This week, I did a You Tube video about how to propagate sansevierias (dracaenas). One thing I touched on was the fact that if you have a snake plant that is variegated, such as the S. trifasciata ‘Laurentii‘, it will not have the yellow edges if you propagate it by leaf cuttings. Why? Because it is a chimera. What is a chimera plant and how do you know if you have one?
I am not a scientist
I looked into the scientific reasons behind chimera plants, reading some articles from universities such as this one from Texas A & M University. I think I understand it, but I am going to let the experts explain it, as I am not a scientist.
What I think I understand about chimeras
Okay, I will explain it how I understand it. In a very simplified form, chimera plants occur when plant cells mutate. This can happen naturally, by being damaged, or can be chemically treated to make it happen (not by us, but a scientist somewhere). The mutated cell starts to reproduce itself, growing next to the regular cells. The variegation is usually striped, but can also be speckled or have splashes of color. The S. trifasciata ‘Bantel’s Sensation’ below is another chimera sansevieria that will not come true from a leaf cutting.
Some are stable, and others are not, meaning a plant may show chimera tendencies and then it may change and revert to the old plant, losing the chimera mutation. The first chimera I learned about was the yellow-edged sansevieria, S. trifasciata ‘Laurentii’. I think it is the most popular sansevieria, known to houseplant lovers everywhere and is an old cultivar. Most sansevierias can be propagated from leaf cuttings. A leaf is taken and cut into approximately 2″ increments, allowed to callus over, and then planted in moist potting medium, like the ‘Moonshine’ below.
In a few weeks, a small plant will arise from the soil at the base of the cut leaf. When trying to make more of the yellow-edged ‘Laurentii’, starting leaf cuttings will not produce those yellow-edged plants. Instead, a leaf will arise that has no yellow edges at all. It looks like the original leaf but without the yellow bands. It isn’t an ugly plant, just not the same. Here is an example of the ‘Laurentii’ leaf with a new baby leaf growing that does not have the yellow edges.
Division of the plant is the way
So if you want to propagate a chimera snake plant that looks like its parent, the way to do it is to divide the plant. This process entails using a sharp knife to cut through the rhizome and separate a plant from the mother plant. These will always be the same plant.
African violet chimeras
Another chimera plant that I have had is an African violet. The chimeras have striped flowers or leaves. My favorite chimera is ‘Yukako’ with its flowers that are purple and green striped. Here is the link to the chimera page at Lyndon Lyon African violets. This company has great violets and other gesneriads available for purchase. Notice the chimeras are quite costly compared to the regular violets. The reason for that is the way the violets have to be propagated. They cannot be started from a leaf cutting, but the plant has to be beheaded and the small “stump” left will usually send out plenty of new babies, or suckers, which then can be propagated. The beheaded plant can also be rooted. This is not an easy or quick process. If you start a chimera plant from a leaf, the resulting flowers will be one of the two colors on the striped flower or a speckled or spotted flower. You never know what you will get until you try it. Below are three different African violet flower chimeras.
I’m not sure I explained it very well. Hopefully, that university paper link will be helpful. It is an interesting read, but also complicated to understand (for me anyway). Mutant plants are definitely interesting and chimeras are beautiful plants. Do you have a chimera plant? Did you try to propagate it and wondered why it didn’t look the same as it did before? Tell me in the comments below.