Pottery and Plants

Some Snapdragon (Antirrhinum) varieties display variegated patterns with spots or stripes of colour haphazardly arranged on their flowers.

White Snapdragon flowers with red sectors and spots
A single snapdragon petal with red sectors and spots on a white and yellow background. This pattern shows how the petal grew
Two carnivorous bladder traps of Utricularia gibba with sectors and spots in green on a red background

These patterns arise because some cells in the growing bud may undergo a genetic switch which allows them to make pigment. This switched gene is passed on to the cell descendants giving a spot or stripe of colour on the flower. The shape and size of the spots depends on when the switch happened and how the flower grows. Similar gene switching can be followed with fluorescent markers in other tissues, like a growing bladder. Studying variegated patterns caused by these switches we can give us clues as to how plants shape themselves.

The same principle can be illustrated by combining different coloured clays at an early stage of pottery. The colour patterns reflect the way the pot was shaped. With coiling, rolled lengths of clay build up the pot up layer by layer, giving rings or coils of different colours.

The same principle is used for 3D printing with clay.

With stretching, clay is deformed by slapping it down in a consistent direction.

With pinching, a depression is made in ball of clay and edges are pinched and moulded by hand, deforming or stretching the patches of colour.

With throwing, slabs of colour on a pottery wheel get twisted to form a double helix.

Explore how plant tissue deforms itself as it develops with Choose Your Conflicts.