Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pretty picture: Lithops NOID flower

Nothing terribly complicated here, just a flower. We just got a handful of Lithops in, and a few of them had buds. Interesting if you haven't seen it before. I kinda prefer the yellow-flowered ones.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Science! (Why Your Digital Camera Disagrees With You)

Ever wonder why the colors in your digital pictures don't look like the real thing? Wonder no more!

Although the makers of cameras have always tried to make it so that the film (for old, non-digital cameras) or electronic receptors (for digital ones) are only responsive to the same wavelengths of light that the human eye is, and in the same relative proportions, they're using different materials, so the match is never going to be perfect, however many filters and layers and amplifiers and etc. get added to the camera.

(Or, check that: the match will not be perfect until we're carrying around cameras made of meat. Close enough to never?)

The human eye is only capable of seeing wavelengths between about 380 (violet) and 750 (red) nanometers. I don't know what all else might be going on, but at least one of the issues with my own personal digital camera is that it's capable of seeing wavelengths of light of around 940 nm. How do I know? Because that's the frequency used by a lot of remote controls (and I'm making the somewhat unwarranted assumption that my remote must operate at 940 too). 940 nm is in the infrared range, which is not visible to the eye, but my camera can see it, as shown here:

But it gets significantly worse, because as you can tell from the photo, my camera sees this light as purple, which is on the opposite side of the spectrum from infrared. Possibly it wouldn't be that noticeable if your camera saw infrared as red: they're close enough in the spectrum that a lot of things that absorb or reflect one probably also absorb or reflect the other. But since your camera is seeing something that's close to red as being purple, which is on the opposite side of the spectrum, that adds a bit of unpredictability to the situation.

This is probably the reason for the difficulty I've mentioned in getting blue and purple plants to look right in the camera, by the way. (Probably also the issue with Saintpaulia flowers being unphotographable.) Plants that reflect a lot of infrared (or ultraviolet, too, actually) are going to end up looking more purple to the camera than plants that don't, but my eye can't tell the difference between the plants that reflect those wavelengths and the ones that don't, so sometimes colors go all weird on me, and sometimes they don't.

And that's just for the infrared. My camera probably sees ultraviolet, too; I just don't have a good way to check that one. Maybe someday.

Is there a way to fix this? Not a very practical one, unfortunately. Using a photo editing program to subtract the blue added by the camera might help, but of course that's going to subtract blue from the background and leaves and everything else, too, unless you can isolate only the flower or whatever that looks wrong. Some software will let you do that, and some won't. Somebody somewhere also probably sells filters you can use to block out infrared light, but probably it's easier just to adjust the color after the fact.

Anyway. So now you know. Take pictures of your own remote controls. See what you find. It'll be fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Random plant event: Neoregelia 'Fireball' offsetting

The rules about what I am allowed to take home with me from work have never been spelled out very specifically or precisely for me. I asked WCW about it after I'd been working for a month or so, and since then I've been kind of making it up as I go, bearing in mind that there's an element of goose-that-laid-the-golden-eggs to the situation and it's important not to take advantage of the situation, or give the appearance that I'm taking advantage of the situation either, as far as that goes.

The basic policy, as explained to me by WCW, is that anything that would otherwise be thrown away is fair game. Which, there are fuzzy lines there, because she and I are the ones that decide, for the most part, what gets thrown away. Sometimes there are emergency prunings and pinchings of plants which are not, strictly speaking, emergencies. [cough] But still. This is how I got my 'Fireball.'

I'm pleased that it's finally decided to send out a stolon. Eventually they can get huge --

-- though I think this takes a while. The ones we've divided at work have wasted no time in sending out stolons, but then, they have a much warmer, wetter environment to work with, and they've slowed down noticeably since it got cold.

There may be more coming soon about Neoregelia 'Fireball,' in the form of a plant profile, though it's maybe going to have to wait in line behind some other plants, for reasons which will be obvious once they're all written and start getting posted.

