a big theme these last few years in the economic doldrums and there are lots of ways to create some Christmas cheer with the simplest of natural decorations, less tinsel, slightly more effort involved but certainly fun using available free resources.  I am of course thinking ‘tree’ products such as fallen twigs and amazing conifer cones.

The conifer cone is a wondrous object and never fails to entice us to pick it up and enjoy its beautiful rhythm and pattern that nature has bestowed upon it. It is armoured to protect the precious seed tucked in close to its centre core beneath each of its woody petals called scales. Held close in damp weather, the scales open when hot and dry (some only open when a forest fire occurs) and only then can the winged seed float on the wind to the forest floor. Usually the cone and its short stem will dry out and eventually snap off of the tree like an autumnal leaf and more seeds are released if its scales are open as it bounces. These are the female ‘pistallate’ cones; the male ‘staminate’ cones are usually much less conspicuous and diminutive in scale and some grow like catkins. Some cones have evolved differently and are more like singular seeds and rely on birds to disperse them such as those of the juniper (berry).

Cone producing trees include pines, spruces, cedars, fir, larch and cypress trees and more, known collectively as Confers from the Latin meaning ‘to bear cones’. Most conifers bear both the staminate pollen producing and pistallate seed bearing cones and are therefore described as monoecious. There are a few such as the junipers and yews, which grow the staminates on a separate tree to the pistallate tree — the terminology to describe these plants is dioecious. All conifers rely on the wind to pollinate by carrying the pollen from the staminate cones into the pistallate cones which is when fertilisation takes place, the seeds then can take a season to mature or several years.

Most plants produce seeds and are grouped into two parts — the angiosperms and the gymnosperms. Angiosperms are the largest group and incorporates those plants which bear ‘covered’ seeds such as apples, melons etc where the seeds are embedded in the fruit. The smaller group of less than 1000 species are the gymnosperms, which produce ‘naked’ seeds (‘gym’ from the Greek: the gym was once a place to use whilst naked), these gymnosperms evolved before flowering plants and conifers are in this group.

One of these historical offspring The Monterey pine, although a native of California, produces a stunning cone found here in West Cork. The Monterey cone is large, dense and variegated in tone, its lip like feature on the end of each scale is a darker hue on the inside of the scale accentuating the pattern and there are plenty of these heavy handfuls to be collected although this tree can hold on to its tough cones for 50 years being a species that requires extreme heat conditions to release its seeds. The equally mathematical construction of the papery smaller cones of the much maligned Sitka spruce are no less decorative, these are lightweight and delicate reminding me of tiny wasp nests. They have a more elongated growth pattern than the Monterey cone and perhaps being commonly grown will be easier to find. The distinguished Scots pine produces a medium size cone and has fewer scales, which create a very open shape when dry. Occasionally you may come across a Bhutan or Himalayan blue pine here and these have a large banana sized and elegantly shaped cones to add an exotic to the mix. Sometimes the cone is the only way to identify a conifer species, see how many you can find.

Treat yourself to a country walk under some conifer woodland, have a sortie with the kids for cones and twigs littering the pathways, bring them home and lay them in front of the fire for a few days to ensure they are dry and fully open, so they are looking their decorative best. Give them a shake and the remaining seeds will fall out – (perhaps you might plant them in Spring) and have fun gluing and wiring your arrangements together, daubing with paint to accent the edges if you want to; tie a little garden string or decorative ribbon to create a very ornamental delight and add to the festive spirit in the home. Your local garden centre will have string and a couple of options on different gauged wires really cheap (as in less than €2 for a spool yards long)!

A slightly more unusual decoration/toy is a ‘Cone Cow’ this is a popular children’s activity in Finland and Sweden whereby youngsters forage, usually on summer walks, for their cones and find four suitable sticks to push between the scales of a cone to support the cone as its legs and the animal is complete. They have little competitions for the best looking most stable one – a lovely simple game to be encouraged here. Perhaps your Cone Cows could extend your nativity scenes or simply made to march along window sills this Christmas; remember any damp air will alter these animals’ appearances and stability, as cones will close again if not warm and dry, so last one standing could be a winner too.

