Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (11/15/17): What causes such crazy cone and flower production?

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat…

This is from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, at the moment when Brutus is encouraging Caesar to act because the time is right, and there's no better time likely to come soon.  

There's an equivalent moment in the life of plants that's equally propitious... Or is it?  

I've noticed something as I wander around, looking at plants and trees:  Sometimes the pine trees that look to be in terrible shape often have the most pine cones.  

Is there a connection here?  Do dying pine trees actually produce a last gasp of cone production?  And if that's true, should I worry about those pine trees that suddenly produce a bunch of pine cones? 

I was also noticing this about the bougainvillea in my front yard.  As you can see, there are lots of flowers on it, but very few leaves.  

This is a beautiful plant, but it's not really very robust.  It SHOULD look like this (from the Carmel Mission, near Monterey, CA):  

This observation about the "tide in the affairs.." of plants leads to this week's SRS Challenge: 

1.  Does dying (or nearly dying) lead to a sudden efflorescence in plants?   
2.  If so, what causes this effect?  How does the plant "know" this, and respond? 
3.  Is this "sudden efflorescence" from a near-death experience true for any other plants?  

When I searched for this, I found that I had to learn a bit of language in order to make good queries.  

Let us know how you found the answers!  

I'll be back in a week (Wednesday, Nov 22) with my answer.  In the meantime, may you and all of your plants and trees be in good health.  

Search on! 


  1. In a quick search found no answers but some interesting points

    Searched for difference between efflorescence (was more mentioned for buildings than for plants when trying to find the answers) and blooming.

    [pines produce more cones when dying]

    Some people believe excess pine cones means trees are preparing for a rough winter ahead

    a. Pine cones take two years to develop and noticed “bumper crop”

    [Jay Dee Gunnell pine cones]
    Pine-cones open in hot and dry weather and close in moist and cold weather

  2. Replies
    1. Post 3:

      [floración repentina plantas creen van a morir] Sudden blooming plants think they will die.

      Las plantas cuando sufren estres pueden producir una floración muy abundante And tells how a “stressed” plant is different from dying one.

      Tipos de estrés vegetal. Different types of vegetable stress

      [defne fenológico]

      Phenology Wikipedia

      [plants stress more blooming]

      Stress, as far as plants are concerned, can be generally split into two different groups: biotic and abiotic

      Reblooming: Stressed out plants blooming out of season

      [bougainvillea stress blooming] Not so helpful

    2. Still working with no results at the moment. I'll try new ways. I'll also work on this base: " I found that I had to learn a bit of language in order to make good queries"

      I lost on my notes post #1 and also got lost before published. Don't know what I did wrong so I deleted before approval. I need to rethink what I found there.

      Happy ThanksGiving week, everyone.

  3. You have noted the most important part of the problem: pine trees producing pine cones, not fir cones or hemlock or balsam cones.

    We are off to a good start

    jon tU

    1. Yeah... I was thinking about cones in general, and was a bit careless in my selection of an image. (Shouldn't have used that pic of spruce cones...)

  4. Deb and Anne are here again finally! For pine trees had a hard time finding authoritative sources but found a post from CBS Boston that did a feature on the topic of why there were so many pine cones in the Boston area back in Fall of 2010. They spoke to Peter DelTredici, Senior Research Scientist at the Arnold Arboretum. Deltredici said it has to do with the insect population. And pine cone production gets larger in cycles from 3-7 years. He stated that pine trees do this to "trick" insects, “Trees do this as a way of avoiding these predators, because if they produce the cones on erratic, unpredictable cycles the insects can’t adjust to them.”
    We are reaching out to one of my friends who is a former prof of botany to get an expert opinion!

