Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase


Knowledgebase record #821


PAL Question

I have grown Festuca glauca for many years. While they have an annoying propensity to seed themselves everywhere, I have never seen Festuca send off many little plantlets, as one of mine is currently doing. Of all the Festuca that I grew, this one got the least amount of sun, and was near other taller plants, and it was also probably exposed to the most humidity.

Is this really a sign of the Apocalypse, or just another result of a crappy summer?

Answer

We had lots of theories put forth by library staff and professional gardeners, but according to plant ecophysiology professor Soo-Hyung Kim, your plant is demonstrating vivipary (or in the case of plants like Festuca, which are in the family Poaceae, pseudovivipary). I found information about vivipary in an article by Thomas Elmqvist and Paul Alan Cox, published in Oikos, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 3-9, October 1996.:
"Vivipary in flowering plants is defined as the precocious and continuous growth of the offspring when still attached to the maternal parent. Two main types, true vivipary (involving sexually produced offspring) and pseudovivipary (asexual offspring), may be identified. Vivipary has been described from slightly less than a hundred different species of flowering plants, of which we classify approximately 50% as having true vivipary, with the remaining species being pseudoviviparous."

There is additional information in Flora of North America, vol. 24, p.392:
"Under adverse conditions, many species [of Festuca] may proliferate vegetatively, where leafy bulbils or shoots form in place of some or all spikelets. Some populations of Festuca are largely (or completely) sterile, reproducing almost entirely through such bulbils, a process termed pseudovivipary. Pseudoviviparous plants may be common or even abundant in certain areas and habitats."

Some scientists (cited in Elmqvist and Cox article) suggest that pseudovivipary is an evolutionary response to a short growing season (as in arctic, alpine, or arid areas). Perhaps your plant is in its own microhabitat!

Keywords: Festuca, Vegetative propagation
Date: 2010-10-01

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