Saturday, January 12, 2008

Supermodel (Dizygotheca elegantissima)

Readers who like mood music with their plant-related reading, and are by and large cool with drag queens,1 are encouraged to play the video below. Or anybody who just misses RuPaul, for that matter: what has she been doing lately? Everybody else can just proceed to the text.

Skinny leaves, skinny stems, skinny petioles, fussy, high-maintenance, tall: what could Dizygotheca elegantissima be but a supermodel?

I happen to like this plant, though I hadn't given it a lot of thought until a few months ago. They have a reputation for being buggy, and, frankly, I have enough bug problems to worry about already. But . . . you know how it is. You see a plant every day, you develop a kind of obsession about it, you do the math one day and find out you could buy it with your employee discount for less than $3, and then suddenly it's sitting on the back of the toilet. Whoops.

Shortly thereafter, K-Mart had a bunch of these too: 4-inch pots containing three plants for about $3. So I bought three of those as well. Double whoops.

And the results have been, shall we say, mixed. They were all doing nicely until one of the periodic plant rearrangements moved the K-Mart batch to the mini-greenhouse. They sat there happily for a while and then suddenly began pitching leaves left, right and center. I don't know what happened precisely: there may have been a situation with some spider mites, though I was never sure if I saw any or not. In any case. No air circulation + soil that was basically pure peat2 + possibly some contributing spider mites = badness and leaf drop.

I took them back out, sprayed them with some neem oil, and gave them spots with better air circulation, and things improved, though most of the plants had bare spots where leaves had been lost, so I potted them all up together in a single pot to hide the pitifulness. I have no idea what's going to happen now: they have better soil, which should make them happy, and the grouping of them should keep the local humidity a little higher, but at the same time, air circulation is down, and they're in a warmer spot, which might encourage spider mites. Really no way to know until it happens. So far, things seem to be okay, though there are some early signs that there's going to be another round of leaf drop before it's over. Call it a hunch.

I should probably mention sooner or later that Dizygotheca elegantissima is not the correct name for this plant anymore. It is now placed in the genus Schefflera, along with the more common houseplants Schefflera actinophylla and S. arboricola. The family resemblance is sort of difficult to see with young plants, since elegantissima has very long, thin leaflets (as opposed to the others' oval ones), which are a dark, almost metallic black-green (as opposed to the others' plain green, or green with cream-yellow variegation), and so on and so forth. But if you look at more mature plants,3 and others in the Schefflera family (e.g. the pictures at of S. digitata, S. taiwaniana, and the 'Nova' cultivar of S. actinophylla4), it becomes more obvious that no, Schefflera is probably the right genus. Readers who are still not convinced should look at this photo, also from, which shows mature and immature foliage side-by-side, or this one, which shows mature plants.

This, to me, is a tragic loss of a good botanical name. More than that, really, because "Dizygotheca elegantissima," to me, somehow sounded the way the plant looked. It was just the right name for this plant. So I am making the conscious and public decision to continue to call it Dizygotheca for at least a little while longer, even though I wouldn't ordinarily don't do that, and I resent people who perpetuate inaccurate names, because I'm just not ready to give it up yet.

Anyway. There are at least a couple cultivars, which I wasn't aware of until pretty recently. Asiatica Nursery has one for sale which is called 'White Parsley;' I've also seen a plant going by the name 'Gold Crest' at Lowe's, which is different in having cream variegation around the outside edge of the leaves, and the Exotic Angel website lists a 'Galaxy' that they seem to think is something special, though I'm not clear why they think that, a variegated 'Galaxy,' and 'Olympia,' which seems to be the regular plant with unusually fat leaves – it's possible that this version grows mature leaves at a younger age, or it may just be that the leaves are broader all the way around.

I haven't met any actual human supermodels, but what I hear is that they're frighteningly skinny and demanding. So you can guess where I'm going with this.

