Question of the Week
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Thank you to Ava Hayes, who sent her photos and question about this really bizarre growth on her mountain laurel. The term for this is fasciated. We're not sure what causes this tissue, but it's definitely a genetic mutation.
It develops when the round growing point, the apical meristem, becomes distorted and crescent shaped.
This normally occurs in discrete regions of the plant. In experiments, this type of growth has been created from an overabundance of plant hormones, wounding and severe pruning, but still we really don't know what causes it. Most of these occur in nature and we have no known cause; it may simply be a genetic anomaly.
Genetic mutations that lead to an evolutionary advantage are sustained, but these don't seem to have one. This can be reproduced asexually, and so it's prized in horticulture because it's so interesting.
You'll notice a similarity, because it is the same, to our crested saguaros in the Sonoran desert. In addition to stem tissue as you see on Ava's plant, the flowers can be distorted; an example of that is cockscomb celosias and even beefsteak tomatoes. Look at the flowers next time you grow those.