Advantages & Disadvantages of Cloning Plants

Cloning animals may require a laboratory filled with Petri dishes, but cloning plants is easy. It's one way Mother Nature propagates plants in the wild and it's been happening for centuries. Have you ever cut a shoot from a willow or a geranium and put it in a vase, only to find the cutting grows roots? That's plant cloning at its best and easiest. This is also known as rooting a cutting, and in many cases, it's a fine alternative to planting seeds. One of the benefits of cloning plants from cuttings is that it is virtually cost-free.

watering: watering in of salvia officinalis - rooted sage cuttings. late summer
credit: John Swithinbank/Photolibrary/GettyImages
Advantages & Disadvantages of Cloning Plants

Cloning Plants

Plants in the wild can't get up and walk away, and they have developed numerous different adaptive mechanisms to make up for this basic lack of mobility. Since propagating the species is a plant's primary reason for existing, plants have developed many different ways to make babies, including seeding and cloning.

Even city kids know that plants grow from seeds. Many children poked sunflower seeds into little soil pots in grade school as part of biology basics, offering water and sunlight and watching the seed sprout and grow. But plenty of plants have alternatives to seeding, just in case their seeds don't fall into fertile soil. A few of these fall into the category of cloning, which basically means making a baby plant that is identical to the mother plant.

Ways Plants Clone

Have you ever grown runner strawberry plants? If so, you've seen how the "mother" plants send out a type of modified plant stem called a runner. The runner stem takes root somewhere a few feet away from the mother and a new plant grows from it, producing a "daughter" plant. These daughter plants are exactly the same as the mother plant and can send out runners themselves. New plants produced from runners – in strawberries, grass and even onions – are clones, identical to the mother plants. But plants can also clone themselves by sprouting from fallen branches or from stumps.

You can clone many types of plants yourself in a process gardeners call rooting cuttings. You need to cut off a stem section, often a tip, and put it in water or else a moist rooting medium, such as potting soil, and leave it there until little roots grow from the base of the cutting. Serious gardeners sometimes use rooting hormones to induce rooting, dipping the cut stems into the hormones before rooting. Once the root system is long enough, you move the new plant to a bigger pot or a garden bed.

Advantages of Cloning

There are many benefits of cloning that makes this system of propagation preferable to seeding. First, you don't have to buy seeds. Second, seeds aren't always viable, meaning that they don't always germinate. And even when they do, if you are hoping for a plant that looks like the parent plant, you may be disappointed. Seeds are flowers of one plant pollinated by flowers of another, and they take on the characteristics of both parents. There is no guarantee that a plant will look the way the seed-mother looks.

The big disadvantage of cloning is that it is not easy or even possible in every plant species. Many vegetables and annuals don't clone. Cloning an oak tree, for example, will be difficult. On the other hand, when you can clone, it is a faster process to move from a cutting to a small plant that it is to go from a seed to a strong, transplantable seedling.