Cristates, Monstroses, Variegates (2016)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (July 2016)

With the wide variety of shapes, patterns, colors and textures, cacti can be described as a weird group of plants. When you take those shapes and patterns and throw in a twist, such as fasciation or monstrosing, you have a truly weird group of plants.

Many plants that fall into these categories are void of any special treatment needs, whereas others certainly need additional pampering.

Cristate and monstrose plants have lost their symmetrical architecture, perfected for the job it has to perform, and must compete at a disadvantage. Some of these gems will need some special considerations to maximize their existence and weirdness.

Fasciation creates a loss in symmetry by taking a normally cylindrical stem that begins to grow into a crest, wedge or fan that in time might resemble a brain. The central growth point (meristem) stops growing in height or length and begins to grow in one plane on a line.

Monstrosities also experience a loss of symmetry by lacking a single dominant, linear apex. Proliferation results, and every bud that can grow does, which results in plants with many branches or heads.

PhotoVariegation is a partial lack of chlorophyll. Its localized absence results in leaves or stems with stripes or blotches. Often variegated plants remain smaller than non-variegated and are more cold-sensitive and shorter-lived. You need to exercise extreme caution to prevent sunburn of such plants, which means when you take the plants outside, wean them even more carefully as you increase light exposure.

As for cristates, there are often different requirements at different stages of their life cycles. When a crest first develops, it requires additional nutrients for the crest to be maximized and develop to its full potential.

Often a crested plant, over time, will partially or entirely revert to normal growth. Growers sometimes cut off these normal growths in an effort to maintain an entirely crested plant. In the experience of this author, a crested plant with areas of normal growth never does as well in a plant show as a similar plant without areas of normal growth.

Certainly there are many examples of crested, monstrose and variegated plants in habitat that are quite old, but due to these plants straying from their normal symmetry and having additional challenges, it is likely most of their seedlings are lost. Often these gems are offered through nurseries as grafted plants. This approach provides them with a root system and/or plant body that either isn’t as fragile as the monstrose, crested or variegated scion or isn’t lacking chlorophyll.

Consider increasing the weirdness of your plant collection by adding one of these oddities. You may want to consider securing a specimen species with normal growth as well as the oddity, which can be monstrose, crested, variegated or a combination of these three. This way you may be able to better appreciate the difference of your new oddity.