Friday, December 22, 2017

Answer: What are those light patches on the ground?

You'd think this is easy.. . 

But in fact, answering a simple question like "What are those light patches on the ground?" turns out to open up a huge can of worms.  I spent waaaay too long on this (but had a lot of fun in the process).  

As you remember, on a recent flight back to San Francisco, I was traveling northward over Santa Cruz and noticed several distinct light patches on the earth below.  Here's a map of the light patches I saw.  (I actually noticed a bunch, but let's start with just these. Once we figure out how to identify such features, you can go back to the original map and start identifying other features that YOU notice when flying.)   


1. What ARE those light patches on the ground? 

2.  Is there any reason that they would be in a line like this?  What's special about this particular are that would cause light patches like this? 

To get you started, the patch on the far left of the image is at:  37.029531,-122.153212 , while the patch on the far right of the image is 37.0635053,-121.9324645

Here's what I did... 

First, I opened up Google Maps to this region, using the lat/long up above as guidance.  In Google Maps, you can put the lat/long into the search box and create a map like this:

Map #1

If you switch to Satellite view (by clicking on the Satellite image in the lower left corner) you can quickly slide the map around until it looks exactly like the map with the patches on it. 

Map #2

As you probably figured out by now, I used Google Earth to create the first original map (the one with the yellow dashed line), and when you look at this place in Google Maps, you get a lot of additional information. (I made the original map in Earth because I could turn off all of the slightly distracting city names and roads.)  

Of course, with this view in place, you can zoom in and out to figure out what each of these patches is.  

When I zoomed into the first location (Map #2 with the red balloon), you can see that it's a quarry of some kind.  

But what KIND of quarry is it?  Who owns it? 

To find this out, I did two things.  

First, I did the obvious query: 

     [ quarry Bonny Doon Road ] 

which led to some great results, including this text by a quarry fan (yes, there are such things!) which lists some quarries in the area--including the name of this quarry... unsurprisingly, Bonny Doon Quarry, which mines limestone.  

Oddly, the information block about the quarry looks like this: 

Mine name: Bonny Doon Limestone & Shale;
Operator: RMC Lonestar;
Address & County: 700 Hwy. 1, Davenport, CA 95017, Santa Cruz County
Latitude: 37.03, Longitude: -122.15
Mine location number: Map No. 728; Mineral commodity: Limestone.

When I put that street address (700 Hwy 1, Davenport), it looks like this place is quite a ways west of the quarry.  

Curious, I looked at the Streetview of the road that leads from the quarry to Bonny Doon Road, where I saw this: 

There's a road there, but more importantly, that's a crushed rock transport line, used to move crushed rock from once place to another. But where does it go?   

If you zoom out and look at the larger picture, you can see that the transport line goes from the quarry (on Bonny Doon Road) to the cement plant on Highway 1.  Interestingly enough, it seems to pass through another, smaller quarry on the west side of Bonny Doon Road.  

My second approach was to search for actual property information. Now that I know it's in Santa Cruz county, I can search for the county property map service (which many counties offer as a public service).   I used the query: 

     [ Santa Cruz country property maps ] 

which took me to the Santa Cruz county online GIS (Geographical Information Systems) search service.  In particular, I used their mapping service to search for information. It's a little obscure to use, but you pan/zoom to the quarry location, then click on the red "I" icon, then click on the quarry to get this information:  

Curious about that transport line, I then clicked on the map to the west, where the line runs.  Guess what?  They're connected... 

So now we know that this is the Bonny Doon limestone quarry that feeds crushed stone to the Davenport Cement plant, which they then turn into cement.  

Okay... what about those other "light patches"?  Are they also quarries? 

To figure this out, I downloaded the original image (the one with the red arrows), and then made my own Google Map to organize all of my notes (visit: to create your own map).  

Here, I just dropped pins at each of the light patches (and including one extra one that I found near the bottom of the area shown).  

I made this map to organize all of my notes about the light patches. LINK to the map. 

We know that the blue pin on the far left (1) is the Bonny Doon limestone quarry.  What about the others? 

