Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A heady sort of weirdness

with 15 comments

Mexican Hat with Extra Set of Rays at Tip 5401

Now that everyone’s on board with ray flowers and disk flowers in plants of the sunflower family, here’s something strange I found on June 24th at the Floral Park Dr. entrance to Great Hills Park in my neighborhood. I noticed a Mexican hat plant, Ratibida columnifera that had some normal flower heads but also had 10 heads (I counted) with an extra set of ray flowers growing helter-skelter from the tip of the column of disk flowers. That’s a place where ray flowers have no right to be, but that’s right where they were. When I asked some knowledgeable people about these unusual flower heads, one suggested a virus might be responsible and another attributed the strangeness to somatic mutation; the first could even be the cause of the second.

Some of you will remember pictures I’ve showed of the phenomenon called fasciation, so I should say that I saw no signs on this Mexican hat plant of the elongation or flattening normally associated with fasciation. No, this was a different weirdness, one I hadn’t seen before. Now you’ve seen it too.

As a postscript, let me add that on July 9th, after I’d prepared this post, about a quarter of a mile away from the location of this plant I came across a Mexican hat flower head that in addition to its normal ray flowers had a single small ray flower growing sideways from the top of its column of disk flowers.

UPDATE (July 19, 2015): This morning Linda Leinen of The Task at Hand alerted me to an article offering a possible genetic explanation for this strangely formed Mexican hat.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 11, 2014 at 5:55 AM

15 Responses

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  1. Some rebels in the fold.


    July 11, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    • You’ve reminded me that “The Sound of Music” appeared in Spanish-speaking countries with the title “La Novicia Rebelde,” meaning “The Rebellious Novice.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2014 at 6:40 AM

      • Intriguing. A rebellious novice is obviously more of a crowd puller than a music sound.


        July 11, 2014 at 6:44 AM

  2. I’m really quite taken with the way the upper ray flowers are twisted and distorted. They look as though they belong on one of Carmen Miranda’s hats.

    And you’ve solved another mystery for me. I couldn’t find the word I wanted to describe those little fan-like structures in the ratany. Now I know — they remind me of the photos you’ve shown here of fasciation.


    July 11, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    • Oh, there’s a name I haven’t heard for a while: Carmen Miranda. The peak of her popularity came before my time, but I remember that as I child I was aware of her. According to an online article, “By 1945, she was the highest paid woman in the United States.”

      I expect it was the flatness of the little ratany “fans” that you associated with fasciation. Speaking of which: I haven’t seen any instances of fascition so far this year, but the strange Mexican hat was a worthy substitute.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2014 at 6:48 AM

  3. hello Steve..interesting topic this is, as this is something that we will be seeing more and more in the future. it shows very clearly that the flowers that are being put in pots at the entrance of that Great hills park, are flowers that have been manipulated to fasten the proces of growing. these flowers infortunatly are far away from being wild. They are the industry plants. The plants that kill the bees forinstance, because they have been spraid and ‘fed’ with that, that you do not want to know of. It is good to see that somebody is blogging about this! For now, Let’s enjoy the wild ones!
    have a great day, and again ; great post!


    July 11, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    • Hello, Belinda, and welcome to central Texas. Although people have been breeding plants for millennia, and geneticists for decades, let me make clear that the plants growing near the entrance to Great Hills Park are wild. They’re not potted, nor has anyone manipulated any of them for faster growth, even if that’s the case in some parts of the horticultural trade. I don’t know what caused this strange Mexican hat, and it’s possible that some industrial chemical was involved, but as far as I know no one has sprayed anything in that area; the only maintenance I’m aware that the City of Austin performs there is to mow from time to time, and (thankfully) not often. So for now the mystery continues.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2014 at 7:11 AM

  4. Mutation. The phenomenon is indeed a fascinating one and typically thought of in the pejorative. And most of the time mutations may indeed have neutral or negative consequences. One must always remember, however, that mutation alone provides the raw material for natural selection. In that light, everything … and I mean everything … in nature was, at some point, the result of mutation. Now, there’s a metaphysical gem for you to contemplate today! D

    Pairodox Farm

    July 11, 2014 at 6:49 AM

    • You make a good point: except for some inscrutable first living thing, every new kind of organism that followed was a change from the living thing that came before it. For me the great mystery is how non-life suddenly became life in the first place, and how that suddenly alive entity would conveniently also have had the wherewithal to reproduce itself right away. More metaphysics to ponder, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2014 at 7:22 AM

  5. Interesting – I always enjoy the extra tidbits you add to your photos!


    July 11, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    • As you’ve no doubt heard me say before: once a teacher, always a teacher. Let’s spread our knowledge.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2014 at 12:27 PM

  6. Most of the weirdness I see with compositae is usually just one petal that does not open which creates some nice shy personality.
    All this evolution and changing of the species is the fault of that bolt of lightning that got a little energy moving in a single cell. At least, that’s one theory. Thanks, lightning. And on a related note….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAGMATHlSK4

    Steve Gingold

    July 12, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    • A few years ago a spider aficionado explained to me that in many cases a ray that seems not to have opened is actually one that did open but that a spider later folded back:


      I was fascinated by that phenomenon even before I knew the explanation, and I still feel called to take pictures whenever I come across a head with folded rays.

      Thanks for your link to that pretty song, which I hadn’t heard till now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2014 at 4:42 PM

  7. […] picture in Great Hills Park on June 20th during the same outing that brought you the picture of the strange Mexican hat with an extra set of ray flowers sprouting from the tip of its […]

  8. […] Mexican hat stand was the one that had produced 10 of the unusual doubly rayed flower heads you saw in a post last spring. I was hoping some more of those strange heads would appear there this year, but now they […]

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