Have a bushel of fun picking pine cones

Contact: Jason Hartman, 989-390-0279
Agency: Natural Resources

Aug. 18, 2021

Looking for an outdoor side hustle? Collecting a bushel of pine cones next month will net you $75 and help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources plant trees in state forests.

Sept. 1-30, 2021, you can pick red pine cones and drop them off by appointment at six DNR locations: three in the Upper Peninsula and three in the Lower Peninsula.

Fresh cones can be found in felled treetops from recent timber sales, on state forestlands and in recently gathered squirrel caches (yes, you can steal from a squirrel). If picking from a recent timber sale, logger permission is necessary, and pickers must wear hardhats for safety. The simplest way, however, is to pick from living red pine trees where branches extend close to the ground.

Before you haul out your ladder, there are specific things foresters look for in a "perfect" fresh seed pine cone from a red pine - commit the following criteria to memory, because old cones or the wrong species won't be accepted. You'll also need to complete a few steps to register as a vendor in our online system so you can get paid for your efforts.

A closeup image of red pine needles and ripe cones at the right age to pick

Here are some tips to get started:

  • First, make sure you're picking the right species. Red pines have craggy, reddish bark and 4- to 6-inch needles that grow in pairs. Scotch and Austrian pine cones will not be accepted.
  • Cones should be picked off the tree; fallen cones on the ground are likely to be too old or wet. No twigs, needles or debris, please!
  • Cone scales should be closed, with a little bit of green or purple tint - all brown and open, and they're too far gone.

Store pine cones in a cool, dry place in mesh bags. Onion bags will be provided by the DNR at drop-off locations. Don't use burlap or plastic bags, which can hold moisture and ruin the cones. Tag bags on the inside and outside with your name, county where you picked and if the cones are natural or from a plantation. Drop off cones by appointment at select DNR Customer Service Centers and Wyman Nursery:

A close-up image of hands holding a pine seedling, with a greenhouse of growing seedlings in the background

What happens to the pine cones once they're dropped off? They're put into machines that gently warm them up and then shake them, allowing the seeds to drop out and be stored until planting time.

This process helps foresters replant the forest and replenishes the supply of red pine seed, which is in high demand.

Michigan's forests provide clean air and water, renewable resources, homes for wildlife and places to explore nature. It's the DNR's commitment to make sure healthy forests are here for future generations by replanting what is cut and maintaining sustainable management practices.


Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • Pine cone picking: An AmeriCorps member picks ripe red pine cones.
  • Ripe pine cones: Ready-to-pick red pine cones have closed scales and often show a green or purple tint. 
  • Fresh-picked cones: Closed, freshly-cut pine cones will soon be processed to release the seeds to be collected for planting. 
  • Pine seedling: A young pine planted from collected seed.