By John Whipple
In the display gardens just outside the corporate offices at Star® Roses and Plants/Conard-Pyle, we have a number of exciting and unusual plants. However, we also have a few tried and true varieties with an unusual twist. You will see some of our Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ and if you look closely, you will notice the stems are flattened in some cases, or spiral and curl in odd, random patterns in others.
This distortion is called fasciation. An occurrence more common than you may expect, fasciation is reported to occur in more than 100 plant species. It can take place in the stems, leaves, flowers, and even fruit (think of a ripe beefsteak tomato) of a plant. There are a number of plants prized for their fasciation, including fantail willow, which is used in floral arrangements, Cockscomb Celosia, the popular bedding annual, and the Saguaro cactus, which, while it isn’t bought and sold, has one of the most bizarre manifestations of the condition.
The exact cause of fasciation is still not certain and research has shown a large number of variables that are believed to cause the deformity. It is often thought to be a hormonal change in the plant, brought on by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Another option is simply that the bacteria or viruses’ manifestation in the plant results in the contorted display. Environmental conditions, insect attacks or herbicide damage can also cause similar irregularities in plant tissues. Finally, it has been shown in species of peas and beans to be a genetic trait. From a breeding prospective, this means that fasciation could be bred into a plant line (such as the Celosia). One only has to pause to imagine the intriguing new cultivars that could be possible once we learn more about the fascinating condition.