The fasciated coneflowers that appeared in Yvon Veilleux’s garden.
Question: A mutated coneflower (Rudbeckia hirta) appeared in our garden last summer. As you can see, many of its flowers are welded together. We collected the plant’s seeds and intend to sow them soon. Is it possible that we can become millionaires if the seedlings continue this unique growth habit?
Answer: The mutation that you saw on your coneflower is called a fasciation or crest. In the botanical descriptions of plants with this habit, you’ll often see the term cristata following the name, as in Euphorbia lactea cristata for the succulent known as crested euphorbia.
Normally, the growing point (meristem) of a plant grows upward in a more or less cylindrical fashion, but occasionally, it begins to proliferate abnormally, growing horizontally and forming, in some cases, a ribbonlike shape, in others, a zigzag type of growth. This is what gave the abnormally elongated and asymmetric growth that you saw in your coneflower’s bloom.
Fasciations are found in flowers, as in your case, but even more commonly in stems, which are then unusually broad and flattened. I often see delphiniums with fasciated stems or flower spikes, for example. Roots can also be fasciated, but with roots usually being underground, this is less often noticed.
More Than One Cause
Fasciation can have multiple causes.
It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, by insect or mite infestations, by pesticide treatments, or by unseasonal frost, among other things. However, it can also be genetic, in other words, a true mutation. Most such mutations are somatic ones, that is, not found in the cells that produce seed. If the mutated gene were a germinal mutation however, that is, a mutation in the cells destined to develop into seeds, it would be possible to multiply the fasciation by seed.
Normal celosia on left, cockscomb celosia on right. The latter is the only commercially viable fasciated plant grown from seed.
Such is the case of cockscomb celosia (Celosia argentea cristata), an annual long cultivated for its flowers whose convoluted crest looks like, well, a highly colorful brain! Compare that to the plant’s normal bloom (C. argentea plumosa), with its very feathery appearance, and the contrast is quite striking. Fasciation that is transmitted by seed remains a very rare occurrence. The cockscomb celosia is the only commercially available plant that I know of that is produced by seed.
A crested cactus (left) and a crested euphorbia (right), both grown multiplied by grafting.
In plants that can be multiplied asexually, however, preserving and even multiplying the crested part can be much easier to do. Among cacti and euphorbias, for example, crests are considered highly desirable and are often grafted onto normal stems, giving a new fasciated plant. Simply cut off the crest or even just a section of the crest and graft away to your heart’s content.
Another example is the Japanese fan willow (Salix udensis ‘Sekka’) whose curiously fan-shaped stems, caused by fasciation, are used in floristry. It is readily multiplied by cuttings.
Among the Asteraceae or daisy family, which includes the coneflower, fasciated flowers are fairly common. For example, every time I grow painted daisies (Tanacetum coccineum), I always find a few fasciated flowers. As far as I know, however, the type of fasciation commonly found in Asteraceae flowers is not germinal and cannot be transmitted by seeds.
But maybe you’ve hit the gold mine and you’ve run into a coneflower whose fasciation is germinal (transmissible by seed). If so, you’ll have to test the plant for a few years. Normally you should be able to show that the gene has been successfully transmitted for 3 generations in a row (that is, for 3 years in the case of an annual rudbeckia) to ensure that the mutation is true to type. Ideally, each inflorescence on the plant would be fasciated or, if not, each plant produced should faithfully show at least one very obvious fasciation every year.
Once you’ve proved your plant to be true to type from seed, you then would have to locate a nursery interested in marketing your plant… and willing to pay you for it. Some producers are always on the lookout for new varieties and actually advertise this interest. I’m thinking especially of Blooms of Bressingham and Thompson & Morgan, both of which state on their website that they are looking for new plants. Making millions, however, is unlikely. Thompson & Morgan, for example, offers £500 (about $900) for a plant that it deems marketable.
And that may be a major stumbling block. I’m sure you think your fasciated rudbeckia is just gorgeous, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure that everyone appreciates the effect of a coneflower with fasciated blooms. You’d have to convince the eventual distributor that your plant is going to be a hit.
That said, please do continue your experiment… and keep me informed of the results. As the saying goes, it can’t hurt to try!