One of the reasons you don't see Dizygotheca in more stores overlaps with Dracaena sanderiana: they aren't busy, fluffy, full-looking plants unless you stick a bunch of them together. There are up sides to this: they rarely take up much more horizontal space than their pot does, which can be useful in filling specific empty spots in a home, or in a group planting.5 But even so.

Older plants do get wider (because they develop longer petioles with age: this is also a general Schefflera characteristic), though they don't branch spontaneously. Cutting off the growing tip may encourage a too-skinny plant to bush out a little, but it wouldn't surprise me if it had to be done a few times before it took, or if the end result wasn't really all that great. (You think Gisele Bündchen does everything she's asked, the first time, precisely as instructed? Puh-leeze.)

This all makes Dizygotheca a plausibly good plant for apartment-dwellers or the otherwise space-challenged: they might get taller, but they're not going to push everything out of a small room like a Pandanus veitchii (screw pine) might. But. There are plenty of easier plants available for that situation, foremost among them the Dracaena family (D. fragrans in particular).

So far, mine are doing okay, and I’m pleased about this, because they are charming plants, especially when they're small. I especially love the weird metallic green-black color, which is unusual in the plant world. There aren't any other plants like it. But -- I worry about their long-term future here.

Which brings me, after 1600 some words, to the real problem with Dizygotheca elegantissima: she's a diva, in the Naomi Campbell mold. She doesn't like temperature swings, doesn't like dark places, doesn't like dry air or dry soil. Of course, soil that's too wet is also unacceptable, and good air circulation is a must (it just has to be air circulating at exactly the same temperature as all the previous air: no sharp changes.). Also all of the drinking glasses must be triple-wrapped in plastic, and if there are M-n-Ms in the dressing room, the blue ones must be removed.

Bugs, also, are potentially a huge issue. Spider mites love the Araliaceae family in general, and Scheffleras in particular, and as far as I can determine, the situation is even worse when it comes to mealybugs. So at the very least, if you're going to keep this one, you need to be prepared to be ready to jump to attention at the first sign of any trouble, because it can get out of hand really quickly. And girl, if there is a bug problem, you better work.


Photo credit: all me.

1 Though RuPaul is in kind of a class by herself, as "drag queens" go. For those readers not up on gay culture, which I'm going to assume is most of them: being a drag queen is different from transvestitism, which in its strictest sense is a sexual fetish (man derives sexual pleasure from dressing up in women's clothing), and it's different from being transgendered, which in its strictest sense is a psychological and medical condition (more or less the "woman trapped in a man's body" thing). Most of the time, someone who does drag does so as theater: there is an event involved, like a lip-synching contest or a fundraiser or a parade, and the performer dresses as a woman to become the character they play for such events (a given performer typically only "does" one character during any given time period, though there are exceptions). The performer may or may not try to pass for (appear to the casual observer to be) a woman, depending on individual tastes and the demands of the event.
The point here is to make it clear that drag queens, and gay men in general, do not believe themselves to be women, nor do they, in most cases, want to be women. Drag is primarily theater. For this reason, the term "female impersonator," which is sometimes used for drag queens, can be offensive in certain contexts. They're not impersonating women; they're impersonating drag queens, and that's a whole different category.
The correct pronoun to use for a drag performer in costume is "she." Out of costume is "he." There are exceptions, including some performers who are genuinely indifferent to which pronoun you use, but this is the safer way to go until you hear otherwise.
I've only really had extended contact with one drag queen in my life, who may not be typical but who did take me with him to a drag show in Waterloo once: he did a lot of fundraisers for various worthy causes, and as performers are usually compensated for participating in this kind of thing, he made enough money doing it to sustain it as a hobby. He lip-synched, mostly to very sentimental, down-tempo stuff by Reba McEntire. Nice guy, though I worried about his safety sometimes, and still occasionally do. Worried a bit about my own safety, actually, that night, when he and I and several other people (some still in drag from the show and some not) went to Perkins for a 2 AM meal. But it was kind of worth it: I didn't have any desire to do drag at the time, and I still don't, but it's a pretty wild subculture, as subcultures go. I mean, the outfits alone. . . .
2 That's what they were planted in when I bought them, and I didn't change the soil because I didn't want to traumatize them unnecessarily. Bad call, it looks like.
3 (Continuing the trend we've seen with Monstera deliciosa, Syngonium podophyllum, Epipremnum aureum and others)
5 Not that I approve of group plantings, as a rule. It's not impossible for them to work out, but even your longer-lived group plantings are still short-term: the plants with more aggressive root systems will, sooner or later, choke out the slower-growing plants, and then you either have to split the group up or let them die one by one. There's not really a middle ground here. And even that protracted unhappy ending is only available in the situations where you can get together a group of plants that 1) look okay together and 2) need more or less similar conditions. I've tried to assemble such groups for work purposes from time to time, and although there are occasionally combinations that turn out shockingly well (Peperomia argyreia, the "watermelon Peperomia," plus Dracaena sanderiana, plus a white-striped Chlorophytum comosum, or spider plant, all works out reasonably well. The Peperomia has gray and green stripes, the Chlorophytum is green and white striped, and the Dracaena ties it all together by being gray and green and white, and striped. I'm very proud of that one, though so far nobody's wanted to buy it.), by and large it's tough to do. A flower will be just a couple shades too orange, or a perfect fit will need a completely different watering regimen, or whatever. I suspect the flower shop guys get around this by just ignoring cultural requirements entirely and going with whatever looks good in the moment.
There. I said it. And I'm not sorry.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Random plant event: Tradescantia spathacea flowers

