Saturday, November 8, 2008

PATSP Infrequently Asked Questions

This post is just to catch everybody up and just, you know, say what PATSP is all about; I don't usually get asked any of these things, hence the "infrequently." This post is also a way for me to de-clutter my sidebar, which is the sneaky practical reason for writing it. (There are almost always sneaky practical reasons.)

[This is the third edit of this page, because since I first wrote it in November 2008, various things have happened that change some of the answers.]

Aechmea fasciata.

1. What does "subjunctive" mean?

The subjunctive mood is a particular usage of verbs which is mostly, though not entirely, obsolete in English. It is used to express thoughts which are hypothetical, contingent on other action, contrary to established fact, wishes, and so forth.

2. Why don't you identify where you work by name?

Well, I don't work there anymore, so I suppose I could, if I wanted to, but at the time, the logic was that I really wanted to keep the two things as separate as possible. I didn't want blog readers to assume that everything I was saying about work was necessarily official; I didn't want my employers to have too much control over what I was allowed to say. So semi-anonymity (it's not like it would have been hard for someone to figure out where I worked: Google and a few phone calls would have revealed it to anyone who cared. It'd have been an afternoon's work to find out, if even that much.) was the best solution I could come up with.

As far as I can recall, I didn't ever reveal anything that would have been horribly damaging to the business, as far as trade secrets. I can only think of a couple things that could have qualified as damaging to the business in the first place. I did, without identifying specific people, occasionally mention that I was unhappy with co-workers, or the boss, or suppliers, or customers, and I acknowledged that we sometimes had pests, and used pesticides, and stuff like that, but I can't imagine that those things could really be that much of a surprise to anybody who's ever had a job or taken care of a plant.

I also, of course, talked about stuff I was reasonably proud of (the selection of plants we have, or can get, being the main one, but I was also pretty happy when, for example, we managed to successfully overwinter a batch of Dionaea muscipula, something which had not been done in previous years), but I couldn't have anonymity about the one thing and not about the other.

3. Do you have a favorite plant?

There are several that stand above the crowd as far as I'm concerned, but if forced to choose just one, I'd pick Yucca guatemalensis, Anthurium andraeanum, or Dracaena deremensis (variety 1, 2). Which specific one it was would totally depend on the day you asked. I did try, for my own amusement, to come up with a Top Ten Houseplants List, but my efforts there to be semi-objective kind of sabotaged the list. I've been thinking that I need to rig up some kind of tournament-style competition for all the plants I have, or have had, and see which one comes out on top. Perhaps later.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii.'

4. Does this make me look fat?

Not at all. You look great, just like you always do.

5. Where does the name Plants are the Strangest People come from?

I answered that at some length here. The short answer is, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." (The TV show. Not the movie.)

6. What do "cv.," "cvv.," "sp.," "spp.," "var.," "x," "ssp." and "NOID" mean, in plant names?

Cv. and cvv. are abbreviations for cultivar(s). Cultivars (= "cultivated variety") are particular named varieties of plants which are usually but not always all clones of one another, specially chosen because they're very pretty, pest-resistant, long-blooming, or some other thing like that. Cultivar names are not italicized, and are put in single quotes in a botanical name. (For example: Dracaena deremensis cv. 'Lemon-Lime.') Usually, in a name, the "cv." part is left out (Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime'), and the only time you see cv. is as an abbreviation for the word cultivar.

One "v" means it's referring to a particular cultivar, and two "v"s mean I'm referring to all the cultivars of that species or cross (for example, if I want to talk about Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime,' Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckei,' Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig,' and all other Dracaena deremensis varieties simultaneously, I can just say, Dracaena deremensis cvv.).

Sp. and spp. are the same thing, but with species instead of cultivars. Both sp. and cv. sometimes mean the same as NOID, q.v.

Var. means variety, which may mean more or less the same thing as cultivar, or it may mean more or less the same thing as subspecies. I think it's closer to cultivar, in that it's more a legal term than a taxonomic one, but I see it used more often like it's a taxonomic one. So I don't know. How much do you even care?

