This time of year, Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) are laying in wait to explode in sprays of purple flowers and infuse the air with glorious grape bubble gum scent. It's gonna start happening in about one month. Spring in Austin...ah.
In fact, you can see the mountain laurel buds shooting off the tips of the branches already - they are the long thin gray question marks hanging off the ends without leaves. When the time's right, they'll grow and expand into a wisteria-like flower bunch. I see small buds on mine in the backyard which has never bloomed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Yesterday, I was walking by a mountain laurel and spied the craziest growth on it buds. I did a double take. What in the heck is it? A fungus? An insect gall? It's like deer antlers growing from a plant. Super wild.
No google searches turned anything up, so I turned to Mr. Smarty Plants, who's always prompt and full of information.
Turns out it's called a "fasciation." Here's more from the Mister:
Cresting or cristation are other terms applied to the phenomenon. It occurs when the apical meristem (the cellular growth center) at the tip of the forming stem, flower or fruit spreads out perpendicular to the direction of growth so that not only does the stem lengthen it grows and flattens horizontally as well. It can cause some very strange growths. It is uncertain what causes it. There is evidence that it is heritable in some cases, but it may also be caused by bacteria, fungus, virus, herbicides or injury to the plant. Mountain laurels are especially susceptible to fasciation. Here are some links to more information about fasciation and some fascinating fasciation photos!Check out this fasciated bluebonnet. Looks like Marge Simpson.