I've seen these before, but this is the first one that was actually my plant. I've been thinking that this plant must be angry with me, lately, because I moved it a while back to a colder spot and it's been shedding leaves. But apparently if it's upset, it's not that upset.

This is another plant I got as a cutting from "hopefulauthor" at Garden Web (the first being the Schlumbergera mentioned here), in an exchange this summer, and it's the second of the cuttings from that exchange to bloom. There were also a couple cuttings of Ludisia discolor ("jewel orchid"), which are still alive: dare I hope to go three for three?

Random plant event: Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash' flowers

So . . . you remember a few days ago, when I posted about Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash,' and I said I didn't know how to get them to bloom but suspected that it might be a day-length, time-of-year thing? Well, it looks like I was half-remembering something correctly, because one of the two is preparing to flower again, which prompted me to look in the journal; they were both getting ready to flower on January 6 last year. So it's officially a theory.

The flower doesn't look like anything in particular so far, since it's only just getting going. But nevertheless, it's the stuff coming out of the center of the plant to the right (there's one single leaf emerging to the left):

It's a little tough to get good pictures of this when the flower, petioles, midveins, and new leaves of the plant are all the same color, but this will progress over time. There's more just-discovered flowering, involving a different species, coming tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Feral Orphan (Cyrtomium falcatum)

This is yet another plant I've talked about at Garden Web previously, owing to the odd circumstances by which it came to me. There are two plants in the picture here: the first one I found growing under one of the tables in the greenhouse at work, and the other one grew spontaneously in a pot of some other fern (I don't remember which for sure, but I want to say a Pteris), and then I took it out, gave it its own pot for a while, and waited. It didn't seem too traumatized by this, so I bought it, brought it home, and introduced it to the other one. Each of the ferns only had about five fronds and looked a little sparse, but together they're more respectable:

It's a frustrating plant to research; the same few facts are repeated over and over without elaboration, and a lot of places don't bother to mention it at all. I was kind of excited to see two Cyrtomiums (some dwarf variety, I think) in our year-end tropicals shipment: they're the first ones I've seen that were actually brought in deliberately to sell.

