Q: While running at Cochran Shoals, I found this pine cone cluster. I thought it was unusual, as I have never seen more than two cones together.
A: Wow, you are right, that is pretty unusual!
Pine trees have two kinds of cones: male and female. The male cones are the ones that shed so much yellow pollen in the spring. They are typically located at the tips of branches low on the tree. As a kid, you may have collected the brown “worms” under pine trees.
Female cones grow on branches higher in the tree. They originate at the tip of a branch, but since it takes two years for the cone to mature with seeds inside, often there is branch growth beyond the point where you see a brown pine cone.
Usually only one or two cones get pollinated. But a couple of years ago we must’ve had lots of pollen blowing around for a couple of days. That might explain why so many female cones successfully developed at one place for you to notice.