I stumbled across this interesting specimen while strolling around the estate of John Ringling in Sarasota earlier this week (more about the estate soon). Fascinated by the twisted symmetry, I thought it was part of an unraveled pinecone but couldn’t spot the source tree.
Thankfully, Jesse the head landscaper was passing by and he pointed out the tree (even better, he gave me permission to keep the segment). The tree was roped off to protect visitors from the falling cones – larger than coconuts, the cones weigh anywhere from 20-40 pounds.
Araucaria bidwillii, commonly known as the Bunya Pine, is not a true pine at all, instead it is one of the last surviving species of the family Araucariaceae (all but one of which reside in the Southern Hemisphere). This particular species is found in Queensland, Australia and, like most native things down under, it has the ability to kill you.
Which reminds me of an excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”:
“[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. … If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.”
Not only are the falling cones dangerous but you do not want to be near one when the spiked branches start whipping in the wind. On the other hand, the cones do contain large chunks of edible nutmeat, said to resemble the flavor of chestnuts.