Ssp. is short for subspecies. The idea behind the subspecies designation is hard to explain, but it basically amounts to two distinct populations of a species with slightly different characteristics. Wikipedia uses the example of a species of frog, let's call it Rana hypotheticala, that lives in a long stream. If the upstream frogs are usually white, and the downstream frogs are usually black, and the frogs in between the white and black populations are also either white or black, not gray or spotted or striped, and white frogs will interbreed with black ones freely, giving fertile offspring, given the opportunity, then the two colors of frog could be considered subspecies of the same thing, perhaps Rana hypotheticala ssp. alba and Rana hypotheticala ssp. nigra. If interbreeding results in intermediate forms, like gray, spotted, or striped, or if the two forms of frog will not willingly interbreed, then they are more accurately considered two species of the same genus instead, and one could name them Hypotheticalirana alba and H. nigra.

Presumably, if one is talking about a group of subspecies, the abbreviation sspp. might be used, but I have no idea whether it is.

"X" is used to indicate a cross between species (Hibiscus syriaca x rosa-sinensis) or cultivars, and is most often used to mean "I don't have a species name for this plant, and it's probably a cross of something so I'm just going to use 'x' here and go on." As, for example, in Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash.' As with cv., this is usually left out of a plant name.

"NOID" is short for NO IDentification, and refers to plants one has been unable to identify, or uninterested in identifying, or only partly able to identify. Examples: Dieffenbachia NOID; Peperomia obtusifolia NOID.

Assorted Begonia rex cvv.

7. How about "q.v.," "e.g.," and "i.e.?"

Q.v. is Latin for "which see," and basically means, please also check out this other thing because I think it's relevant to what I'm saying. You can think of it as the Latin word for "hyperlink." Kinda.

E.g. is Latin again, for "exempli gratia," for example.

I.e. is also, surprisingly, Latin, and means "id est," which translates loosely as that is, or in other words, or when I'm using it, what I'm trying to say is.

8. Who is WCW?

WCW stands for Wonderful Co-Worker, the name I used on the blog (and still use, occasionally) to talk about the other person who worked in the greenhouse with me year-round (since I doubt she wanted me using her actual name). I'm still using WCW to refer to her because I'm accustomed to calling her WCW so that's her name even if it's no longer strictly accurate.

9. And she's wonderful?

Yes, at least 90% of the time. Still W, no longer CW, still WCW.

Ficus maclellandii.

10. What's your deal with windmills?

"Windmills do not work that way!" is a line from "Futurama," which I tried to explain here. (Depending on your browser, you may not land at the right spot on this page. You want footnote 6.) It basically means that I'm calling someone stupid.

11. What's a wev?

Wev (sometimes also wevs.) is a contraction of the word "whatever," used when one cares so little about the topic at hand that it's too much effort even to say the entire word "whatever." Adopted from Shakesville.

12. Please do my homework for me?

No.

13. I have a [name of plant] that is [undesired activity]. Tell me how to fix it.

Give it the proper care, if it's at least partly healthy, and buy a new one, if it's not.

14. That doesn't help at all.

What, are your fingers broken? Use the google. Search this blog. Or try posting your question at Garden Web.

15. You seem angry.

Sometimes, yeah.

Haworthia attenuata

16. Who is Nina?

Only the best darn little brown anole (Anolis sagrei) in the whole wide world. Nina has lived with me since March 2009, and arrived in Iowa by accident, in a shipment of tropical plants from Florida. She was found in a garbage bag full of pop cans, where she had apparently been living on people's leftover droplets of soda, about three weeks after a tropical delivery, and I felt bad for her, so I caught her and brought her home and eventually wound up adopting her because she kept telling me she knew a guy who could save me all kinds of money on my car insurance, which turned out to be a lie, and also because she was adorable.

You can read the entire Nina story to date by checking the posts tagged "Nina."

17. Why the name Nina?

Because not long before that, I had been watching the "reality" show "RuPaul's Drag Race" on Bravo, and originally my impulse was to name her Rebecca, after contestant Rebecca Glasscock, who was kind of unpleasant. I thought having a lizard named for you, when you were a drag performer, was probably insulting.

However, when I announced my intentions to name the lizard Rebecca here at PATSP, my readership informed me that there was nothing inherently insulting about having a lizard named for you, and insisted that I go with Nina (for contestant Nina Flowers, who it has to be said did come off as a much nicer person, and was also a lot more interesting artistically), and so she has been Nina ever since.

