Sub-zero cold triggers hemlock cone drop ...

Sub-zero cold triggers hemlock cone drop?

Jan 13, 2022

After our couple of nights of sub-zero temperatures, I noticed a ton of hemlock cones on the ground. We hadn't had all that much for wind. Red squirrels couldn't do that much dropping in a couple of days.

The days before the cold snap, the snow was 'clean.' After the cold, beneath each of the big stand-alone hemlocks, there was a noticeable "shadow" of cones. Apparently, the cones didn't just fall but opened up before they fell and dispersed their seeds. On top of the snow, even far from the hemlocks, there was a fairly evenly scattered coating of hemlock seeds -- each about 1/4" of an inch long seed with a small wing attached.

I'm wondering if a night near -10°F was some sort of biological trigger in my many hemlock trees, causing them to suddenly open up and drop a LOT of their cones. I don't recall seeing this before, although we've had a few mild winters recently. Maybe hemlocks do need -10° to trigger them.

The red squirrels don't seem to know what to do with all this winged manna from heaven. Instead of running all over the snow, gobbling up the naked seeds, they still grab up cones, break them apart, and eat whatever seeds remained inside. Maybe their feeding behavior doesn't adjust for manna.

Observing nature is fascinating.

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