Interestingly, most of the miniature conifers which are available
in the nursery trade are the result of fasciated growths which
have been harvested and vegetatively propagated. Some popular
cactus and succulent varieties are also a result of this haywire
growth, and they often are referred to as being "monstrose"
or "cristate" in form.
The causal agents of fasciation are quite varied: insects
feeding on the growing points of a stem may cause mechanical
damage which upsets the hormonal balance in the meristem. Or,
the insect may introduce a bacteria or fungus which then disrupts
the normal cell division. In some plants, rapid changes in environmental
conditions can cause fasciation. Whatever the reason, this abnormality
occurs quite often, in a wide variety of plants.
Some fasciations are permanently genetic, and can result in
new, stable plant forms, as indicated by the conifers and cacti
mentioned above. However, over the years I have seen fasciation
in tropical waterlilies. I have been able to repeatedly divide
the miniature clustered growths, until they finally resume normal
growth. In this case, the cause of the fasciation was temporary,
and the plants were able to outgrow that condition when given
lots of sun, fertilizer and hot temperatures. My method for accomplishing
this is quite simple: divide the tiny plants every three weeks,
keeping fertility levels high, with maximum sunlight. The resultant
rapid growth somehow overcomes whatever agent was causing the
fasciation. Perhaps the heat of summer also aids in repressing
the causative agent. I really don't know why this method works
but it does.
This series of photos, taken over a three month period, shows
the division of a fasciated waterlily crown, and the eventual
return to normal growth in the divisions. We have been able to
produce over 50 normal blooming, mature plants in three months,
with many more on the way. Yet, even after three months' time,
there is still one cluster that continues to fasciate, producing
tiny bundles of leaves. I should also note here that I have never
seen fasciation spread from one plant to another, no matter how
crowded the pond. I have even tried to inoculate normal lilies
with tissue from fasciated crowns, but have not been able to
induce fasciation in the normal plants.
As fate would have it, this beautiful waterlily is a variety
unknown to me! It has deep purple-blue, cup shaped flowers, on
tall stems; it is a fast grower, and has proven popular with
our customers as an "unnamed hybrid" Although some
of the first flowers on these divisions had abnormal shapes,
by the second and third flower, all growth was normal. None of
the plants which have regained their normal growth have reverted
to a fasciated state.
Since fasciation in tropical waterlilies appears to be a temporary
and reversible condition, there is the tantalizing possibility
that we might some day be able to induce fasciation in a new
or rare waterlily hybrid as a means of rapid multiplication.
Sometimes, it seems that the more unusual a new hybrid lily is
the more difficult it is to propagate it. Induced fasciation
in a new hybrid would enable the production of hundreds of identical
plants within one growing season, allowing the trade rapid access
to a new and desirable waterlily.
Now, all we have to do is figure this out: is fasciation caused
by insect damage? A fungus? A bacteria? Rapid environmental fluctuations?
Chance cosmic rays??
As far as I know, all attempts at tissue culture or micro
propagation of tropical waterlilies have failed. (I would not
consider tissue culture of a viviparous leaf nodule to be useful
at all!) So a quick method of multiplying a new hybrid would
be highly desirable.
The answer to this mystery of fasciation is more than an academic
it would have great practical consequence in
speeding the introduction of new hybrids to waterlily enthusiasts
around the world. Understanding how to induce fasciation in waterlilies
would be a celebrated accomplishment which would bring joy to
hobbyists and hybridizers alike. Got a theory on how to do this?
Give it a try, and let us know what happens!