Posted: Wednesday 6 July 2011
by Richard Jones

I remember, very clearly, finding a fasciated marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre, somewhere in the flood plain of the River Cuckmere, near Alfriston, Sussex, when I was aged 12 or 13.

Bumblebee feeding on fasciated flowerJust outside the back door is a lanky tuft of Veronicastrum virginicum. It's a good bee flower, with honeybees and bumbles visiting often. And this is the third year in a row that we have had a fasciated flower on it.

I remember, very clearly, finding a fasciated marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre, somewhere in the flood plain of the River Cuckmere, near Alfriston, Sussex, when I was aged 12 or 13. I thought I had found some exciting new plant, or strange metamorphic phenomenon. I was amazed how the multiplied stem formed such an alien-looking ribbon, and yet was growing perfectly healthily and strong. The memory stuck with me, because it was about this time that I first read J.G. Ballard’s dystopian science fiction novel The Crystal World, where the scientist hero discovers that the dripping rainforests of Gabon are crystallizing because of some fault in the flow of time.

In my mind I could imagine some bizarre stroboscopic effect, creating the illusion of multiple stems coalescing together in a fan-like sweep. Luckily my father, a botanist, was on hand to try and explain how the flattened and twisted stem material had grown like this because of damage in the developing bud. At the time I only had a vague grasp of what had occurred. I had to wait for embryology lectures 10 years later for a clearer understanding of meristems, morphology and growth patterns. But I have been fascinated by fasciation ever since.

There was the ash sapling, broadened and curved at its tip like a shepherd's crook, the ribwort plantain's thickened stem and forked flower-head, and the daisy squashed and stretched like a plasticine model. And now there was the regular appearance of broad purple inflorescences just outside my kitchen.

Apparently, Veronicastrum is prone to fasciation, and a quick Google image search shows plenty of broadened flower spikes just like mine. First you have to get past the slightly annoying Google tendency to 'anticipate' and instead it searches for 'fascination' rather than 'fasciation'. Curiously, there is a Veronicastrum cultivar called 'Fascination'. I wonder whether it was named, accidentally, because of an over-zealous computer spell-checker.

The bees don't seem to mind though.

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Gardeners' World Web User 06/07/2011 at 18:29

Wow, I'm afraid you lost me a little with this one, but I am now off to 'carefully' google it and come back when I have a better understanding!..... As they say you learn something new every day!! http://higgysgardenproject.blogspot.com/ Higgy

Gardeners' World Web User 07/07/2011 at 13:41

Richard, I think you might have enjoyed the demonstration we had at the Botanic garden today of the banksia's way to assure its survival in territory prone to burning. It was like being back in the chemistry lab The curator burned the dried seed cone and we watched the orifices opening for the seed to be able to drop out - a one-winged seed which spirals away from its parents in the wind. It was fascinating to see how only the dried outer fluff would burn but not the hard bits that protected the seeds. We also saw the teenage leaves (half juvenile, half mature) of the mimosa trees and I cannot wait for this rain to stop to go looking for the teenage leaves in my monstrous ivy plant up my pear tree. I think the magazine could do a series of articles on the marvels our garden plants reveal to us if only we knew where to look.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/07/2011 at 14:59

I had lupins grow like that a few years ago after we tried a new fertilizer on the market...they not only grew extremely tall (over 5 foot) they also produced flattened mainstems then at least 3 lupins grew out of the top of the flattened stem where there should have only been one on each stem

Gardeners' World Web User 08/07/2011 at 16:26

had a fasciated stem on a weigelia last year. none appeared this year

Gardeners' World Web User 11/07/2011 at 08:52

hi richard,could you if pos read the blog on flying ants [from kate bradbury]... i have left a blog on there regarding my sister,we are trying to find out what theses insect or what every theses things are!!!!!! today i have just spoken to my sister and she has said that there are loads flying in and out [very fast]. weather wise its very warm not sure if its that that is making a differance. also they have been there about 4 weeks or so. HELP...

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