    1. nice find passager&Ramón
      time-lapse — Serotiny
      WY Lodgepoles
      "The large size of the cones has earned them the nickname "widowmakers" among locals."
      16-pound pine cone, larger than a pineapple -- fell on his head.
      real or not…;-P

      a little blast from the sRs past: Georg Wilhelm Steller :
      "On the return trip, Steller came down with an unknown fever, and died in Tyumen, Siberia, trying to get back to St. Petersburg."
      "Wolves ate his eyes."
      sRs - Steller's sea cow
      on the beach (typo on the expedition date)
      additional pics
      The Atlantic Monthly
      "Thanks to Steller, the demise of the sea cow was one of the very few megafauna extinctions for which we have eyewitness testimony. His own fate was rather tragic in its way as well.
      He wrote up his notes from the voyage in a thick Latin volume titled On the Beast of the Sea, but he never made it home to see it published. He died of fever outside the Siberian town of Tyumen. After he was buried, grave robbers broke into his tomb to steal his fine red cloak. Wolves ate his eyes. He lives on in the names of his eponymous Jay, a species of sea duck, a sea eagle, a sea lion, and of course, the long-vanished sea cow. They are known to us now only in the form of a handful of skeletons and in the words of Steller’s description in which they appear forever the same: placid, loyal, and delicious."

    2. Good Morning, Remmij. I just followed Debra, Anne and Passager.
      I like Coulter Pine Cones. Here we have something similar, not sure if it is the same. And always wanted a cone. Sadly not yet.

      Thanks for the links and the photo!

      I decided to try the basics. In this case for pines. So searched [Serotiny]

      Wikipedia. Serotiny (seed release occurs in response to an environmental trigger) Possible triggers include:

      Wetting (hygriscence) is this the case for bougainvillea?...
      Serotiny can occur in various degrees...
      Serotinous adaptations have occurred in at least 530 species in 40 genera...

      And links to:
      Bradyspory is the gradual release of seed from a cone or fruit over a long period of time, as opposed to tachyspory, the more-or-less immediate release of seed as soon as they have matured.

    3. image searching the first photo…
      see conifers
      "Mature Sugar Pines stand out with their wide spread limbs and irregular shapes near the crown. Like many pines they will have "mast" years (approximately every 3-7 years) where the tree will bear an unusually high number of cones, bending down the limbs with the weight of the cones."

    4. Yeah... Coulter pine cones are evil things. Beautiful, but hard on the skull. (But they're not the only heavy/large pine cones out there. Sugar pine cones can get up to 20" long (50 cm), so they're difficult as well.

  5. I first thought that the pine cones rise ([pine tree sudden rise in cones]-> Serotiny and the Serotinous Cone - ThoughtCo, 10th result on the serp) had to do with high serotiny level of pine trees at certain periods, but I couldn't confirm. So I tend to think the insect and predators thing must apply. Still have to find other sources.

    1. The serotiny observation is really interesting, but this refers to what causes the cones to open and disperse their seeds.

      FWIW, only "true pines" take multiple years for their cones to mature on the tree. Many evergreens (e.g., firs) can go from flower to cone in a single season.

    2. "Woves ate his eyes.." Thanks for such a lovely image. I can't un-think that now!! (FWIW, I bet they ate more than that...)

    3. sorry Dan, but it was a pretty good hook for the writer…
      the author of the Atlantic piece, he's in Berkeley - who knows where he came up with that line? - "Jacob Mikanowski is a writer based in Berkeley. His work has appeared in Aeon, Pacific Standard, and The New Yorker."
      sea wolves - "So the next time you travel to the coast of British Columbia, keep your eyes peeled!"
      appetizer… and so it begins
      an odd Google SERP… to look at
      looking at the Salt, NPR
      Florida Children’s Dentists & Orthodontists
      dang, it's the squirrels
      …and giraffes



    “It’s definitely an abnormal amount of pine cones,” said Peter DelTredici, Senior Research Scientist at the Arnold Arboretum.

    Deltredici says the pine cones falling from the trees now, actually started forming three years ago, so our winter weather isn’t to blame for the bumper crop. He says scientists believe it probably has to do with the insect population.

