We wrapped up our fall planting in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden in the first week of November. While I was loading the Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (spike speedwell) into the Kubota, I noticed two things. First, there was a very cold little bumblebee nestled into the violet-blue flowers which had persisted quite late into the season; and second, that the terminal racemes which usually resemble candle shaped spikes, where looking rather odd. I immediately thought “Yay! Fasciation!”
Admittedly, it’s the little things that I find truly exciting and while I have seen and know that this oddity can occur, I always feel like I am making a new discovery when I witness this physiological ‘mistake.’
Fasciation [ fash-ee-ey-shuhn] is derived from the Latin word fascia which means banded or striped and can occur on any part of a plant but is most often observed on flowers and stems. Fasciated flowers may appear flattened or fanned and sometimes are doubled and crested between. Fasciated stems may appear fused, ribbon like or even twisting. There are a lot of variations in the symptoms of fasciation and just as much variation in the conditions believed to cause fasciation. Hormonal, genetic, bacterial, fungal, viral or environmental conditions (including frost, mechanical injury by insects or animals, chemicals) are all possible suspects. Fasciation occurs when one of these conditions causes a mutation or deformity in the meristem of a plant causing it to elongate. Meristems trigger the growth of new cells at the tips of roots and shoots to form what become the leaves, stems and flowers. The elongation on the meristem can cause some very interesting abnormalities in growth – sometimes beautiful and sometimes grotesque – but always interesting.
In many cases, fasciation is completely unpredictable and often occurs on only one stem – a random characteristic exhibited in an otherwise ‘normal’ plant and an unexpected treat for the observant gardener. Those who don’t care for the look of a contorted plant can simply cut off the affected portion and know, with relative certainty, that it will not look that way when it grows back.
In situations where fasciation is the result of genetic abnormalities and the characteristics of the flattened plant are desirable, they can be recreated through vegetative propagation. This technique has been used to introduce some truly unique plant selections to the nursery trade.
While fasciation is not common, it has been found to occur in hundreds of species. If this is a phenomenon you want to experience first-hand, a trip to the grocery might do the trick. Next time you see a flat, somewhat unusually formed strawberry – look twice because you may in the presence of a fasciated fruit and if you are anything like me, it may just be the highlight of your shopping trip!
Annie Rzepka Budziak
Director of Arboretum Horticulture
Ann Rzepka Budziak has been a Horticulturist at the Holden Arboretum since 2008. In this capacity, she maintains the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden, collects and propagates seed for use within the garden, assists with heritage species monitoring, and helps maintain Holden’s commitment to the Center for Plant Conservation. Ms. Rzepka was previously employed by the Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District where she served as their Natural Resources Specialist. She earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Hiram College.