Imperfections in nature can be lovely


Halifax Media Group

If — like many people — you came into the world with an extra toe, finger, or nipple, you know nature is far from perfect. Equivalent imperfections also appear frequently in the plant kingdom, where a condition called fasciation, or cresting, is quite common.

Typically, fasciated plants display an unmistakable and often extreme flattening or, in some instances, coiling of growth that, in normal plants, would be fuller and more rounded. What causes these abnormalities? Well, no one knows for sure, but just about everything has been blamed, including nutritional problems, viruses, bacteria, fungi, chilly weather and insects. It’s possible that any, all, or a combination of those factors trigger fasciations in plant stems, flowers and fruit — or perhaps none of them are responsible.

The only plants I’ve observed developing cresting while I was growing them were firespikes (Odontonema strictum). Instead of branched inflorescences with blossoms appearing in an open, 360-degree pattern, several of my firespike plants displayed thickened flowerheads that looked as if normal inflorescences had been pressed in a vise. Though not unattractive, I don’t believe those cristate flowers provided much, if any, nectar for hummingbirds.

Unusual plants are particularly appealing to plant lovers, especially collectors, so it’s not surprising that cristate — often called monstrose — specimens of cactuses and succulents are extremely popular. Among cactuses, the best-known is the curiosity plant (Cereus hildimannianus “Monstrose”), which features a contorted and thickened stem. Equally beguiling and sought after is Cereus peruvianus “Monstrose.” These attractive, slow-growing plants are ideal for cultivating on sunny windowsills.

Several succulent Euphorbias prone to fasciation have also charmed collectors for decades, with the crested cowhorn (E. grandicormis “Cristata”) forming a specimen with antler-like branches. Also common are monstrose forms of milkstripe euphorbia (E. lactea “Cristata”) which, like most crested plants, grows more slowly and is ultimately more compact than normal individuals.

A cristate warm-season annual that’s widely grown is cockscomb (Celosia argentea), which is sold as Celosia “Cristata” and bears fanlike clusters of flowers that can be delightfully contorted. It’s available in several colors, with plants ranging from 10 inches to 3 feet tall.

Almost any — perhaps all — plants can develop fasciations: I’ve seen cristate palms, bromeliads, fruits and vegetables. Some were hideous and others were bizarrely beautiful, but all were interesting.

Charles Reynolds, a Winter Haven resident, has an associate degree in horticulture and is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.

Last modified: January 22, 2015
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.