This is just a regular Google Map, so if we zoom in on the pin just to the right of Bonny Doon (pin #2), we see this: 

Based on what I see here, I'm willing to bet that this is the Felton Quarry.  Let's test this idea with the query: 

     [ Felton quarry ] 

leads to (first result!) an incredibly handy document, the Santa Cruz County list of quarries!  And, to my surprise, the first picture in that document is of the Bonny Doon quarry, with a comment that the..
"Bonny Doon quarry...  mined marble and shale for the production of cement at the Davenport Cement Plant... The mine ceased operation in 2009... The mine contains hard rock mining and crushing equipment, maintenance shop, office, rock storage silos, and a belt conveyor that travels approximately 3 miles to the Cement Plant. These facilities have not been removed." 
With this great resource it doesn't take long to find that this place in the picture above is the Felton quarry, operated by Granite Construction Company which mines granitic rock for construction aggregate.

Let's do the next quarry, working our way down from the top of that column of 3 blue pins (#3).  When I zoom into that: 

It's easy to see from the brown business label that this is the Quail Hollow quarry operated by Graniterock. That county document tells us that they (despite their granitic name) actually mine sand from the Santa Margarita Sandstone for construction and industrial uses. The quarry has a sand processing plant and bulk sand dryer. (Who knew that the sand would be wet?)  

What about the next light patch (#4, slightly down and to the right)? 


The only quarry in the list that matches this is the Geyer Quarry (at the foot of Geyer Road, which comes in just from the right hand side of this photo.  

And pin #5?  Again, if you zoom into that location, you'll see this:    

The only quarry that fits this description is the Hanson (Kaiser) quarry, described as: 
"...operated by Hanson Aggregates mined sand from the Santa Margarita Sandstone for construction sand. The mined area encompasses approximately 200 acres. The mine ceased operation in 2003. All former mineral processing facilities have been removed and disturbed areas are being reclaimed to open space with a native species vegetative cover on the disturbed lands similar to naturally occurring habitats in the surrounding area. The mine is located within the sensitive Sandhills habitat west of the City of Scotts Valley."
I was curious about why this site had two names--Hanson (Kaiser)--so I did a little more digging. The query: 

     [ Kaiser sand quarry ] 

led me to several documents (fascinating reading!), but the one that was most useful was the Sandhills Conservation and Management Plan (2004) that explicitly mentions Kaiser's Felton sand quarry and the Quail Hollow quarry as having sand from: 
... the marine deposits of the Santa Margarita formation that give rise to the unique sandhills communities also provide sand that is a highly valued commercial product for several reasons. First, the sand deposits extractable from the sandhills are very deep (Section 2.3). Second, unlike cemented sandstones, the Santa Margarita formation is loosely consolidated and thus readily quarried. Third, the action of ocean currents millions of years ago sorted the particles of sand according to their size, rendering the material well sorted for its various uses. The coarse sand is valuable for construction, as it well worn (rounded) and therefore less abrasive to machinery and cause less friction when creating concrete. Unlike beach sand, sandhills sand has a neutral pH that renders it useful for burying utility cables that would otherwise be corroded by the basic pH of high salinity beach sands. These coarse sands are also used in golf courses. 

So these three sand quarries are all part of the Santa Margarita sandhills formation, which explains why they're all in a line.  

That's 5 quarries down. Two more light patches to go. 

From that master Quarries of Santa Cruz County document, it's clear that the light patch on the far right side must be the Olive Springs Quarry.  (Google Maps handily labels it as such.)  


Here, the mine is "operated by Olive Springs Quarry Inc., which mines gneissic granodiorite (granitic rock) for construction aggregate. The mine contains a rock crushing and aggregate processing plant, and an asphaltic concrete (AC) plant. The permitted mining area encompasses approximately 48 acres and is permitted to operate until at least 2044..."

There's one more light patch to explain:  patch #7 in the above photo.  Again, zooming in, we see this: 

Patch #7

Ah.  This isn't a quarry at all, but a lumber yard.  But could it have been a quarry in the past?  