After the season, the cones make great kindling to start a few January fires being full of the pine resins which inflame so easily, or keep them for years, a few might get damaged but they are really tough objects and can last longer than a childhood and will evoke happy family memories in years to come.

Leave the precious Holly and Mistletoe to grow on and thrive, pick up some cones, make stars with the twigs and don’t forget to look up and admire the rich green and blue tough little leaves called needles and see next year’s cones decorating the living Christmas tree wonderland. Merry Christmas everyone!

Grant Jenkins – The Tree Company. If you need any further information regarding this article or indeed any other tree matters please get in touch with us at The Tree Company, Ballydehob, Co Cork or email us at or call our office on 028 37630.

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The National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO) wants to ensure that everyone stays healthy and safe this weekend. Here are some tips so we can all enjoy the next festive occasion!

Preparing for Halloween at home
• Test make-up on a small area before applying. Remove before going to bed to prevent possible irritation to the skin or eyes.
• Costumes should be made of non flammable materials.
• Make sure that adults carve the pumpkins in a safe manner.
• Never leave lighted pumpkins or candles unattended.

Trick or Treat
• Costumes should be as bright as possible or incorporate reflective bands or tapes to costumes and bags. Use a torch for maximum visibility.
• Ensure warm clothing is worn under the costume.
• Never trick or treat alone. Ensure children are in groups and / or with a trusted adult.
• Parents/guardians should be aware of where their children are trick or treating.
• Only eat treats which are packaged. Avoid unwrapped treats made by strangers.
• Check all treats received for hazards such as choking, tampering or simply that they are in date.
• Always walk and never run out of houses or onto roadways.
• Stay close to home.
• Masks and costumes should be well fitted to avoid trips and falls through blocked vision or trailing costumes.
• Do not enter homes unless accompanied by a trusted adult. Do not visit unlit houses and never accept lifts from strangers.
• Never walk near candles or bonfires.
• Ration the treats received for a healthier Halloween. Consider donating excess treats to a charity.

Preparing for Callers to your door / guests:
• Clear up: Ensure anything that a trick or treater could fall over is removed. Clear wet leaves or other debris from the driveway or outside your home.
• Turn on the lights: Make sure that there is good visibility for callers.
• Control pets: Your pet might be frightened by increased activity around your house or be spooked by bonfires, fireworks or bangers.
• Consider healthy alternatives to sugar treats.

Remind drivers to watch out for trick or treaters and to drive safely:
• Watch for children on the road or crossing the road especially between parked cars.
• Expect the unexpected. Always assume children are likely to cross the road at any time.
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28th October, 2016  ·  

Schull Drama Group presents ‘Looking for a mate’
Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd October 2016
3 scene Comedy, Writtten and Directed by Sally Smart
Schull Parish Hall
Admission €10 at the door. Doors open 7.30pm, curtain call 8pm.
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18th October, 2016  ·  

Become a Skibbereen Urban Explorer

This autumn why not consider participating in workshops to develop your own Walking Tour of Skibbereen. What would your walking tour look like? Whether you know Skibbereen as a native or not, there is always a different way of seeing what is around you.

FREE workshops will take place from 10am-1pm on 13th and 20th October and 2nd November at Skibbereen Town Hall – each workshop is stand-alone and you are welcome to attend any or all of them.

If you can walk and talk these workshops will be right up your alley. Themed routes will be planned based on the interests and creativity of participants.

Please wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk for approx 60-90 minutes, bear in mind that parts of Skibbereen can be quite hilly. Prior registration essential / 087 9005458 & Facebook - SkibbereenUrbanExplorer

This project is supported by Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Cork Education & Training Board, Skibbereen Community & Family Resource Centre, Create the National Agency for the Development of Collaborative Arts
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11th October, 2016  ·  

Briery Gap is celebrating Patrick Bergin's cinematic achievements with a special screening of 'Sleeping with the Enemy' at Castle Hotel Macroom on Monday 3rd October at 8:30pm.

A special Q&As session with Patrick Bergin will take place after the screening. Admission just €5.
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26th September, 2016  ·  

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