18. And Sheba?


Sheba is the dog we adopted from a shelter in March 2010. She throws up a lot more than Nina, but sheds her skin a lot less often. Her ancestry is thought to be black Labrador Retriever + German Shepherd + ??????, though we're only sure about the black lab part. The posts to date about Sheba can be found here.

19. Are you a man or a woman, in real life?


Glad you asked. This seems to be a point of confusion for several people, which kind of weirds me out. I mean, my handle is "Mr. Subjunctive." Seems pretty unambiguous to me. And then there's the "author photo," which, though admittedly a cartoon and everything, is still of a male. And so on.

But then I figured out that the confusion was because I refer fairly often to my husband on the blog, and for most people, still, if someone has a husband, then that means they're female.

In this particular case, though, that's a bad assumption. I am in fact a gay man. And! The husband is an actual, legal husband, also, since June 30, 2009, which is pretty cool and makes me so proud of Iowa that it (partly) makes up for our Representative Steve King (5th district), who is such an idiot that one assumes he must be followed around at all times by a team of Capitol janitors who specialize in drool-mopping.

20. Is there a reason for all the plant anthropomorphization?

Glad you asked about this too. There is, actually. My logic here is that people are naturally psychologists: a lot of the human brain is devoted to trying to anticipate the actions and intentions of others, and we spend a lot of time thinking about other people, and what they are thinking and doing. By making each of the plants I talk about "people" in some fashion, I figure I can make the plant both more memorable and easier to understand, by activating those parts of your brain that find other people interesting. The cost of doing this is that I spend a lot of time making statements which are not, literally, true, and inviting the assumption that I believe that plants have feelings and aspirations, which I actually don't believe.

21. How do you come up with the difficulty-level numbers, in the plant profiles?

There's a secret PATSP formula, less secret now that I'm posting it on the web. I first give the plant 0 to 3 ratings on nine different aspects of care:

1) How badly does the plant require very bright light?
2) How quickly will the plant fall apart if overwatered?
3) How quickly will the plant fall apart if underwatered?
4) How attractive is the plant to pests (or, in some cases, disease)?
5) How much time does a person have to spend cleaning up this plant, or cleaning the floor around this plant, or pruning? Does it have difficult to remember seasonal expectations? Etc. (This one's basically the "fudge factor;" plants that are problematic in some way not covered by the other eight criteria score high here.)
6) Does this plant have reasonable expectations for air temperature?
7) How much does the plant require high humidity levels?
8) How easy is the plant to propagate?
9) Does the plant demand high amounts of fertilizer in order to look good, or does it need normal amounts of fertilizer but on some complicated schedule?

Then those numbers are plugged into a formula on my Excel PATSP spreadsheet:

(7*OVERWATERING + 6*HUMIDITY + 5*PESTS + 5*UNDERWATERING + 5*LIGHT + 3*TEMPERATURE + 3*GROOMING + 2*FEEDING + PROPAGATION) / 111 * 10 = raw number

And that number is converted to the final number by rescaling (I rescaled so that the most difficult plant in the list would get a rating of 10.0 and the easiest in the list would get a 0.0.):

(1.490196*RAW#)-1.69935 = FINAL#

Which is the number that gets posted. The spreadsheet does most of this on its own, so I don't actually have to go through these calculations by hand or anything.

The mean score in the first batch of plants I evaluated was 3.7, and the median was 3.2. So "average" difficulty is about 3.5, instead of 5.0 like you'd expect.

Numbers are subject to change, if subsequent experience leads me to believe that some of the ratings were incorrect. You may find that plants I've rated difficult are easy for you, and vice-versa: this is more or less to be expected. If you don't care about propagating your plants, then the propagation number will be meaningless; if you have no windows at all, the light number will be much more important. Etc.

Now aren't you sorry you asked?

Chlorophytum comosum

22. Not really. Can you suggest a houseplant for me that is [particular characteristic]?

Maybe, maybe not. There are some lists of plants with heart-shaped leaves, plants that are native to Mexico, plants that can be propagated from single leaves, and so forth. You can find a list of the lists here.

