Whitebark Pine — Propagating from Cones

Cerauno

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Hello! Let me start off by saying that I've set out on a very ambitious project; propagate at least one whitebark pine sapling from harvested pine cones.

• Why I Want Whitebark Pine:
- I moved to Montana several years ago and was struck by how beautiful this endangered (and naturally rare) species of pine tree was. The second I saw a stand of them on a barren mountaintop, I thought that they would make incredible bonsai. I became aware that the species was very much in decline, for several reasons* (listed below). This, and the fact that it's such a rare, yet ideal species for bonsai made me want to try and cultivate one or more.

• Harvested Cones:
- Luckily, my cousin has a tract of rural property on top of a rocky mountain with several small groups of healthy whitebark pines growing there. He gave me permission to take cones and cuttings from them, but I have only taken mature cones, as even on private property I'm not sure it's legal to take cuttings from an endangered species (I was unable to find anything online regarding Montana state laws for this, as is pretty typical for Montana).
- Last year exactly (late September, 2015), I collected 7 cones total from three different trees. From what I understand, whitebark pine cones don't really open at all on the tree, as the species largely relies on Clark's Nuthatcher for seed dispersal** (More on this below). Frankly, I forgot about them when I moved shortly after, and they've been in a paper bag for exactly a year, mostly at room or car temperature. I found the bag today and saw that the cones had opened on their own, and am very much hoping they may still be viable.

If they aren't good anymore, I can go take some more intact cones from the same location and prepare them over winter.

I'm pretty excited to see if growing a whitebark pine is possible. I've had several pine bonsai, and have propagated other species from seed and cuttings, but understand that all species of pine are apparently fairly difficult to grow from seed.

Any tips, advice, or info on the subject would be greatly appreciated.
 

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Cerauno

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* = Whitebark Pine are listed as endangered primarily because of rust disease, pine beetles, and the fact that they only grow above 6,500 ft. on dry, windy mountains with immature (poor, rocky) soil. Also...

** = Clark's Nuthatcher, a seed-eating bird, has a mutually symbiotic relationship with the whitebark pine; the pine tree has evolved special cones that don't readily open upon maturity like most pine cones. This is because it relies on the Clark's Nuthatcher, which has adapted to easily pry open the cones with its long beak, to eat its seeds exclusively and disperse them. Regional scarcities of Clark's Nuthatchers is yet another reason for Whitebark Pine decline.
I'm also somewhat concerned that the cone seeds may require "activation" by enzymes in the digestive tract of the birds, or something along those lines, for germination. Though that's entirely hypothetical on my part (Again, I couldn't find much about the subject online).
 

aml1014

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I've had a lot of different species of tree that are supposedly difficult to grow, have huge success rates. I do the same process with all seeds that I find. I stick them in a box and leave them I my cold frame over winter. As temps rise I soak the seeds for 1-3 days in hot water (3if I forget about it lol) then I poke the shell with a little needle then I plant them in flats. Great success with any species I've done.

Aaron
 

jeanluc83

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I grew some JWP from collected seeds last year. I collected around 60 - 70 seeds. I soaked them for 24 hrs. Only about 10 sank. I discarded the others figuring they were duds. Of the 10 sinkers only 4 sprouted.

My advice, collect many more seeds than you could ever grow. If you end up with more that sprout than you want, plant them back where you collected the seeds.
 

GGB

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It was my love of propagating pine seeds that brought me to bonsai. I have propagated over 25 species of pine (never white bark) and the only thing I have learned to date is .... some sprout and some don't. Good luck and try a couple different methods each with a few seeds, find out what works
 

GGB

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@jeanluc83 I got ahold of 22 JWP seeds a few years ago, I ended up with 1 tree haha. Tough customers
 

petegreg

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Consider if stratification is needed. With winter hardy trees I prefer their natural stratification, it means sowing them in late fall and let them be.
 

petegreg

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...My advice, collect many more seeds than you could ever grow. If you end up with more that sprout than you want, plant them back where you collected the seeds.
This is a cool idea, I like it very much.
 

Cerauno

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Consider if stratification is needed. With winter hardy trees I prefer their natural stratification, it means sowing them in late fall and let them be.
Well, I know the mountaintop that the parent trees grow on gets absolutely bombarded with snow and wind during winter, big time. So chances are they expect some sort of cold storage period.

Thank you everyone for your advice! The more the merrier!
 

jeanluc83

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@jeanluc83 I got ahold of 22 JWP seeds a few years ago, I ended up with 1 tree haha. Tough customers
The tree I collected from was the only one in the area. Maybe if there were more trees for cross pollination the success rate would have been better. Unfortunately the tree has been cut down so I won't be able to try another batch this year.

I would imagine any cold weather pine requires a cold stratification. Pines like JBP are from a warmer climate and do not "need" stratification but most people say they get better germination rates with stratification.

I've had good success with cold stratification in the fridge. I soak the seeds for ~48 hrs, wrap the sinkers in a slightly damp paper towel then put in it a sandwich bag in the fridge. In the spring take a tray or shallow pot and fill it with ~2" of bonsai mix then top with 1/4" sand. Plant the seeds and inch or so apart and put into full sun. The warmth is important to get the seeds growing but you need to make sure they don't dry out. Growing in full sun also helps prevent damping off.

One of the advantages of stratifying in the fridge is that you don't have to worry about critters making off with your seeds.
 

petegreg

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Gents, I mean it doesn't need artificial cold stratification. Sowing in late fall and keeping outside exposed to winter temps is a way of natural stratification.
 

Waltron

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room car temperature probably not ideal.. but who knows. I know jack pine cones need to actually be set on fire to make the seeds grow, and now I want a white bark pine. good luck!
 

ghues

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Well, I know the mountaintop that the parent trees grow on gets absolutely bombarded with snow and wind during winter, big time. So chances are they expect some sort of cold storage period.

Thank you everyone for your advice! The more the merrier!
Good luck with this. We have them, they are endangered have got hit hard by the white pine blister rust and MPB. There is a movement within our forestry community to try and develop blister resistant strains as we have with Western White Pine. I was fortunate enough to get two seedlings from a seed propagation company who is growing them for this blister resistance trial.
Cheers Graham
 

M. Frary

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jack pine cones need to actually be set on fire
That's to open the cone. They don't need to be set on fire but heated. Then the seed sprouts the next spring. They also need stratification.
 

GGB

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Gents, I mean it doesn't need artificial cold stratification. Sowing in late fall and keeping outside exposed to winter temps is a way of natural stratification.
I can only speak for south eastern Pennsylvania but, your "natural stratification" sounds a lot like "feeding the squirrels" to me. Any freshly dug earth in my yard gets thoroughly inspected by the local tree rats
 

M. Frary

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yea ive heard the forestry guys use blow torches now to open up the cones.
People go out and pick them up by the bushel to sell to the DNR and USFS.
They used to just set the forest on fire to grow new ones.
After a few of those got away from them they rethought their methods.
 

petegreg

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I can only speak for south eastern Pennsylvania but, your "natural stratification" sounds a lot like "feeding the squirrels" to me. Any freshly dug earth in my yard gets thoroughly inspected by the local tree rats
I understand and do not have problems with those animals here... If you used any protective meshes?...
 

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