Mostly what you will learn if you research this plant is:

• It's a popular outdoor fern for shady spots, though there's confusion about where it will grow: one site says zones 7-10, another site says 5-8. Both may be right; I have no idea.
• If you want to buy one, you're better off going to a place that specializes in landscape plants than in houseplants.
• It's the most awesome fern ever!!!11!!!1!!!!!!!eleven!!! for growing indoors, because it tolerates dry air, low light, and gas fumes better than most.
• They like cooler temperatures than most houseplants.
• It reproduces from spores.
• It has shiny, "leathery" (?!) leaves, which are green and look like holly.
• It's not toxic to pets or kids.
• It's originally from Japan.

That's pretty much all there is. Not terribly helpful. No wonder the poor thing feels like it has to fend for itself under the tables, and sneak into the pots of strangers. I mean, you can figure out the leaf color by looking at a picture, but almost everybody mentions it anyway, and if it's a fern, you know it reproduces from spores, because that's part of what makes ferns ferns. Also, saying that the leaflets on a fern known as holly fern resemble holly leaves is almost too stupid to dignify with a mention.1

Two new fronds emerging

And really, that's all you need to know, in some ways, but let's forge on ahead anyway:

Clearly, any plant that's okay with growing under a greenhouse table isn’t going to be all that picky about light levels, and mine hasn't seemed to be. I have mine in the bathroom, with a smallish fluorescent light on it, and it seems to be just fine with that. It was surprisingly thirsty (actually not all that surprising, because I'd been warned about this by "nanw" at Garden Web), needing water about every third day. Humidity levels fluctuate in the bathroom, but clearly it hasn't encountered anything it can't handle, so that's good, and everybody says they can handle low humidity anyway so it may not need to be in the bathroom in the first place.

The only real issues are temperature and propagation. On this latter point, propagation of ferns from spores is hardly impossible. People do it all the time. But it's a good bit more involved than just cutting a piece off and sticking it in water or soil. You have to have ripe spores, you have to be able to collect them somehow, you have to have some kind of sterile medium to grow them on, and there's potentially a long wait before you get any results. Still: if and when it pays off, it's likely to pay off big, in several baby plants at once, and it doesn't hurt the parent plant to try or make it look ugly, like taking cuttings can. What's more, I suspect that Cyrtomium is probably an easier plant to propagate from spores than other ferns, because I assume that's probably where my plants came from, because that's the simplest way to explain their odd locations. So if I ever get spores, I intend to try this.

Temperature may or may not be a big deal; everybody says these prefer cooler temperatures, but if they're also being grown outside in zone 8, then they're clearly capable of handling warmer. So far, my plant hasn't complained about the situation in the bathroom, which overall tends to be cooler than the rest of the apartment but which heats up whenever somebody takes a shower. So we'll see, but I'm not worried about it.

But that's about all there is. My plant has been admirably consistent so far about producing fronds regularly, even when it'd just been relocated, uprooted, or whatever. It did lose a lot of fronds when I first got it home, but I suspect that was because I spent a lot of time wiping the leaves hard with paper towels: months of dust and pesticide and water spots and so forth had left it covered in something gray and tenacious, which needed multiple washings before I could get it off. I suspect I damaged some fronds in the process. Still, it bounced right back. They're tough little guys. If the look is the sort of thing you like, and you happen to run across one, it's worth picking up.

EDITED 5/13/08: Raised the difficulty level from 2.6 to 3.1 because it's really just not patient at all about droughts.


Photo credits: moi.

1 (But only almost.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Random plant event: Gasteria x pseudonigricans flowers

This isn't anything shocking or spectacular; I've seen Aloe flowers that were awfully similar (in fact, I have some going right now, on my A. 'Doran Black'), but even so. This is at least the single best example I've seen of how the Gasteria genus got its name (from gaster, Greek for "stomach"): the flowers do have little bellies on them, which you can kind of see on the lower ones in the picture.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Dilettante (Syngonium podophyllum)

Yet another plant I brought home once, only to do terribly wrong and then throw out. This one, though, has a happier ending than most, since I eventually made up for the failure by growing a few that, knock wood, are doing okay.

My current collection of Syngonium podophyllum.

