Getting freaky

Fasciation is the term used for stems and flowers that are distorted as they grow, usually when the growing point is damaged and becomes not a point but a line. The result is a thick, flattened stem. It is usually random in appearance and plants may or may not produce fasciated stems every year. It is usually put down to mechanical damage, possibly by insects, to the growing point, or to weather. But some plants seem to have a habit of producing fasciated stems. Linaria does it a lot as do many forsythias. There is even a willow (Salix ‘Sekka’) that does it so much that it is its main raison d’etre.

Anyway, I noticed that my one pink Linaria purpurea had produced a really thick stem, 8cm across. It was so distorted that, as it grew, it ripped itself apart. Not pleasant but strange.

Another plant that does it a lot is veronicastrum and my clumps of V. virginicum ‘Cupid’ are full of fasciated stems this year – far more, I am sure, than last year.

The effect is not unsightly and it does mean that these central spikes have far more flowers than usual and this must be a treat for the bees, which adore the blooms.

Another freak that has appeared is a calendula with ‘hens and chickens’ flowers. The common pot marigold, sometimes called English marigold to differentiate it from French marigolds or African marigolds, is a common garden plant with many variations. Of course the common names do not accurately describe their origins and calendulas are Mediterranean. I grow a few every year to increase the diversity in the garden and they self seed. Eventually they tend to revert to single, plain orange unless rigorously rogued. This can be tricky because every plant is pretty and self-sown seedlings survive winter and there are blooms virtually all year – as the name ‘calendula’ suggests – being derived from the Latin kalendae, the first day of every month. It has been grown in the British Isles for centuries and one of the strangest variants is the ‘hens and chickens’ form where a number of smaller flowers forms around the base of the main flower. Of course, to satisfy the pendants (including me), I use the term ‘flower’ loosely because each ‘flower’ is a head of flowers. The form is properly called ‘Prolifera’ and a similar thing happens in daisies (Bellis perennis) and perhaps it happens in other Asteraceae genera, though I can’t think of any at the moment. A similar form can be found in an ugly Papaver somniferum with clustered seed pods.

I have deliberately grown this before but it is the first time it has occurred spontaneously for me and no calendula I have grown in this garden has shown it before. I am very fortunate that the plant does not have the usual, plain orange flowers but has mutated from a nice, crested form, originally from a ‘Kablouna’ strain. So as well as being interesting the effect is actually pleasant.

The hens and chickens marigold is described in Gerard’s Herbal in 1636. ‘The fruitfull or much bearing Marigold is likewise called of the vulgar sort of women, Jack-an-apes on horsebacke: it hath leaves, stalkes, and roots like the common sort of Marigold, differing in the shape of his flours, for this plant doth bring forth at the top of the stalke one floure like the other marigolds; from which start forth sundry other small floures, yellow likewise, and of the same fashion as the first, which if I be not deceived commeth to passe per accidens, or by chance, as Nature often-times liketh to play with other floures, or as children are borne with two thumbes on one hand, and such like, which living to be men, do get children like unto others; even so is the seed of this Marigold, which if it be sowen, it brings forth not one floure in a thousand like the plant from whence it was taken.’

Of course, Gerard is not the most reliable source of information and ‘Prolifera’ will come partly true from seed. I will pull up the surrounding plants and make sure I collect seeds and see how true they come. I would like to keep it now I have it.

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2 Comments on “Getting freaky”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    June 25, 2022 at 9:05 am #

    Nature does throw up its fair share of oddballs alright!

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