(Neoregelia 'Fireball' post is up.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pretty picture: Vanda NOIDs

These poor things have been, in WCW's words, "to hell and back." Mostly they've just been too wet, off and on, but they've also fallen out of their pots a number of times, and their roots have been injured, and all manner of other problems. We've put a pretty insane amount of work into them and still haven't sold a one, because of their price. (Either $70 or $80; I forget which. It's high, yes, but it is reflective of the cost we paid to get them here in the first place.)

Fortunately, the Vandas seem to be forgiving us. Or at least the one in the pictures is: it's the only one to rebloom so far. It's being a much better sport about it all than I would have been, if I were an orchid.

I don't actually care for Vandas that much: they're pretty, certainly, and I like the subtle pattern in the petals, but the shape doesn't really do much for me, they're not as big as some of the orchid flowers I've seen, they don't seem to appear in particularly large number, and for being that pricey, I'd think they'd be proportionately awesome. But there is one thing:

The color isn't quite accurate, but it's close: this one at Lowes (many months ago) was a very un-orchidy color. Which does impress me. So few flowers are blue to begin with, and blues are nearly nonexistent among houseplants, aside from some Saintpaulias and the occasional flash of color among the other orchids (e.g. Zygoneria). So they do have good qualities.

Any thoughts or experiences re: Vandas that anybody wants to share? (Particularly comments of the, well that one's nice and all, but to really dig Vandas you've got to see _________ variety.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Random plant event: Philodendron 'Autumn' branching?

I don't know what to do with my poor Philodendron 'Autumn' anymore. It declined for a long time after I first got it, which I eventually figured out was because I had been keeping it too wet. So then I moved it to a smaller pot, and watered less, and it seemed to improve there. For a while, it even looked like it was getting itself more solidly rooted.

But then in the last couple months, it's started to wobble again. What new leaves it bothers to produce are tiny. And then it does this.

For a while, it looked like the newest leaf was having difficulty unfurling, and I thought maybe the plant was branching out of frustration (i.e., "Something's blocking this growing tip, so maybe I should make another one"), but then the leaf did unfurl and seemed to be just fine, if microscopically small.

The only other Philodendrons like these that I've seen branch before have been a few 'Imperial Reds' at work that we had to cut back and re-root: I kept the stumps around just to see what they'd do, because I'd never gotten an answer about whether they could be propagated from cuttings or not, and they did resprout, though the resprouted plants were never pretty (and then we had a space crisis and had to dump them anyway). But still, they didn't decide to branch all on their own like this.

I'm thinking that maybe, if I still want to have an 'Autumn' (and I'm far from certain that I do), I should throw this one away and try starting over with one that's in good shape to begin with. Though I admit to a certain perverse curiosity about what new ways this one will find to look ugly. And also, where there are branches, there's (theoretically) the possibility of propagation. Maybe I could have even more hideous, misshapen Philodendrons around the house. Hmmm.

Monday, October 20, 2008

James Bond (Vriesea splendens)

Maybe it's just me. In fact, probably it's just me. But if ever a plant naturally looked like it was wearing a tuxedo, Vriesea splendens would be that plant as far as I'm concerned.1 Which is enough of a reason right there to call it James Bond, but I also hear it prefers its fertilizer shaken, not stirred. I really had no choice.

It's a charmer, though it's not exactly what you'd call friendly, from an indoor-growing standpoint. There's remarkably little information about them on-line, which is frustrating, and what information there is tends to be enigmatic, ambiguous stuff like, "this is one of the more difficult bromeliads," without any real details about the nature of the difficulty. It's like, everybody's kind of trying to warn you away from this one, but they won't tell you why exactly. I'm not going to do that, because I haven't had any bad experiences with mine and don't see any reason to discourage anybody. I liked my first one so well that I got a second, even:

But of course this could all fall to pieces come winter. We don't know.2

Since, like I said, there's not much hard information out there about keeping these, the care information I can provide is going to be a little sketchy, and is going to have to rely more on my personal experiences than I like. But oh well:

LIGHT: There's general consensus that some sun, or filtered sun, is desirable. No word on what happens if the plant isn't getting enough, but too much is supposed to bleach out the green parts of the leaves (the dark spots apparently remain dark?). Both of my plants have been in a west window for a long time and seem to be perfectly happy there.

