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Just outside the back door is a lanky tuft of Veronicastrum virginicum. It’s a good bee flower, with honeybees and bumbles visiting often. And this is the third year in a row that we have had a fasciated flower on it.
I remember, very clearly, finding a fasciated marsh thistle, Cirsium palustre, somewhere in the flood plain of the River Cuckmere, near Alfriston, Sussex, when I was aged 12 or 13. I thought I had found some exciting new plant, or strange metamorphic phenomenon. I was amazed how the multiplied stem formed such an alien-looking ribbon, and yet was growing perfectly healthily and strong. The memory stuck with me, because it was about this time that I first read J.G. Ballard’s dystopian science fiction novel The Crystal World, where the scientist hero discovers that the dripping rainforests of Gabon are crystallizing because of some fault in the flow of time.
In my mind I could imagine some bizarre stroboscopic effect, creating the illusion of multiple stems coalescing together in a fan-like sweep. Luckily my father, a botanist, was on hand to try and explain how the flattened and twisted stem material had grown like this because of damage in the developing bud. At the time I only had a vague grasp of what had occurred. I had to wait for embryology lectures 10 years later for a clearer understanding of meristems, morphology and growth patterns. But I have been fascinated by fasciation ever since.
There was the ash sapling, broadened and curved at its tip like a shepherd’s crook, the ribwort plantain’s thickened stem and forked flower-head, and the daisy squashed and stretched like a plasticine model. And now there was the regular appearance of broad purple inflorescences just outside my kitchen.
Apparently, Veronicastrum is prone to fasciation, and a quick Google image search shows plenty of broadened flower spikes just like mine. First you have to get past the slightly annoying Google tendency to ‘anticipate’ and instead it searches for ‘fascination’ rather than ‘fasciation’. Curiously, there is a Veronicastrum cultivar called ‘Fascination’. I wonder whether it was named, accidentally, because of an over-zealous computer spell-checker.
The bees don’t seem to mind though.
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