You can click on the 3D button in Maps to take a sideways view of this location.  Below I've made a side-by-side illustration of the lumber yard and 2 other quarries.  Note how the quarries are all built into the sides of hills with lots of staircasing, while the lumber yard is on the flat part.  

Quarries can be built on flat land, but in this part of the world, the quarries are typically dug into hillsides.  

Now we know what everything is: 
#1:  Bonny Doon quarry (marble and shale to make cement)
#2:  Felton quarry  (granitic rock)
#3:  Quail Hollow quarry (sand)
#4:  Geyer quarry (sand)
#5:  Hanson (Kaiser) quarry (sand)
#6:  Olive Springs quarry (granitic rock)
#7:  San Lorenzo lumber yard
How would we find out if there's a reason for all of these quarries to be located in such an interesting linear layout?  

Let's look for a geology map of Santa Cruz county.  (Tip:  Such maps are often created by the state, the federal government, but are always labeled by county.) 

     [ geology map Santa Cruz county ] 

which leads us to a lovely Geologic Map of Santa Cruz county.  Here's the relevant part: 

I want to overlay this map with the original image to see if there's any relationship between the geology (e.g., the Santa Margarita sandstone) and the location of the quarries.  

There are lots of ways to over translucent overlays of images, but one fast way is to create a new Powerpoint presentation, import the image (in this case, the geology map above) and then import the original "light patches" image and make that translucent.  (In Powerpoint, you select the image and use "Format Picture," selecting "Picture Transparency" to do this.  In Google Slides, do the same thing, but select the top picture, then Image Format>Adjust Image>Transparency.)  

This is the overlapping illustration I made: 

With a little playing around with the transparency controls, you can figure out that quarries #4, 5, 6 are.  Turns out that they are part of the tan colored region which are "middle miocene sedimentary" rocks.  

What are those "middle miocene sedimentary rocks" at the Quail Hollow (4), Geyer (5), and Hanson (6) quarries? 

A search for: 

     [ middle miocene sedimentary rocks Santa Cruz  county ] 

leads to a report on the "Stratigraphy, Paleontology, and Geology of the Central Santa Cruz Mountains, Central California Coast Ranges" (a Geology Survey paper published by the Department of the Interior).  In this document we learn that there are several layers of sandstone here, one of which is the Santa Margarita sandstone that's quarried from these locations.  The stone is described as "yellowish-gray to white sandstone," which lines up with what we see in the aerial photos.  

From "Stratigraphy..." page 8, figure 2. 

Harder to see in this illustration is the location of the Bonny Doon quarry:  

This part of the geologic map shows this to be "metamorphic" rock.  If you look up [metamorphic rock] you'll learn that these are rocks that have been transformed under heat and pressure to... things like marble and slate.  (Which is what was mined at Bonny Doon.)  

Doing this same analysis for Felton quarry (#2) and Olive Springs (#6) shows us that they're mining granitic rocks, just as the quarry summary tells us. 

The geology map is the key to understanding what's happening with the "light patches"! 

FINALLY... we understand what's going on here.  

There are several quarries that tap into the Santa Margarita sandstone formation (Quail Hollow, Geyer, and Hanson).  Since that formation runs roughly vertical, it makes sense that the quarries would run roughly north-south.  

The Bonny Doon quarry, however, is mining marble and shale--and there just are not that many outcrops of this type of rock.  (The only other sizeable area of marble in the area is found on the UC Santa Cruz campus, which mined marble to make cement, just as the Bonny Doon quarry was. And yes, there's an old quarry there too.)  

Both the Felton and Olive Springs quarry are excavating granitic stone, both in small, localized areas of granite.  

So the "alignment" of Bonny Doon, Felton, and Olive Springs on an east-west axis is just an accident.  There's no outcrop of a particular type of rock that causes them all to line up.  

Search Lessons

This post has gone on plenty long--sorry about this, but there's SO much to cover!  Let me sum up with a few search lessons... 

1. Use multiple resources to pull together information.  As you can see, I used old newspapers, images from satellite photos, and even the 3D structure of the landscape to figure out what's going on.  This wasn't a simple "look up the answer" kind of question.  It was a simple question prompted by looking out of the plane as I overflew the area.  But getting an understanding of why those patches lined up took quite a bit of digging.  

