The Fascinating World Of Fasciation

The other day, I saw this gigantic mutant strawberry on reddit that looked like it had either been growing in a radiation zone, hitting the gym regularly, or sprinkled with magic dust. I immediately felt more than mildly interested in this phenomenon, which is called fasciation.

As it turns out, fasciation is fairly rare occurrence that nonetheless occurs in a wide variety of vascular plants. These mutant strawberries may be a bit unnerving to look at, but they are totally safe to eat. The only problem is that you’re more likely to come across a fasciated dandelion or daisy out in the wild than a strawberry or pineapple at the grocery store because the so-called ugly produce tends to be weeded out.

Fasciation is essentially unregulated tissue growth that occurs when the apical meristem, better known as the growing tip of the plant strays from shooting upward in cylindrical fashion and instead splays out flat, resulting in ribbon-like plant stems, elongated or multiple flower heads, and semi-circular strawberries.

Regular and fasciated mule’s ears from Wikipedia

Although fasciation tends to present as a flattened main stem, the phenomenon can occur nearly anywhere in the plant — the root, stem, leaves, flower heads, or fruit. It can be localized to just one area, or it affect the entire plant.

Fasciation gets compared to cancer because it has a number of causes and ways of expression, but it’s not quite as harmful or scary. Some races of plants exhibit extreme expression of fasciation. While it’s not fatal, it’s also not ideal, because the condition can result in broken tissues, distorted organization, and a decrease in fertility.

Fasciation: How does it work?

One absolute unit of dandelion. Image via Wild Yorkshire

Fasciation has many causes both internal and external. Internally, it happens because of a hormonal imbalance in the growth cells, a bacterial or viral infection, or a random genetic mutation. There are also environmental causes, like chemical exposure, cold and frost exposure, or fungi, mite, and insect attacks.

The wonder of fasciation knows no geographical, climatic, ecological, or taxonomical bounds among vascular plants. It equally affects annuals, biennials, and perennials; woody and herbaceous plants; shrubs, trees, and vines. Although fasciation can occur in any vascular plant, it is quite common in the rose (includes strawberries), legume, sunflower, and cactus families, and is often found among dandelions and snapdragons.

Some vascular plants are prone to fasciation and prized for it, like the cockscomb (Celosia cristata) flower. A few fasciated flora have even become objects of reverence, like the Virgin Mary appearing on a slice of toast. There was once a fasciated pumpkin vine growing in South India. The twenty-foot-long fasciated portion drew huge crowds of people to worship it, believing the vine to be an incarnation of King Cobra or Naga Sarpa, messenger of the god Vishnu.

This spring, I’ll be looking high and low for abnormal dandelions and daisies. I’ve already started scouting the produce at the grocery store for giant strawberries and found these two in the same box. Won’t you join me? We’re probably more likely to find fasciated fruits or flowers than four-leaf clovers.

44 thoughts on “The Fascinating World Of Fasciation

    1. I tend to not like the term used with humans, and now that I think about any mammals, and think better to use instead of race to more accurately use traits where: race = (breed + cultural) or (genotypical + phenotypical) or (natural + nurtured)

  1. I got a fasciated tomato this year. The plants were growing since Oct in a small container and it got frost bit. Transplanted them and they exploded the stem got wide and then got a bloom that was huge, I was hoping it was going to make a crazy tomato and it did. It looks like 3 or 4 grown together! Can’t wait to eat it!

    1. I was under the impression that beefsteak/”giant” tomatoes are fasciated. Regular tomatoes seam to have a radial webbing dividing the inside, but beefsteak tomatoes seem to have their interior space divided up into random pockets by this webbing.

  2. Those strawberries are tasteless though! You’ve never had a real strawberry unless you’ve had one from Québec in June! Absolutely delicious, and the taste doesn’t even come close to comparing to the strawberries pictured in the article. Our strawberries turn dark red inside and out! None of these white/green spots that make a strawberry hard and without juice.

      1. Most fruit and vegetables bound for markets via logistics (shipping from the source, to a central distribution point, to local distrubution, and finally to the local market) are picked well before they are ripe, so that the produce is not spoiled and still has many days of shelf life while waiting for purchase and consumption. The time from farm to your shopping basket can range from several days to more than a month.

        Nothing like a neighborhood fruit stand where you can buy produce in the same week (and possibly day) it was harvested, properly ripened, aside from growing your own…

    1. Quebec in June?! No! Real strawberries only come from the Merrimack river valley between 43 0′ and 43 15′ latitude during the window of 12-28 of July except during leap years. Anything else barely compares.

    2. With strawberries, it’s quite simple: the smaller they are, the better they taste. Seriously. But people want giant strawberries for some reason. I only ever buy the small ones.

      1. Mmmmm… Strawberry shortcake after a fried chicken dinner with mashed taters and home grown sweet corn fresh from the garden (or green beans freshly snapped with bacon) .. down on the farm.

    3. Or Scottish strawberries! I only tend to buy strawberries when they’re in season here, the long summer days (55.87° north where I am) make for some amazingly sweet and flavoursome fruit, blood red throughout. To buy them from anywhere else is just a disappointment really.

    1. fasciation is NOT polyploidization

      Polyploidic plants have several sets of chromosomes into each cells.
      – This can happen naturally (and not only by plants)
      – Almost all commercial cannabis is polyploid
      – much of human-selected plants are

      In general, while polyploid plants might be more frequently fasciated, polyploidic plants are more productive, bigger fruits…

  3. Totally reminded me of variegation and then wondering if related. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variegation

    With the… let’s say indica (21 USC 802(16)) for those feeling left out States… comments, I was also thinking about cloning the strains to keep the traits if you wanted.

    What would be a neat Hack, now that comes to mind, is a DIY Homebrew tissue culture lab or even the range of cloning methods for the range of plants to clone.

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