23. You got something wrong in one of the posts, and the error is ruining my life. What should I do?

Leave a comment saying what's wrong, what the right information is, and if possible, leave a link or two to make it easier on me to verify that you're right. I won't always change the post, but I'm more likely to do so if you can back up what you're saying with reference to credible sources of some kind. I'm fairly flexible about what counts as "credible." It also helps if you're nice. You don't have to be deferential to the point of obsequiousness: just don't be a dick.

24. Were those pictures supposed to relate to this post in some way?

No. Decorative only. Sorry for the confusion.


36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining about the WCW. I thought it stood for something else...

themanicgardener said...

Too funny, esp. the [undesired activity] bit.

HOWEVER, I see you have removed the little "about me" info from your side bar--the one with the incredibly life-like portrait and all that stuff about "if I am not caring for plants at work, I am at home caring for plants, or else talking about caring for plants..." Sorry for mutilating your prose, but you left me no choice, having removed the original. PLEASE PUT IT BACK. I miss it, and it is utterly unique (yes, I know, anything that's unique is utterly unique, but still--) and wonderful. Can't you condense something else instead? Maybe put the plant list in a drop-down menu?

Re: Your incredibly kind offer to make it happen, should I actually want a Neoregelia 'Fireball' of my own, the answer is Yes, but I need to go back to your post on them and see if they'll survive in my cold cold house (in winter, usually 60 or under.) I'd hate to get one and kill it. But whether I get one or no, Thank you.

--Kate

mr_subjunctive said...

anonymous:

Out of curiosity, what did you think it stood for?

themanicgardener:

I didn't remove the "about me!" Sometimes it shortens itself to where I have to click it to read it, but it's still here, and still in the same relative spot as before.

I actually think the 'Fireball' probably would make it okay in the house, so long as there was a lot of (possibly artificial?) light for it. They are allegedly hardy in zone 9b and higher. I wouldn't expect much growth, at those temperatures, but I wouldn't expect the plant to die, either. And they're pretty easy plants, from what I've seen so far.

Water Roots said...

Ha ha...loved this post! You have such a unique and wonderful sense of humour, not to mention imagination.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

hahaha, thanks for the clarifications.

Wicked Gardener said...

Wow. Wonderful insight into Mr. S's brain. It's a little scary . . . please don't yell at me. . . I'll put the plant back where it belongs! I promise! :)

themanicgardener said...

Well, that's a relief--that you didn't remove that bit, I mean. You said in the post that you were trying to clean up the side bars, and I got nervous. I'll relax now.
--Kate

Texas Triffid Ranch said...

Welp, it's good to know that the flytrap dormancy worked out. Right now, I have a greenhouse that's absolutely full of temperate carnivores, and they all need dormancy over the winter. My sympathies.

Anonymous said...

LOL
"I haven't ever actually been asked any of these things" Maybe because people think like I did "Subjunctive???? What is that??? What the hell could he mean???? What is it all about??? And, probably more important, what do I care???". Well, actually I didn't think the latest because I was so curious, I cared. A lot!. But I did think, it’s no busyness of mine, and he'll probably think I'm rude for asking, so I won't! Imagine my surprise when the first thing you explain is this:)
Love your blog! All about it! Can't wait to read more. Its great to know more about the plants and its lots of fun to read how you write:) So, thank you for (even though you didn’t know, and didn’t do it because of it) making my day a little bit happier

ps: would anyone actually take the time out of their pathetic little lives to send you hate mail/comments to a unknown blog character about him being gay? I mean, for them to know it, they would have to end up in your blog to begin with and actually do a bit of reading. So, I have two things for you to think about: first: do people who hate gay people like plants enough to look for information about how to care for them? And second: to those people know how to read, or what the internet is?

mr_subjunctive said...

So far, only one bit of hate mail, and that was pretty borderline and didn't seem to have a lot to do with sexuality: that was more about religion and probable untreated mental illness (his, not mine).

That said, I don't think there's actually all that much of a correlation between liking plants and disliking gays, or between disliking gays and literacy. Maybe a little bit of a correlation on literacy, I suppose.

sunny in MT said...

i couldnt figure out this blogging thing i dont know if this is where i should ask but i am going to start a small greenhouse 8.5 wide and 12.5 long i was wondering if you had any idea what climate control would be better between green air, c.a.p., or harvest master they all are the whole thing hum.,temp,light,air,blah bla in one unit they have different features i just didnt have any one with any experience to ask so what you think?

mr_subjunctive said...

