Plant Care

Mutants! Growing and Understanding Crested and Monstrose Plants

I felt there was enough confusion out there about monstrose vs crested growth (mostly on my part if we’re going to be honest), that it warranted a whole post about it.  I really love crested and monstrose plants, mostly because I love freaky looking plants and you’ll notice that’s a trend for Baetanical.

Crested and monstrose plants are a result of a funky mutation.  That mutation may be passed down, occur randomly, or be a result of an environmental event.  When you learn about what happens when a plant becomes crested or develops monstrose growth, you’re really learning about how plants grow new tissue and the possibilities for error (or when nature gets a little too “creative”).

Now, this mutation occurs at a plant’s apical meristem in both cases, and when that happens really cool stuff occurs.  And this is chiefly what this post is about.


Apical Meristem: Apical relates to the apex of a plant and meristem is where actively growing cells divide to form a plant’s new growth.  It’s essentially the point on a plant where it physically grows and forms new leaves or other plant tissue.  Some plants do not grow from the apex, such as grasses.

Cacti have their meristems located at the apex, and thus can become crested and monstrose.  Above is the typical structure of an Astrophytum myriostigma.  It’s very clear where the meristem is located and thus where new growth emerges out of.  That location is marked directly in the center of the plant and is symmetrical.


Crest growth: One scenario is where instead of the apical meristem being a single point, it starts developing like a line.  This is what is called crested growth, or a cristate.  Because the growing point becomes a line full of many meristems, the plant begins to develop like a ripply fan.  This can be seen in many of the grafted cacti at big box stores, for example – the plants with the glued on gravel (kill me right now).  They clearly know there is a market for this type of plant.

Crested plants can and do flower like their normal counterparts. Above shows the rather organic crest development of the same species, Astrophytum myriostigma, where I’ve marked the line of meristems in white.  As it gets older, the ripples will become more and more dramatic.  You can see the ridges of a typical Astrophytum replicating itself over and over, resulting in a rather bumpy surface.


Monstrose growth: In the second scenario, the apical meristem is essentially scattered among the plant and growth develops at seemingly random points.  The mutation usually develops early and results in a chaotic growth pattern.  These plants look really striking, especially when paired with a minimal or modern pot – the contrast can be very appealing between organic and inorganic.  And like the name suggests, they often do look like plant monsters, full of knobby growth.

Here is the same species again, but the meristem delineation is muddled and unclear.  Instead of acting as a connected line in the crested mutation, monstrose cacti develop new growth from meristems that have emerged all over the plant.  The ridges of the Astrophytum are no longer apparent.


Try to avoid big box stores for your crested and monstrose needs. They tend to sell less than quality plants and often can be found with gravel glued on the dirt or fake flowers hot glued to the plant.

While they may look like completely different plants, care for them is roughly the same as an ordinary counterpart.  If the plant normally requires shade, then the plant will continue to want shade.  And if the plant enjoys full light normally, then it’s safe to say it will continue to depend on full light in any other form.

I will say that I’ve heard them to be a little more sensitive in general.  They may not be able to withstand as much such or be in as cold environments like their normal counterparts.  So everything in moderation with these genetic freaks!

Most of the crests and monstrose plants that are sought after tend to be succulents and cacti.  And, as a rule of thumb, you must provide a significant amount of drainage material mixed into the soil (perlite, pumice, expanded shale) to avoid the possibility of rot for these plants.  Let them dry between waterings and do not water if they’re not actively growing.

Repot every 1-2 years at the beginning of the growth season, even if you’re simply replacing the soil and returning it to the same pot.  Do not over-pot cacti or succulents.  Choose an appropriately-sized pot that fits the current roots and allows for a little room for additional room for growth.  Nothing more or else the soil will remain soaked at the bottom without being taken up by the plant and possibly resulting in rot.

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