Pine cones are shown Tuesday morning on a forest floor in the Kennebec County town of China. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

Take a walk in the Maine woods right now, or even in some backyards or parks, and you’re likely to see pine cones on the ground. A lot of them.

William Livingston Photo courtesy of University of Maine

A combination of factors has likely led to an unusually large amount of pine cones in Maine this year. In fact, it’s a “special” time in the cycle that only happens every five years or so, according to Dr. William Livingston, director and associate professor of forest resources at the University of Maine.

Livingston said in an interview this week that most likely the pine cones people are seeing are from eastern white pine, which is Maine’s state tree. Livingston, who is also chair of the Multi-state Project on White Pine Health, noted that like other tree species, white pine will typically only produce a large number of cones every three to five years. That’s known as a “mast” year, and the Pine Tree State is now experiencing the fruits of that windfall production that happened this past fall, he said.

By his own observations, Livingston said he has noticed “double to triple” the amount of pine cones one would see in a typical year.

While storms with strong wind gusts over the past five months may have contributed to pine cones falling earlier than usual, “in the end, all cones fall from the tree,” Livingston said.

White pines produce a large amount of cones, and that cone production can be further triggered by dry summer months during the multiyear growing cycle, the professor said. The cones being seen now first formed in spring 2022 and finished growing this past fall, before falling to the ground over the past few months to release seedlings on the ground.

The abundance of eastern white pine cones doesn’t have major ecological impacts, although insects and animals will feed on the seedlings and “a lot of the seed will survive and germinate,” Livingston said. In fact, sometimes there’s too much regeneration of pine cone seedlings, in the amount of five seedlings per square foot, or 200,000-300,000 per acre. That high density can result in eastern white pine overtaking an area and excluding other trees species.

But the high pine cone volume contributing to the phenomenon covering the ground now is expected to be fleeting.

“Most likely, people will see fewer white pine cones next fall,” Livingston said.

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