Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Project Pine Cone
The portion of my brain devoted to higher mathematical concepts is about .4%, but I’ve always been fascinated by fractals. According to Wolfram MathWorld, “a fractal is an object or quantity that displays self-similarity, in a somewhat technical sense, on all scales.” Famous fractals include Koch Snowflake, Dragon Curve, Minkowski Sausage, and probably the most name-recognizable Mandelbrot series. (If you’re looking for more reasons to stare at your screen of choice, YouTube has dozens of trippy fractal videos like this one.)
Fractal patterns also occur in nature, from spiral galaxies to broccoli to the pinecones that are as common to us in these parts as summer zucchini. But after sitting in on retired USFS botanist Renee Galeano-Popp’s presentation of “Fractals from the Forest,” I have a whole new respect for pine trees and their fabulously fractal-ly seed cones.
A year ago, Renee started Project Pine Cone with the dual purpose of amassing a collection of cones from every one of the world’s 110 pine species and providing an educational resource for students of all ages. She’s already two-thirds of the way there, and her collection will eventually have a permanent home at CSU. At her recent presentation, I learned that a pine cone is a pretty interesting seed-delivery system. Most pine cones take about two years to mature. Some cones are open, some are closed, some open only with fire, others are opened only by animals. And pine cones close up in water, which you can see for yourself in this time lapse video.
Pines have been around for a long time—since 150 to 200 million years ago—and are the most successful of the trees known as gymnosperms (“naked seeds”). Not all pines form forests, but most do, and pine forests are the largest terrestrial habitat type on the planet. As with many ecosystems, pine forests are facing challenges in the form of climate change, various infestations, deforestation, and disruption of the natural fire cycles. (February 9 of this year brings the UN’s International Year of Forests to a close. For more information about the status of the world’s forests, click here.)
Project Pine Cone is an extension of Renee’s love and respect for pine trees and their ecology. She sees pine trees as exemplary botanical ambassadors, and she, in turn, serves as one of their goodwill ambassadors, spreading the message of forest stewardship one pine cone at a time.