2.  Pay attention as you read--you'll often find the answers to related questions in related documents.  As I was looking for information about the Felton quarry, I found a lot of information about Bonny Doon and all of the quarries that I hadn't yet realized I was looking for!  

3.  Stay organized. In this Challenge, I was grabbing information from all over the place.  I ended up creating a MyMaps map of all the light patches and quarries to keep track of them all.  

I don't know about you, but this was an all-consuming SRS Challenge.  All told, I spent about 8 hours writing up this answer.  (And I didn't include all of the interesting side-tracks I went down!)  But I hope you picked up a few online research skills along the way.  

I'm taking the next week off, but will return in the first week of 2018 with a new Challenge! 

Search on! 


Thursday, December 14, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (12/14/17): What are those light patches on the ground?

Flying is a curious thing to do. 

Not only is it miraculous (humans moving through the air at 10km in an aluminum tube), but it gives one a very different perspective on the land below.  When I fly, I'm constantly looking out the window at the land and sea below, usually wondering what it is that I'm seeing.  

On a recent flight back into San Francisco airport, I was traveling northward (from Los Angeles) over Monterey Bay. And just after we crossed the bay and were passing over the coastal town of Santa Cruz, I noticed several distinctly light patches on the earth below us.  Here's what I saw from my seat, with red arrows marking the light patches I could see from the plane and the yellow dotted line marking the flight path: 

One of the points of this blog is to teach us the fine art of curiosity--in some ways, I write to figure out what triggers a curious question, and then how to find the answer with clever online research methods.  

In this case, the trigger was seeing so many of these very similar light patches of earth in more-or-less a line.  When I see things like this, I get curious.  Patterns suggest that something is going on. There's no obvious reason why these patches should be here, nor why they should be in a line like this.  Is it just an accident?  Or is something else going on here? 

I really don't know either.  But let's take a look this week and see if we can't figure out what's going on.  So... 

1. What ARE those light patches on the ground? 

2.  Is there any reason that they would be in a line like this?  What's special about this particular are that would cause light patches like this? 

To get you started, the patch on the far left of the image is at:  37.029531,-122.153212 , while the patch on the far right of the image is 37.0635053,-121.9324645

Can you figure this one out?

Let us know how you found your way to the answer!  

Search on! 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Answer: What kind of horn is that? Is that for real?

That crazy instrument is a real thing, albeit a bit odd.     

From last week, our Challenge was to figure out if this illustration (from a concert program) was a real instrument, or just someone's fancy.   

The Challenge was: 

1.  Is this a real instrument?  Or is it just a made-up thing?  If it's real, what would you call it? 

2.  Can you find the original source of this illustration?  When and where was it first published?  

As several SRS regulars pointed out, right-clicking on the image (or doing a Search-By-Image), quickly finds many instances of the "full image," or at least the rest of the instrument and the person playing it.  This is what I see in my SERP: 

Now you can see that the more complete image shows the entire circular horn, with the rest of the body standing in the landscape.  

If you click on any of these links, you quickly learn that this instrument is the cornu, a trumpet-like bronze instrument shaped in an arc covering somewhat more than half a circle (shaped a bit like an upper-case letter 'G').  It was pretty good size, about 3 m (9.8 ft) long.  

But if you look carefully, it's a cornu with the head of an animal.  Now that I know it's a cornu, I did an Image search with this query: 

     [ cornu instrument ] 

and found several more examples of cornus, along with a more complete image:  

If you look in the second row, second image in, that looks a LOT like the original image.  Clicking on that shows a full-view of that image, but even better, it also shows closely related images. Check out the image pointed to by the arrow: 

That's a "better" image for our purposes because it shows the border and some text.  Here's that image up-close: 

Now we can see that the bell of the cornu is a snakey-dragon-looking thing.  But now we've got some very specialized text to help us search: 

     [ altra tromba piegata antica ] 

leads us to a number of hits, all of which lead us to the book Gabinetto Armonico (Cabinet of Harmony) in 1723, a splendid collection of 150 engravings of musical instruments from around the world.  Of course, these are 18th century renderings of ancient instruments, so you shouldn't consider them as accurate depictions of what these things actually looked like, but from the perspective of the 1720s, this is what they thought.  