I have no idea. I don't have any experience picking out climate control devices for greenhouses either.

catmint said...

Dear Mr Subjunctive, I really enjoyed reading your infrequently asked questions. There were several LOLs. But seriously, it was very useful to discover that there is a name for many, many of the plants in my garden: NOIDs. It was so good to discover this that I forgive you for not agreeing to do my homework, even when I said please.
cheers,
catmint

Pat Moore said...

I think you are wonderful. Thank you for your very special website.

Julie said...

The above commenter said that they think you are wonderful, and I must say, I also think you are wonderful. Sorry, can't help myself. I was happy to find out what a NOID was! Thanks.

teagan said...

Marry me?

mr_subjunctive said...

teagan:

Oh! That is also an infrequently asked question!

lynn'sgarden said...

It's 5am, I can't sleep and this is where I come for some entertainment! Another great post I've stumbled upon. Mr_Subjunctive should really be
Mr WOnderful! Enjoy learning about you!

faroutflora said...

Ummm... the above is awesome! Love your blog, and sense of humor. Tons of great information too.

hippolyta said...

Just discovered your blog, because a friend posted a link to your plant suggestions for zombie attacks. Love it! (The zombie advice and the whole blog). Plant expertise, interesting personality, engaging writing style, and bonus: spelling and punctuation. This blog's a keeper.

Sentient Meat said...

Congrats on your marriage! Here in CA, my husband and I -- partners for nearly 20 years now -- got married on 8/8/08 during the window of opportunity.

At the risk of gushing, you two are part of why Iowa rocks.

I love your writing--your sense of humor and the care you take over your words and your plants (about 300 or 350 here).

PS I first found your blog when my livingroom Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig' unexpectedly bloomed and I was Googling for more info.

Anonymous said...

Yay! you're gay! :) Me too. All this time I though you were a woman? But calling yourself Mr. Subjunctive? I was real confused lol I LOVE your blog btw, read it every day, big fan.

Alexandra said...

I found this blog when I was looking for some plant care information, like most of your other readers, and subsequently spent practically the entire weekend glued to the computer, reading almost every post you've written. Your blog is like an oasis of gorgeous, imaginative, hilarious, rich prose in the internet desert of poor vocabulary, bad grammar, mutant spelling, glib ideas (of which the oasis/desert thing is one, I suppose, but it´s late , I´m tired, that´s all I can come up with), smart-ass attitudes and general yuckiness. Please don´t ever stop writing.

Oh, and I apologise for calling your husband "your partner" in a previous post, I didn´t know until today how official your union is; I agree, you should be proud of yourselves and of Iowa!

Ps: I'm a "huge parentheses" kind of writer myself and I've always been scolded for it...holy crap, your footnotes are absolute genius!

archnemesis_goldenhair said...

Is there a tutorial somewhere about how to make footnotes the way you do?

mr_subjunctive said...

archnemesis_goldenhair:

I googled for the document I used originally, but didn't find it, and the examples I found for the search "HTML clickable footnotes" didn't strike me as being particularly clear.

I'm not sure that this is necessarily the best, most efficient way to do it, but this is how I do it, substituting [] for <> so that Blogger will allow me to publish the comment:

In the body of the text, I insert this code to add a footnote 1:

[sup][a name="id*****1" href="#ftn.id*****1"]1[/a][/sup]

I change the "*****" bits from page to page keeping them five letters long, but in theory I think they can be any length.

The [sup][/sup] raises the text above the main text. The [a name=""] part identifies that spot as a location which can be jumped to, and the [a href=""] part is where the page will jump to if clicked.

Then down with the text of the footnotes, the code for the number you click to go back up is:

[sup][a name="ftn.id*****1" href="#id*****1"]1[/a][/sup]text

Here, the a name="" and a href="" are reversed, because you want it to go back to the main text when clicked.

If you want the footnote text to be smaller than the main text, like I do, you have to put a [font size=1] tag before the footnotes begin, and end with a [/font].

And remember, for all this to work, you have to change the square brackets to angle brackets.

