Clonal colony

Clonal colony
A clonal colony of Iris germanica. Note the rhizomatious stems by which the plant reproduces.

A clonal colony or genet is a group of genetically identical individuals (e. g., plants, fungi, or bacteria) that have grown in a given location, all originating vegetatively (not sexually) from a single ancestor. In plants, an individual in such a population is referred to as a ramet. In fungi, "individuals" typically refers to the visible fruiting bodies or mushrooms that develop from a common mycelium which, although spread over a large area, is otherwise hidden in the soil. Clonal colonies are common in many plant species. Although many plants reproduce sexually through the production of seed, some plants reproduce by underground stolons or rhizomes. Above ground these plants appear to be distinct individuals, but underground they remain interconnected and are all clones of the same plant. However, it is not always easy to recognize a clonal colony especially if it spreads underground and is also sexually reproducing.


Methods of establishment

  • With most woody plants, clonal colonies arise by wide-ranging roots that at intervals send up new shoots, termed suckers.
  • Trees and shrubs with branches that touch the ground can form colonies via layering, e. g. willow and blackberry.
  • Some vines naturally form adventitious roots on their stems that take root in the soil when the stems contact the ground, e. g. ivy and trumpet vine.
  • With other vines, rooting of the stem where nodes come into contact with soil may establish a clonal colony, e. g. Wisteria.
  • Ferns and many herbaceous flowering plants often form clonal colonies via horizontal underground stems termed rhizomes, e.g. ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris and goldenrod.
  • A number of herbaceous flowering plants form clonal colonies via horizontal surface stems termed stolons, or runners; e.g.strawberry and many grasses.
  • Nonwoody plants with underground storage organs such as bulbs and corms can also form colonies, e. g. Narcissus and Crocus.
  • A few plant species can form colonies via adventitious plantlets that form on leaves, e. g. Kalanchoe daigremontiana and Tolmiea menziesii.
  • A few plant species can form colonies via asexual seeds, termed apomixis, e. g. dandelion.

Record colonies

A group of 47,000 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) clones (nicknamed "Pando") in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah, USA, is sometimes considered the world's largest organism by mass, covering 43 hectares (110 acres). It is possible that other unknown clonal colonies of trees rival or exceed its size.

The only known plant of King's Lomatia (Lomatia tasmanica) in Tasmania is a clonal colony estimated to be 43,600 years old.[1] Another possible candidate for oldest organism on earth is a stand of the marine plant Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean Sea, which could be up to 100,000 years of age.[2]


When woody plants form clonal colonies, they often remain connected through the root system, sharing roots, water and mineral nutrients. A few non-vining woody plants that form clonal colonies are:


Further reading

  • Cook, R. E. (1983). "Clonal plant populations". American Scientist 71: 244–253. 
  • Kricher, J. C., & Morrison, G. (1988). A Field Guide to Eastern Forests, pp. 19-20. Peterson Field Guide Series. ISBN 0-395-35346-7.

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