Poppin’ Pine Cones

Pine ConesGrade 3: Life Systems

Contributed by: Ellen Webb

On a hot summer day, take students for a walk near coniferous trees.  If you are in luck, you may hear the snapping sound of the cones popping open naturally to release the seeds.  Pinecone seeds must be released from their cones before the keys can be transported on the winds.

Big Idea

  • Plants have distinct characteristics.

Curriculum Connection: Grade 3: Life Systems

Inquiry Skills Used

This is a research activity where students have the opportunity to explore, observe, and report.

Safety Considerations

Cones will be hot when they come out of the microwave and should not be handled until they have had a chance to cool down. It is also a good idea to warn the staff that the cones may give off a distinctive odour.

What You Need

  • Closed pine or spruce cones (pine works the best)
  • Microwave
  • Napkin or paper towel to cover cones in case sap spatters
  • Plate and cup
  • Peat moss and soil

 What to Do

  1. Collect closed pine or spruce cones.
  2. Allow students to examine the cones.  Measure the diameter and note how the pieces are closed onto each other.
  3. Put the cones on a plate or tray and cover them with a paper towel or paper napkin.
  4. Put them in the microwave for approximately one minute, depending on how dry they are.Another pine cone
  5. Listen to them pop open as they heat in the microwave.
  6. Remove the cones from the microwave and allow them to cool.
  7. Note the seeds, which will fall out of the cones, the increased diameter of the cone, and the spiral design created by the pieces that have separated and opened.

Where to Go from Here?

Plant the seeds that come out of the pinecones in a little cup of peat moss and soil.  Water the seeds regularly. Once the seedlings have begun to grow, encourage students to plant them at home or in some other appropriate location.

STSE Links

Should we be fighting forest fires or is this a natural progression which allows the seeds to be propagated?

If the global warming trend also impacts on more moderate temperatures, will trees still be able to open their pine cones and seed the earth?  Jack pine seeds are only released from their cones after a forest fire.  Research how this occurs and the importance of forest fires in the ecology of a forest.

Cross Curricular Connections


  • Write a story from the perspective of the pine seed that is encased in a dark chamber and then released to fly.

Credit Where Credit is Due

This was my own idea after experiencing the cones popping in the trees in my backyard.