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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: A strange black-eyed Susan, a rusty pear tree

Plant mutations, like the one affecting this black-eyed

Plant mutations, like the one affecting this black-eyed Susan growing in reader Catherine Bracco's garden, are called "fasciations." Credit: Catherine Bracco

DEAR JESSICA: This black-eyed Susan is different from the others, and the stem is flat. I was wondering if you ever saw this flower before. It looks like a cookie with a filling. — Catherine Bracco, Babylon

DEAR CATHERINE: Yes, your flower does look like a cookie! What you’ve noticed is something botanists call “fasciation” — a not-so-common plant mutation that results in flattened stems and off-looking flowers. Usually only one flower or plant part is affected, and the rest of the plant appears normal.

The anomaly results from the growth of abnormal cell tissue that can be due to disease, insect or chemical damage — or simply genetics. If the plant produces similar oddities next year, then genes are likely the cause. If not, something in the environment this year could be causing the oddity.

DEAR JESSICA: I am wondering if you can tell by looking at this photo what kind of plant this is. At first, I thought it was a pumpkin, but now it sort of looks like a watermelon. — Gina Giuliano, Wantagh

DEAR GINA: I agree: At this stage, it’s hard to tell a pumpkin from a watermelon. But those are pumpkin leaves.

DEAR JESSICA: I planted what I thought were Chinese lanterns from 20-year-old seeds that we saved. But I have no idea as to what this could be. The plants that grew are about 30 inches tall, with 5- to 7-inch-long leaves and quarter-inch-long pods that only seem to contain the flower, which fell off the plant a day after it bloomed. Any help would be appreciated. — Christian Foerster, Shirley

DEAR CHRISTIAN: Twenty-year-old seeds? It’s not unheard of for seeds that old to be viable, but it’s quite uncommon. So even if you ended up with something different than expected, you still succeeded.

It appears you’re growing Datura stramonium, commonly called jimson weed, devil’s trumpet or thorn apple. The plants, which belong to the nightshade family (as do tomatoes) are beautiful — just know that some gardeners report a mild numbness after handling them, and that plant parts, especially seeds and leaves, are toxic to people and pets.

DEAR JESSICA: My trees are infected with rust again this year. I had them injected in early May with Propiconazole to no avail. What can I do? — Bruce Marcus, Merrick

DEAR BRUCE: Rust on pear trees is caused by a fungus that manifests as bright orange spots on foliage, as your photo depicts, and sometimes cankers on branches. The fungus also affects junipers. In fact, junipers are the likely culprits here, and both plants are necessary for the fungus to complete its life cycle. If you don’t have junipers growing on your property, someone nearby probably does, and a close look at them would reveal galls on branches and, during spring, gelatinous, orange, hornlike growths. Those contain the windblown spores that have infected — and reinfected — your pears.

Treating your pear tree as you have has only addressed half the problem. To curtail the cycle, affected juniper branches and pear leaves and branch galls must be removed. This isn’t practical, however, if most or all the leaves are showing symptoms. Spraying trees with a fungicide labeled for use against Gymnosporangium may offer some protection. And if the junipers are yours, removing them altogether would provide even better protection for your tree.

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