While I enjoyed the version of the Gabinetto (and the cornu illustration shown on plate 53 in particular), I wondered if I couldn't find a better scan of the text.  Sure enough, but doing a search for: 

     [ gabinetto armonico bonanni pdf ] 

I found a link to the PDF scan of the entire book, Gabinetto Armonico (high quality scan from 

This is the original source of the illustration.  

Along the way, I also read that this is referred to as a "zoomorphic" bell.  

I was curious about this, because the "zoomorphic" seems to have been an 18th century interpretation of the Roman cornu.  I did a bunch of searches for original (i.e., actual cornus in museums or depicted in contemporary artwork), but all I could find were "plain bells," like these cornus from Pompeii: 

Or this one from a Roman mosaic: 

There were zoomorphic instruments, such as the carnyx, but this is a Celtic instrument from about 500 BCE.  

And it's straight, not curved into a giant G shape.  But it's a possible inspiration for the combined dragon/snake head on the 18th century depiction of the cornu! 

Search Lessons 

As we've seen before, sometimes clues come from any number of sources.  

1.  Keep following the image search trail until you find a high-quality image.  In this case, we kept looking until we found a "good enough" image that would take us to the source.  

2.  Searching by image for even partial images sometimes works pretty well!  I have to admit to being very impressed by the ability of Search-by-Image at pulling up high quality images of the whole.  (I thought it would be harder than this.)   

Moral of the story: Even if you think it might-not-work, try anyway.  You might be happily surprised!  

Search on! 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (11/29/17): What kind of horn is that thing? Is it for real?

I went to a concert the other evening... 

... full of Baroque and Renaissance music, held in a lovely chapel late in the evening--the performers played shawms, traditional bagpipes, recorders, sackbutts, and a stray hurdy-gurdy.    

As we walked in, the usher handed us a program that was illustrated with this strange and wonderful illustration (this is a scan from the program cover illustration).  

It's clearly snipped from a larger illustration.  But it intrigues me.  Is this a real thing?  Or just some illustrator's imagination run wild?  

Here's today's Challenge: 

1.  Is this a real instrument?  Or is it just a made-up thing?  If it's real, what would you call it? 

2.  Can you find the original source of this illustration?  When and where was it first published?  

This isn't all that hard to do, but I had to poke around a bit to find the original.  Let us know how you found the source of this somewhat fanciful illustration!  

Search on! 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Answer: What causes such crazy cone and flower production?

This past week we had a harvest-time Challenge.  

It's Thanksgiving in the US, so our questions about sudden increases in pine cone production (and therefore, the production of pine nuts, which are just about my favorite tree product ever)  seems relevant. 

Remember that our Challenges were driven by seeing pine trees like this: 

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?  

This was a tough set of Challenges, but we figured it out!   Here's what I did... 

Like many of you, I started by searching for: 

     [ dying pine cone production ] 

and variations on that query.  

     [ dying pine cone bumper crop ] 
     [ dying pine cone mast crop ] 

Mostly, these searches seemed to go nowhere. Sigh. I read a lot about pine trees dying from beetles and drought, but little about the connection with a sudden flowering (that is, an efflorescence) of cones.  I learned that pine trees produce varying numbers of cones each year, so there's year-to-year variation.  I was beginning to think the idea of "dying pine trees producing large numbers of cones" was a complete myth.  

But... as I was quickly scanning a fairly low-quality site, I noticed the term "stress crop" used to describe a sudden outburst of pine cones on trees that weren't exactly dying, but were not in good shape.   