I don't see a lot to be gained by rehashing the whole story in tedious detail, especially since I've told it elsewhere. (The link also includes, as a bonus, the list of song titles on my country album, which are down towards the bottom of the thread: I think my favorite of those is "(Why Can't You) Love Me Like My Pothos Loves Me." I'll have to work on coming up with some new material.1)

So, one important feature of the plant: don't repot it in the middle of winter, too deep, in heavy, wet soil, while traumatizing the roots, and then overwater it, okay?

Syngonium podophyllum is native to Central America north into Mexico, which is more or less also Monstera deliciosa's stomping grounds. They've hit on similar solutions to the problems of the environment: both are climbing vines that have heart- or arrowhead-shaped2 entire leaves when young and develop a more complex shape as the plant gets older. In the case of Monstera, the older leaves remain basically heart-shaped but become increasingly perforated as the plant matures; with Syngonium, the plant's more mature leaves are split into multiple thin ovals (pedate, for those of you following along in your dictionaries). This page has good (black and white) pictures of mature leaves; a color picture showing both mature and juvenile leaves at once can be found here.

Syngonium podophyllum 'Emerald Gem'

Generally, only the juvenile form of the plant is grown indoors; a lot of people apparently aren't too keen on the lobed, climbing version. I'm not either, though I've never seen a climber that was variegated or otherwise interestingly colored, and I'm curious about how that would turn out. (Maybe a climbing, lobed 'Neon' would be awesome.)2.5 A plant that is beginning to vine can be disciplined by cutting the particular stem in question back to the ground, if you don't want vining.

Syngonium in the industry is mostly produced from tissue culture, these days: everybody loves tissue culture because 1) there's a high cost of entry, which limits the number of people doing it to a very few, very large players; 2) it's possible to produce a large number of plants from a very small amount of starting material; 3) unlike taking cuttings, it works quickly and avoids transmission of diseases and pests from one generation to the next; 4) plants produced from tissue culture tend to spend more time in the more desirable clumping, juvenile-leaf form. Syngonium happens to be especially suitable for tissue culture because plants reach mature size very quickly this way, so one can, at least in theory, pump plants out the door as fast as the consumers can kill them.

Surprisingly, I was unable to find any evidence that Syngonium has been involved in genetic engineering, which surprised me, considering how many new cultivars have appeared on the market lately.3 (A couple pages with pictures are available here and here, but there are plenty others that aren't on those pages.) Syngonium, like English ivy (Hedera helix), has a tendency to sport frequently, or throw out a vine that has a different shape, color, or pattern to it, and these new forms can be maintained through vegetative propagation, or (apparently) by tissue culture as well. The 'Allusion' series of cultivars ('Berry Allusion,' 'Bob Allusion,' 'Pink Allusion') are said to have started from vine sports this way, as well as the popular cultivar 'White Butterfly:'

Syngonium podophyllum 'White Butterfly'

So Syngonium is kind of its own experimenter, which I guess is a neighborly way for a plant to be. There is, of course, a darker side, this being that it likes to try on new habitats as much as it likes to try on new colors and shapes.

Yes, it's yet another invasive. (Sigh.) Like Florida doesn't have enough problems.

The most talked about problems with Syngonium seem to be in Florida, where the plant has escaped cultivation in the Gainesville, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Miami, and Tampa areas. Plus probably some others that didn't make the list. (See the map at the University of South Florida site.) However, the plant has also spread itself around in American Samoa, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Galapagos Islands, and in the Christmas Island area near Australia. Removal is a big hassle, wherever it's spread, because the plant can tolerate low light and reproduce from a single node. So, some of the removal is going to have to take place in forest cover, mostly by pulling the vines off of trees, and when you do, you can't let any of the plant fall to the ground and slip under some leaf litter, or else you'll be back again in six months to do the exact same thing. Realistically, Syngonium species are probably going to remain anywhere they've become established, unless it's a very, very small, very, very isolated spot. I have yet to see any reports that Syngoniums have caused serious environmental damage anywhere, but that doesn't mean they're innocent, and even if it hasn't yet, that's not very consoling, because they almost certainly will at some point. You can't bring a fast-growing, shade-tolerant plant to an established ecosystem and not make some ripples.

