The Pine Cone Experiment


If you are looking for a simple fall nature experiment you’ve got to try this one!  We always have amazing pine cones that cover our yard. This spring, during a random flooding event, we ended up painting pine cones to pass the long day of no school.  Aren’t they pretty? But….notice anything strange about them?

They are all closed! They had been soaking in a torrential rain downpour for days when the picture was taken. This realization reminded me of the pine cone experiment that I had seen here.  So we decided to conduct our own experiment to see how long our pine cones would take to close.

How to do it?

  • Choose a few open dry pine cones
  • Fill a jar or vase with water and place pine cones inside (don’t worry if they aren’t fully submersed)
  • Guess how long they will take to close up

While we were waiting we decided to find the seeds in a third pine cone. Can you spot them?  After about 10 minutes we went back in to check on our pine cones and lo and behold they had closed up!

Before                             After 10 minutes

What’s the science?

Pine cones are hygroscopic which means they soak up water from their surrounding environment (like humid air or rainwater). The cells located at the bottom of the cone’s scales absorb water and that pressure is enough to move the rest of the scale forward. This amazing feature of the cone helps the seed come out when it is dry and warm and stay protected within the cone when it is wet or humid.  Who knew pine cones could be so interesting!?

I hope you enjoy this simple experiment and discover all the fun science you can do out in nature!

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