    Pine trees don’t produce the same amount of cones each year, he says, to throw off the insects that eat the cones.

    “Trees do this as a way of avoiding these predators, because if they produce the cones on erratic, unpredictable cycles the insects can’t adjust to them.”
    Sally Aitken, professor of Forest and Conservation Science at the University of British Columbia, says there may be a number of reasons, or a combination thereof, that have caused this profusion of cones.

    “It takes a lot of energy to produce seeds,” says Aitken, explaining that they are high in fat and nutrients. “It’s hard for a tree to put resources into forming new buds at the same time it is expanding and developing this year’s cones.”

    Masting helps trees get around a huge energetic output year after year.

    Aitken says that masting may also help avoid the build-up of insects and animals (like squirrels) that feed on seeds. “It’s thought that through masting, trees space out their seed production, and then produce a seed crop that is just too big for the available seed predators to wipe out.” This ensures seed is left over to grow into new trees.

    The cones that developed last year are even more obvious this year because they’ve grown bigger and browner, says Aitken, who suggests it’s likely this cone crop was initiated in 2012.

    My own experience: I have several large mature firs. They have been dying over the past 5 years due to the fir beetle, the worm of which eats channels thru the cambium layer thus interrupting the flow of water from the roots. Once the hydraulics system is air bound it can never be rebuilt. I have never seen my trees produce huge expensive-to-make seeds when they are gasping to just survive. I looked again just now with my binos--bare branches and no cones.

    3. "sudden efflorescence" goes nowhere useful. Suspect trick phrase. Nope, found it in Wikipedia meaning just the way you used it but almost never used anywhere else that I can find. Except for mortar and warts.

    no more time to do more

    1. Sorry to hear about your first, Jon. It's the same thing here. LOTS of trees stressed by drought and falling to the beetles.

  7. Jon that is the same link we found. I forgot to include it. Heard back from my friend the now retired botany professor. What he shared is this: on pine trees there is no research that they produce more cones right before dying. They have a cycle of producing more cones and then to "recover" from this effort the next few years they may produce fewer cones. He then said that monocaroic plants are those that flower only once in their lives and then die imm. after the seed matures. Agave are one type of plant that do this. to answer do some plants flower more before dying some plants in this group could say to do this because they look like they are dying (the main growing stem does die) but then send out new shoots from the base. These new stems then take many years to flower.
    On bougainvilleas he said they bloom in response to shortening days. They also prefer new wood so that is why they are heavily pruned. This stimulates new growth. We thought that maybe some people would mistake a pruned plant for one that is dead and hence think that they bloom more after appearing to have died.
    Finally, he said that plants ultimately want to reproduce and many will flower more when under stress. He said that many people in the field believe it is a plant's "last gasp" before dying. He said this might be more empirical than fact-based.
    So there you have it for what it is worth.

    1. Hi Debra and Anne.

      About Agave, here to avoid the death of the plant, what we do is cut the blooming stem. I don't know if works in all varieties but our gardener told us and we tried in 3 different kinds and works perfectly. In Blue Agave, we cut the stem and then a new small one was born and also looks that new blooming is coming in the small part of the old stem. I really hope they survive.

      Very interesting comments from all of our searches.

    2. Debra -If you can, have your botanist friend take a look at the post and see if he agrees with it.

      Fun fact: I had a HUGE agave plant in my front yard for many years. It was about 40 years old when it flowered (the shoot was 40 feet high. REALLY!) and then died. Spectacular. But you're right, the base of the cactus continued to send out shoots for years afterwards.

    3. Hello Dr. Russell. That must be amazing to watch. Here I am lucky to have some agave plants like Tequila and specially Salmiana used to make pulque. They reproduce so easy here, and now we have a lot to give away. In any case, the "secret" to keep them alive is tu cut the stem before blooming. Once the blooming happens the plant dies without remedy