This plant occasionally still goes by the name Nephthytis in the trade, which is aggravating to me personally: not only is it not the right name, it's not easy to say. But it does happen. We've had plants shipped to us that were identified on the invoices as Nephthytis, even though there is an actual Nephthytis genus which isn't related to or similar to Syngonium. I know these things happen, but it's been at least 30 years: surely people could make the switchover, given 30 years to adjust.

Syngonium podophyllum 'Orientals Shanghai' (?)

So what we have is a plant that changes leaf shape over the course of its life, changes color and variegation pattern all the time, changes its habitat often enough to be annoying, and changes its name occasionally. One almost wants to yell at it to focus, already.

Fortunately, its unwillingness to buckle down and stick to a particular kind of life makes the transition to indoors pretty easy. It's adaptable to almost any kind of light, from low-moderate up to full sun (bright indirect to filtered sun would be the ideal, but really, you can do almost anything – the only thing to watch for is, variegated leaves will lose variegation if the light is too low, and plants will become spindly and weak-looking, with tiny pale leaves, if there's not enough light. I think some of my own plants, in fact, need more light than they're getting. Syngonium is also fairly prone to sunburn, if light intensity is increased too much, too rapidly.), and it's very easy to propagate from cuttings, or even just nodes with a single leaf attached.4 Grooming is minimal. Fertilization is kind of a weird case: my growers' guide says that Syngonium will grow more or less the same regardless of how much you feed them (though he hedges his bets by saying that plants grown in brighter light should be getting more food). Pests aren't normally a huge problem, either, though there are several bacterial diseases that can cause leaf spots (including a strain of Xanthomonas that is specific to Syngonium) – this is more common when foliage is left wet – and there are a number of fungal diseases as well that are pretty much not worth getting detailed about if you're just growing plants at home as a hobby.5

Actual insect pests are relatively uncommon, and limited to the usual suspects: spider mites and mealybugs. I've never had any problems with either, though, nor do I recall having any insect problems on the plants at work. The latest batch of Syngonium we've gotten had a few brown spots on the leaves, probably from one of the aforementioned bacterial diseases, but otherwise they tend to be pretty healthy.

Humidity seems to be flexible, though a lot of plants don't require humidity but do better with some anyway: Syngonium is such a plant. About the only real trick with these is watering, and watering isn't terribly tricky compared to some plants. In fact, if you want to grow this in nothing but water, it's one of the better candidates: it makes the transition very readily and can sustain itself for quite a while. It goes pretty much the way you'd think: shake the dirt off the roots, stick it in water, replace the water periodically. It's also, naturally, a good candidate for hydroculture (which is different from growing in water), but Water Roots is really more the person to ask about that.

Advice about watering plants in soil varies, but everybody is pretty clear that you don't want to leave the plant soaking wet all the time, and you don't want it to dry out completely. I water mine mostly by weight, which is hard to describe, but it winds up something like, when the soil is dry to between 1/4 and 1/2 of the way down.

Syngonium podophyllum, NOID (probably something in the 'Allusion' group, but who knows: These were Lowe's rescue plants when I got them, and the tags said the variety was 'Maria,' but you know how reliable tags are.)

In very dire situations of over- or underwatering, Syngonium will wilt. If you see wilting happening, you need to be very, very certain that you know which direction the problem lies before trying to fix it. The solution for underwatering should be pretty obvious; there's not as much you can do about overwatering, but bottom heat may be helpful: these plants are supposed to be more tolerant of heat than most, so as long as you don't get carried away, you might be able to evaporate some of the excess by setting the plant on a DVD player or other warm piece of electronics. I wouldn't leave it there indefinitely or anything, though.

When they're reasonably well-established, Syngonium tend to be pretty quick-growing, and they are more year-round growers than a lot of plants, too, so if you do something wrong, they'll let you know pretty much right away. So long as you don't plant them outside in a tropical climate or try to suffocate them, everything should be fine.

