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Contact: Jeremiah J. Auer, DNR Forest Regeneration Specialist or 715-459-1999

DNR Looking To Buy Bushels Of Red Pine Cones

A mature red pine cone with red-brown tips Red pine cones are mature when they have turned from green to purplish with red-brown tips. Photo credit: Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking for help collecting red pine seed for their reforestation program. This fall, the DNR’s tree nursery in Boscobel will be sowing the last of the red pine seed they have in storage and are asking members of the public to collect seed to replenish their supply.

Red pine (Pinus resinosa) can be found throughout the state, especially the sandy soils of central, northwest and northeast Wisconsin.

“The DNR’s supply of red pine seed has been depleted due to the lack of good cone crops over the past couple of years,” said Jeremiah Auer, DNR Forest Regeneration Specialist. “Red pine is Wisconsin’s number one conifer for timber production and many red pine plantations are now being harvested as they reach maturity. For sites that will be returned to red pine production, that most likely means planting seedlings for regeneration so help in collecting seed now is vital to ensure the future of this valuable timber resource.”

Early September is the prime time to collect the red pine cones as they turn from green to purplish brown and reddish-brown tips develop. The DNR is seeking red pine cones at that mature stage, when the color has just turned brown but the scales have not yet opened to release the seeds. They are at maturity in southern and central Wisconsin and are mostly ready for collection in northern Wisconsin.

The DNR pays $125/bushel for properly collected red pine cones. A bushel typically nets about a half of a pound of viable seeds. This means the nursery needs to purchase more than 120 bushels of cones to get enough seed for one year’s worth of red pine seedlings. Collecting cones is a win-win as the collector earns some pocket money and helps ensure the next generation of red pine trees in Wisconsin.


  • Before collecting cones, contact one of state nurseries to ensure purchasing is still open.
    • Griffith Nursery – Wisconsin Rapids 715-424-3700
    • Wilson Nursery – Boscobel 608-375-4123
    • Hayward Nursery – Hayward 715-492-1204
  • All seed must be of natural origin. Trees in your yard are not appropriate for seed harvest.
  • Seed must be separated and labeled by county of origin.
  • Cones must be closed. Red pine cones open and close quickly in response to humidity changes but they disperse most of their seed after opening the first time.
  • Red pine cones are mature when they have turned from green to purplish with red-brown tips. Use clippers to snip these mature, unopened cones at the base of the branch.
  • Wear gloves so your hands don’t get covered in sap.
  • Do not mistake Austrian or Scotch pine for red pine. Scotch pine bark is flaky (especially toward the upper part of the stem) and orange and their cones appear twisted and green, even at maturity. Austrian pine tends to be found in urban environments, has a stocky appearance and darker bark compared to red pine. The DNR’s “Forest Trees of Wisconsin” booklet can help collectors identify red pine.
  • Get permission from the landowner before collecting cones.


  • After collecting, store the cones in a cool, dry area to limit mold growth or cone opening.
  • Store the cones in breathable containers.
  • Deliver the cones to one of the DNR buying stations as soon as possible. View buying stations on our Sell Tree Seed webpage.
  • If there is excess debris mixed in with the cones, they may be rejected or a price reduction applied. The DNR reserves the right to refuse purchase if the cones don’t meet specifications.

Read the 2023 Seed Collector Newsletter for more information about seed drop-off and buying locations throughout the state.