I never actually type all this in, because I have it all saved to a document: I highlight, do a find/replace to change the letters in the ***** part, then copy and paste the block into my post and copy/paste however many times I need to for the number of footnotes I have. It's a pain to change once I've done that, so I use placeholders while writing the post to tell me where I want the footnotes to go. (like "[4]")

archnemesis_goldenhair said...

Let me make sure I got this right, in the "id*****1" bits I can use any random string of letters. As long as every note per post uses the same string of letters. Different post, different string.
Aside from that part, got it.
Thank you very much for your help. I've enjoyed your blog very much, and it's improved my gardening skill.
Have a good day.

mr_subjunctive said...

archnemesis_goldenhair:

I think technically you can use different strings of letters within a post, as long as the letters for the first footnote in the text match the letters for the first footnote in the footnotes. (So you could use first, second, third, etc. if you wanted to, for example. It's just easier for me to keep track of what's supposed to go where -- and easier to change, if I insert or delete a footnote -- if I use the same string and just number the end, like gaura1, gaura2, gaura3, etc.)

archnemesis_goldenhair said...

OK. Thanks!

marina said...

New reader! Googled "cryptanthus" and found your page...then read your Infrequently Asked Questions, which seemed to be the most logical way to find out more about your blog.

I'm a 30yo japxican girl that was born in the Pacific Northwest, raised in East LA, went to high school in Iowa City, college in Santa Barbara CA, and am now getting a PhD in geology at Arizona State. All these moves were hard on my plant collection and the last was hard on my rock collection--gave a few favorites to mom but left the rest with old housemate scattered around the patio. So, naturally, the first plants I did well with here in AZ were cacti and tillandsia, which live happily in my sunny bathroom window, mounted to my remaining scoria/gabbro/quartz vein samples, shooting up flowers and popping out pups. Who'da thought??

In little flashes of procrastination [when I've manuscripts due], I've been optimistically branching out to more needy plants, cryptanthus among them, and different euphorbs and cacti as well as they seem to be more likely to survive our 120 degree summers, inside or out. And I just wanted to let you know, I'll be looking to you [your blog] for my advice...no pressure.

But regardless of whether they survive, just wanted to say BRAVO! and THANKS! for perhaps the most entertaining and informative plant blog on the entire internet (I might print out your CAM plants explanation and hand it out to students in the ecohydrology course I help teach). KEEP IT UP!

Terrie Kaufman said...

You may be gay and married but I love you too. This has been some of the best read in the world for one who loves the garden world. Thank you for your time, your effort, your insight and OMG your humor. You made my day and you now have a new follower.

Anonymous said...

I may be able to flower my purple passion plants(probably hybrid Gynuras)-but what pollinates them...and,if seeds do ripen...Do they need light to germinate or do they need to be dark...?

mr_subjunctive said...

Anonymous:

I couldn't answer any of the questions; the best I could do for an answer about what pollinates the flowers were two websites that were just guessing (insects? flies?), and I've never tried to propagate them from seed because they're so much easier to propagate from cuttings.

Rose said...

Thank you
Quite an informative blog.
I now consult it often with regards to houseplants care info

But I gotta ask - have you ever had a tilly before?

mr_subjunctive said...

Rose:

Yes, three, though it's never worked out terribly well. I gave Tillandsia abdita back to the person who'd given it to me, after it became clear that it wasn't happy with me. A NOID Tillandsia died after about 5 months in my care, presumably because I couldn't water it properly (I think I was watering too much, and too infrequently.), and T. cyanea lasted almost five years but eventually reached the point where it looked so run-down that I had to throw it out. I never really came up with a theory about what I was doing wrong with T. cyanea.

MJI said...

I love looking at your blog and reading your comments about plants. Just curious, what happened to your old job? I missed the post where you talked about how you left.

mr_subjunctive said...

MJI:

Well, nothing happened to the job. It's still there; I'm just not doing it anymore.

I'm not sure I ever explained leaving, exactly, but some of it had to do with the fact that we were moving, and it was going to be a lot more difficult to get to work. Also I'd had problems with the heat in the greenhouse the summer before, and it seemed likely that that was going to happen again, so there was arguably a health interest in getting out of the job before we hit the very hottest point in the year.