EDITED 20Dec08: There's an unfinished business post that shows what happens to variegated plants that begin to vine (though not what happens when the leaves develop lobes) here.


Photo credits: all me.

1 No, I don't really have an album. And I don't know how those songs would go. But I'd like to hear them, if they ever get written. Also, poetic license with the title I quote: my pothos actually seem to like the husband considerably more than they do me.
2 In the jargon: cordate and sagittate, respectively.
2.5 Alas, I have since been directed to this paper, which says that the specific variety 'Maya Red' loses its pink color in mature leaves. I think we can probably safely infer that this is a general characteristic for Syngonium, which is disappointing to me but not wholly unexpected. It does explain why I never see any plants with mature, variegated leaves for sale: I'd expect those to sell well if they existed. Perhaps this is something for some well-funded aroid grower with tons of experience (coughcoughcoughplantdaddycoughcough) to get cracking on. (Well? I'm waiting. . . .)
3 Not that I'd mind. I have no particular problem with genetic engineering in some places: I think it's fine in some situations, and I don’t see it as being especially different from the natural genetic reshuffling that happens when a flower gets pollinated and forms a seed. I do object to inserting genes that code for natural pesticides (like BT toxin, a protein from a bacterium that can kill insects), because that turns a natural beneficial item into a commodity and will eventually drive the evolution of pests which are resistant to the toxin, effectively making the bacterium useless for any further pest control. I don't think Monsanto or ADM or whoever have earned the right to take a global public good and ruin it for everybody forever. (Call me a radical.) I also don't approve of producing plants that require seeds to be treated with a chemical activator in order to sprout, or in order to produce commercially viable plants. Most of what you could want to know about that can be found in Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, in the chapter on potatoes, which is definitely worth the $10.17 it'd cost you at Amazon, and really really really worth a trip to your local public library, even if you have to fill out an interlibrary loan request. Seriously. Run, don't walk. You'll thank me later. [beat] Why are you still here? Go! Go! I give you leave to go!
4 I actually managed to get a node with no leaf on it to root in water, in the aftermath of the disastrous experience I mentioned at the top of the post. I didn't hang on to it because the new growth was disproportionately tiny, it didn't make the transition to soil well, and by the time it got going I was so sick of Syngoniums that I never wanted to see another one. I got over it, but this means that I didn't salvage anything from the doomed plant, either. Fortunately, I think the doomed plant and the one labeled above as 'Emerald Gem' were both cuttings of the same original plant, which happens to be one that's still for sale at work, so even if there's no real continuity, there's a kind of abstract sense in which my current plant redeems the one I killed. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself. (La la la la la -- I can't hear you. . . .)
5 Though it's maybe worth noting that the recommended treatment for one of them, Ceratocystis, is to take cuttings and then dip them in 120ºF (49ºC) water for thirty minutes. (!) Syngonium has a reputation for being very tolerant of high temperatures, but even so, I was kind of shocked to read this.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Unfinished business re: Cordyline fruticosa 'Kiwi' flowers

So I posted about this about three weeks ago, and frankly, I didn't figure we'd get to the end of the story because I thought the plant would probably sell before I saw the flowers do much more. This is one of the frustrations of working with plants in retail: the Ficus maclellandii that grew figs has sold, so I can't follow their development. All of the Ludisia discolor with buds sold right before Christmas, so it looks like I'm never going to get to see what the flowers look like. Etc.

But in this case, we do have follow-up events to report. It's actually a bit prettier than I was expecting. The original picture was from 9 December:

By 17 December, it had progressed to this:

And then on 4 January, we had this:

So now you can say you know what a Cordyline fruticosa flower spike looks like. I think it's nice. Not so nice that people are going to start growing them for the flowers instead of the foliage, but still. The big question remaining is, are the flowers self-fertile, and will there be seeds? I'm thinking probably not, but it doesn't hurt to be hopeful.