Frankly, I didn't hold out much hope for this term (it was a really crummy site), but it gave me a new way to think about the language of pine trees and sudden large crops of cones.  So  did a search for: 

     [ "stress crop" pine cones ] 

and found a number of higher quality sites that told me a bit about how stress sometimes causes plants (in general!) to flower in large quantities.  From the first few results I learned: 

1. Stressed trees produce more seeds, and pine trees in particular produce more cones when stressed by drought or insect defoliation.  (From - the author is a forester and commissioner of the Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation) 
2. Pine trees stressed by drought will produce a "stress crop," that is, an abnormally high number of cones.  (From the Oregon state Dept. of Forestry)  
3.  When Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is stressed by Littleleaf disease, about 3 years before they die from the disease, Shortleaf pine trees commonly bear an unusually large crop of  small cones known as a "stress crop."  (From the USDA National Agricultural Library, an article by the US Forest Service on reducing losses of forest trees by a number of different stressors.)  
4. Pines that are suffering from Armillaria root disease often leads to chlorosis (yellowing) and heavier-than-normal productions of cones (a stress crop of cones).  (From The American Phytopathological Society article about Armillaria root disease, aka "shoestring root rot.")   

So, I learned a new and productive phrase to describe the sudden burst of pine cones from a pine tree that's stressed by disease or drought.  

Our second question was "how does the plant know this?"  This sounds a bit odd (how does a plant "know" anything?), but let's try to unpack this idea a bit.  

Large Lodgepole pine cone crop caused by stress
What I meant was "how does the plant figure out that it's time to produce a massive crop of cones?"  In order to suddenly go from few cones to a "stress crop," something has to happen in the tree to make all of the branches suddenly start producing cones all at the same time.  

The only way I know of for a tree to do that is to produce some kind of hormone that gets shared between all of the branches, causing a sudden efflorescence of cone production.  

The obvious query at this point would be: 

     [ "stress crop" hormone ] 

From one book (Mechanism of Plant Hormone Signalling Under Stress) I learned that "...plants have developed an intricate web of complex machineries to translate perceived stress signal into effective response by modulating the gene expression or directly affecting the physiology of the cell..."  

Okay--so plants DO respond to stress by using signaling hormones to make things happen.  But what is that hormone for pine trees? 

While the results from this query told me a great deal about hormone signalling (and confirmed that stress can cause various hormones to signal plant changes), I really want to find out about pine trees and cones.  I modified the query to be:

     [ "stress crop" hormone pine cones ] 

This gave me much more focused results, including an article from Montana State University Extension (Pruning Trees for Health, Shape and After Storm Damage) with the useful paragraph in a section about the effect of hormones on tree growth: 

As summer progresses, tree energy priorities may also be redirected towards seed/fruit production. An interesting phenomenon for many trees is the “stress crop” effect. Trees that are stressed may divert energy towards a plentiful seed/fruit crop as a “last gasp” before they die as a mechanism to ensure species survival. A heavy seed crop on a scrawny tree may indicate imminent death rather than health and abundant energy. Fruit growers use this effect by pruning trees every late winter in manner that does not weaken overall tree health but that stimulates a “stress” seed (fruit) crop. 

That's fascinating (and goes partway towards answering our third question).  

In another fairly technical article Cone Production in Conifers (published by the Pacific Forest Research Centre, part of the Canadian government), we read that there are many factors that determine overall cone production rates.  There's the cyclical nature of some species (abundant in some years, and then again some number of years later), but also average annual temperature, moisture, fertilizer, and... stress.  In particular, stresses of dehydration, wounds to the outer layers of bark, insect attacks all lead to stress crops.  Stress causes a rise in the level of gibberellin, which is associated with intense cone production.  

Aha!  I just learned a new search term that's associated with pine cone production.  If I do a new search for: 

     [ gibberellin hormone pine cones ] 

This leads me to many more (and increasingly technical) articles on how gibberellin hormone response causes a stress crop response.  

In particular, the paper Plant growth regulators and cone induction in Pinaceae (from the Centre for Forest Biology, University of Victoria, BC, Canada) is a wonderful primer on what causes pine cones to form on pine trees.  They have an extensive discussion about what hormones cause pine tree flowers (and therefore cones) to form:  

The traditional methods for improving seed yield involve treatments to manipulate physiological conditions of the parent trees, which in turn enhances flowering. Flower enhancement is achieved by either physically stressing the trees, altering the tree’s nutritional status by applying various inorganic fertilizers, or applying growth regulating substances such as gibberellins (GAs)... 

