– Cristates, Monstroses, Variegates (2005)

PhotoBy Pam Schnebelen (July 2005)

Cristate and Monstrose Plants

Non-branching plants have only one growth point – the apex or apical meristem. In braching plants, each branch has its own growth point. Hormones produced at the growth points control the growing patterns and final shapes of the plants.

In a cristate (crested) plant, the apical point multiplies and elongates horizontally to become a fan or sprawl of growth points. In a monstrose plant, atypical growth occurs all over the plant, creating odd, bumpy, twisty or gnarly growth.

Cristate and monstrose forms occur normally in nature, but only rarely. Frequently, they are much more visually interesting than the typical plants. As you would expect, collectors of these oddities have pushed their prices much higher than the normal forms of the same species.


Plants are green because they have chlorophyll. They use chlorophyll to capture the sun’s energy to produce the food that allows them to grow.

Occasionally, a seed germinates to produce a plant that does not distribute chlorophyll evenly across its leaf and skin surfaces. Green striping and spotting then occur. In the areas without chlorophyll, other pigments determine the plant’s color. Most variegates are white and yellow, but oranges and reds are also seen.

As with the cristates and monstroses, there are collectors who specialize in variegated plants. To feed that market, propagators sow thousands of seeds, hoping to get a single new variegated plant. Fortunately, once the seedling is established, it can be propagated vegetatively.

Note: In researching this article, I found an interesting e-zine – Cultivar – at It has photos and articles on unusual forms of cacti and other succulents.