Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh (1888) depicts double-flowered mutant. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over a century after Vincent van Gogh created his famous still life painting Sunflowers, scientists have been able to make out that the post-Impressionist painter painted a mysterious mutant of sunflower, which was deciphered recently, a latest study reveals.

Van Gogh completed painting two series of sunflowers in 1888. The first series shows sunflowers thriving on ground while in the second the flowers are shown in a vase.

The second series of Sunflowers, one of the world's most valuable paintings, has been widely interpreted as dying flowers in the vase but, according to the research published in the latest issue of journal PLoS Genetics, they bear resemblance to double-flowered sunflower mutant.

The double-flowered mutants bear a strong resemblance to the phenotype captured in Vincent van Gogh's famous 19th century sunflower paintings, which have become a mainstay of van Gogh exhibits worldwide, the authors of the research writes.

The double-flowered sunflower mutants have much smaller disc florets (the central, interior part), unlike in usual sunflower that is composed of a single whorl of petals surrounding multiple whorls of disc florets.

Combining the study of floral pattern depicted in van Gogh's 19th-century bouquets, the study reveals the genetic basis of floral symmetry of mutant flowers of the Asteraceae, which is the largest family of flowering plants including the sunflowers, according to the researchers at the University of Georgia.

In the study, a gene that is responsible for determining flower symmetry in sunflower was identified. The researchers found that mis-expression of this particular gene causes a double-flowered mutant, similar to those painted in van Gogh's Sunflowers.