This was also a fascinating paper, not least of which was for it's plaintive comment about how hard it is to do this kind of research, talking about a fruitless search for a hypothetical universal flowering hormone:   
 There is a long history of studies whose goal was to enhance flowering [and cone production]. For decades, the search for a universal floral induction mechanism and its universal compound – florigen - consumed many careers...

But this paper also gives us the answer to the "how the tree knows" Challenge.  

Summarizing here:  When a tree is stressed, either by physical damage or by the roots receiving less water than they prefer, the needles, or bark, or roots release one of several hormones (e.g., ethylene or abscisic acid) which then causes the tree to start producing one or more different types of gibberellins, which in turn cause cones to form.  

If the stress is large enough, a massive crop of cones form. 

Obviously, if the stress is long and large enough, the tree dies--covered in cones.  But if the stress is removed, the tree might well recover and live another year.  

The third Challenge asks if this same concept applied to other plants as well.  I gave the example of my poor, under-leafed but over-flowered bougainvillea: 

I began this search with: 

     [ stress-induced flowering bougainvillea ] 

and discovered that not only is this a thing, but it's quite common to withhold moisture from a bougainvillea to get it to produce lots of flowers!  Here's a quick guideline from a newspaper gardening section:  

Bougainvillea flowers heaviest when the plant is water-stressed. Bougainvillea growers often withhold water for extended periods to force the plant into bloom. To stimulate blooming this way, withhold all water until the leaves begin to wilt. Then water thoroughly. For regular maintenance, water only when the soil is dry but before leaves show signs of stress. Mature, established vines rarely require watering. They flourish with calculated neglect.

I believe it, but I thought I'd do the same query in Google Scholar and see what would show up there (looking for a somewhat more authoritative answer).  I found pretty much the same thing in a journal article titled  "Stress-induced flowering" from Plant Signalling & Behavior.  In the article they point out that not all plants respond to stress in the same way, but that stressors such as  low nutrition, drought, poor nitrogen, poor oxygen, and girdling cause many plants to flower.  (Especially, they point out, any and all stressors cause Douglas fir to flower.)  

Another article ("Effects of shoot bending on ACC content, ethylene production, growth and flowering of bougainvillea" from the journal Plant Growth Regulation) tells us that stress on a bougainvillea (such as shoot bending, which stress the branch) cause an increase in ethylene production (which we learned above), causing it to flower earlier and productively.  

What about other plants?  I repeated the query without the bougainvillea: 

     [ stress-induced flowering ] 

and found that stress causes not just pines and bougainvilleas to flower, but also citrus of many kinds, Cyclamen, mangos, and pineapples.  


Yes!  In their paper "Forced flower of pineapple (Ananas comosus cv. Tainon 17) in response to cold stress, ethephon and calcium carbide with or without activated charcoal" (published in Plant Growth Regulation journal), the authors show how spraying field pineapples with either (1) an ice-slush, or (2) calcium carbide (which generates ethylene when mixed with water!) will cause flowering to take place.

Bottom line:  Many kinds of stress can cause plants to flower--including pine trees, mangos, pineapples, and bougainvillea.  When stressed by drought (which is very common in California over the past few years), pine trees will create a "stress-crop" of cones, easily seen on the branches.  

Search Lessons 

There are many lessons here.  Here are three to get you going: 

1.  You often find answers to other questions while looking around.  That's why it's useful to jot down your research questions before you start.  That gives you a way to structure your note-taking, and you know what the pay attention to as you research. 

2.  Pay particular attention to unusual terms or phrases you run across.  These are often the key to making exactly the right query.  In this example, "stress-crop" lead to all kinds of discoveries, as did finding the term gibberellin, which led us to finding all kinds of articles about plant hormones that drive the flowering (and pine cone) process.  

3.  Scholar is really useful for technical questions.  In this case, we used Google Scholar to find very authoritative references in the botanical literature.  These were often fairly detailed (and took a lot of looking up of specialty terms), but valuable in the end. 

Search on! 

(And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!)