Larch Cone
Larch Cone

One of the high points of early spring is the emergence of exquisitely colored female (seed-bearing) cones on larch (Larix) trees. When we conjure an image of a conifer cone, we tend to think in shades of brown. But, when most conifers break bud in the spring, the young female cones dazzle; everything from deep purple to brilliant pink to crimson is on display.

Right now, you can see some of these eye-popping colors on the Siberian larches at the south end of the conifer collection of the Arnold Arboretum, near the Walter Street Gate. Make the pilgrimage this week. Wait too long and the cones will have transitioned to green. Nota bene, these cones are small (less than half an inch) and scattered on only a few of the lower branches, so take the time to acclimate your eyes for the search. Once you find one, more will magically appear!

Below, a beautiful pink cone of a Siberian larch (Larix sibirica; 14948*A; accessioned in 1900) that I caught in the sun last week. A yellow pollen cone is to the right of the female cone. Bottom left is a crimson cone of a European larch (Larix decidua; 2775*P; accessioned in 1886) with bright white waxy undersurfaces of the cone scales, from late April of 2015. Bottom right is the mature seed cone (last fall) of a Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi; 10496*E; accessioned in 1920).