Do you have deformed tomatoes? There’s a word for that.

  • Freshly collected malformed tomatoes. (123rf)

How could you not be fascinated by the phrase fasciated plants?

You have probably raised plants that have led you to say: Hmmm, what did I do wrong? The plant or its produce might look so weird and misshapen that you’re convinced your garden has become infected with a new and rare plant disease or insect. Have you ever harvested a beefsteak tomato with an extremely contorted shape?

The fascinating fact is that the plant suffers from fasciation. In plain garden jargon, it is nature’s mistake. Some affected plants exhibit huge grotesque stems and flowers. The official definition of fasciated is “showing abnormal fusion of parts or organs, resulting in a flattened ribbonlike structure,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

The process is the result of a growing point changing from a round dome of cells into a crescent shape. Subsequent growth produces a flat stem rather than a round stem.

Fasciated stems look strange. Leaves, flowers and fruits develop unusual shapes and appear at odd angles to the stem. Some, looking like hand-held fans, have led to the descriptive term crested. Nature usually steps in and corrects its mistakes. Branches or whole plants with this condition are overshadowed by normal branches and do not last long.

Scientists admit they don’t know what causes the plants to form fasciated stems. Plants have been induced experimentally with plant hormones, experienced severe pruning, wounding and atypical day lengths with the condition not being replicated. Most examples just simply appear by chance.

Given the right circumstances, fasciation can occur in any kind of plant from dandelions to grapes. Gardeners who are attracted by oddball plants have propagated some of the rarities. Fasciation is especially common in cacti and succulents. Willows, cockscomb and foxgloves also frequently show this abnormality.

Some plants, notably cockscomb, transmit the fasciation characteristic by seed. According to one article I referenced from my file, the fasciated growth is probably caused by a permanent change in the genome of the celosia, possibly triggered by a phytoplasma infection at some point in the distant past. If this is so, this is a case of natural genetic engineering.

The unusual shapes of fasciated plants makes them prized by many interested in horticulture. Many can be perpetuated by vegetative propagation and are designated as cultivars of the species. Some noteworthy examples are: crested saguaro cactus, fasciated Japanese cedar and fantail willow.

There isn’t anything you can do once you find it in your garden. You may be able to prune out the affected branches without damaging the entire plant. It is not a condition that will affect perennials in the following year.

In our culture of wanting perfection, I suggest you step back, take a second look at what you may consider a deformed plant and consider it a unique opportunity to observe nature.

A new favorite word is biophillia from the New York Botanical Garden website. It is a term popularized by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1960s to mean a “friendly feeling toward life.” In the late 1970s, American biologist, Edward O. Wilson extended the words meaning, seeing it as the perfect word for “the rich, natural pleasure that comes from being surrounded by living organisms.”

Think of the word as meaning the love of living things and nature.

— Reporter:

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