"It may be that your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others." Ever felt like that about your gardening endeavours?
That your garden speciality is producing textbook illustrations for every peril known to plant, disease, deformity, predation or just plain poor performance? And this despite much earnest reading and application of everything supposed to make plants happy.
From this perspective, last season's most spectacular success on our patch came in the form of a cucumber - an apple cucumber, given a prime glasshouse position and much tender, loving care.
It was admittedly from a cheap store, but it thrived, looking more hopeful for salads than the more expensive example - from the specialist plant centre - down the other end of the tomatoes.
Then, like Jack's beanstalk, it thrived some more, with increasingly monstrous vigour, forming an impenetrable jungle hogging more and more of its side of the glasshouse.
Plus, one of its multiple stalks was doing something very weird.
It flattened out in a ribbonlike structure of fused strands - resembling those wide flat cables inside electronic devices such as printers.
It was a plant on steroids, and pinching out ends only made matters worse.
Flowers finally appeared, thousands of them, especially all over that strange striated ribbon.
But no fruit set, and close inspection revealed no normal male and female structures to allow for pollination anyway. It had to go.
The tangled growth defeated intentions of leaving enough of it for scientific interest to see what might happen, and the whole monstrous pile was consigned to the compost heap.
None of the neighbourhood garden advisers could diagnose the problem, until Wayne Campbell of Campbell's Garden Centre identified it as an example of fasciation. Together we pored over his textbook, noting that while not common, it has been recorded in hundreds of different plants.
Something, as yet unknown, sets the cells in the growing tip off on this mad track, producing weird and wonderful results, and not just the fused flat stems - the fan- like enlargement of the growing tip produces further deformities, with stems bent or twisted in strange ways, flowers and leaves appearing at odd angles.
Some plants have a tendency to it, such as delphiniums, or forsythia. In perennials it may be there one year, but not the next, and it is not contagious.
Other plants always present in this form, and may be valued for their strange attraction. The Japanese fantail willow, Salix sachalinensis 'Sekka' for example, has been much loved by ikebana exponents.
The cockscomb form of the celosia, with its bright flower like a furry brain, is a valued hothouse plant. (Look for it in the Queen's Park winter garden come summer.) The cockscomb Japanese cedar is another example.
Google "fasciation" and click "images" and up comes a gallery of weird flora.
The daisies, like the black-eyed susan, are especially wonderful, their centres stretched to caterpillar shapes, the surrounding petals like multiple legs or wings.
Research has not yet identified the cause of fasciation, but suspects include random genetic mutation, hormonal imbalance, bacterial or viral infection, fungi, damage by frost, insects or other animals, and chemical or other injury, even from hoeing. Pretty well everything except alien invasion.
The best advice on preventing it (and while it's fascinating it is not really welcome in a food crop) is to maintain good sanitation and avoid injuring the base of plants, especially when wet.
My cucumber had another lesson to offer. Its origins took some detective work to track down the unnamed grower who produced it on contract for a supplier to the retailer.
The grower is well known, and one would assume, a source of quality plants.
Maybe, but the seed for this contract was not of his choice, and he had a very low opinion of it. And of apple cucumbers in general it seemed. Stick with Lebanese cucumbers was his advice.
It is a lesson - that growers, even those who know their trade, are producing plants from seed that has been chosen for reasons of economy, not quality. Buyer beware.
But even a cheap and nasty cucumber plant is no more likely to fasciate than any other.
To quote from my internet research: "In most most cases, fasciation is just a random, fascinating oddity".
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