WATERING: I water mine essentially the same way that I water any of the other bromeliads I own: I let it get to the point where I can't feel any moisture in the soil with my finger, and then I soak the hell out of the soil, fill up the vase, and start the cycle over again. This has worked fine for a long time with my Guzmanias and Aechmeas, and worked for the small Vriesea in the pictures here for a year, so I'm assuming this must be okay.

TEMPERATURE: This is one of the care requirements that seems to be an actual problem for people, or at least it's something that people seem to insist on. Consensus is that you're safe between 60-80F (16-27C), and beyond those boundaries you're on your own. My own plants are usually in that range, though we do occasionally have brief periods above and below those temperatures, which haven't caused any visible problems.

HUMIDITY: This is the other factor that people tend to mention, and . . . well, I'm just not sure it's as critical as they say. It's hard for me to know, though, because my indoor humidity levels aren't maybe quite normal.3 Let's suffice it to say that more humidity is better, but that it's not clear how dry is too dry.

PESTS: They don't seem to be attacked by anything in particular, as far as I've been able to find. My own plants have never had anything that I'm aware of, nor any of the plants at work. Rot can be an issue if the soil is kept too wet for too long, though even then, it seems to take a while to kick in. We did lose some offsets to rot at work, which was a damn shame: six offsets, and the only one that made it was the one I took home. It was sad.

PROPAGATION: After flowering, like with most other bromeliads, the original plant dies, though it produces pups on its way out. Exactly how many pups to expect is a weird issue: I ran into a source that said one plant only produces one pup, always, and if you want more than that then you have to use seeds. I know I've seen at least one plant that had two pups on it at once, though, because I nearly bought it, so that's pretty definitely not true. So I don't know.

Pups should be separated when they're fairly large (maybe, say, when they're 75-80% the height of the parent), ideally when they've produced some roots of their own, with a clean knife (or you can just pull them apart, sometimes). Although some bromeliads will continue to offset for a long time, if you take off the pups (My oldest Aechmea fasciata has produced five offsets after two years post-flower, and I have a couple Guzmania lingulatas that have each produced six. In all three cases, the parent plants still seem healthy and functional and are not necessarily finished yet.), I have never tried re-potting a parent Vriesea splendens, so I'm not sure if this would work to produce more pups, but I sure as hell intend to try when my large one starts to offset.

FEEDING: Vrieseas are not, as best as I can tell, particularly heavy feeders, though they are probably pretty regular feeders, like most bromeliads, and they may also be more sensitive to copper than most plants, like some other bromeliads. I feed at a fairly low strength year-round, though probably I could skip winter. (For various reasons, it's easier for me to feed all the time than it would be to keep track of what had been fed and what hadn't and when the last feedings were for everything.) Some sources advise feeding through the leaves, vase, and roots simultaneously; I'm not sure I can see how it would matter, and only feed mine through the roots. Which seems to work fine.

GROOMING: Basically non-existent. Removing dead leaves and dead flowers is about it, and neither of those are things you're going to have to do often.

Aside from that, I can tell you that it has 25 pairs of chromosomes,4 which could be worth knowing someday (maybe the next time you're on "Jeopardy?") and that's about it. The flower spikes are supposed to last for several months; I didn't see any hard data on precisely how long, but four and six months are apparently not unheard of. My personal plant has been in bloom for at least two months.

There are at least a couple cultivars of note: my personal plants were sold to us as the cultivar 'Splenreit,' or possibly 'Splenriet' (the spelling on the internet is inconsistent, and I don't know which is correct). Presumably there's something particularly cool about 'Splen-'whatever, but I don't know what it is.5 There is also a dwarf variety, which is called 'Mini,' and which is mostly cool just for being smaller and staying smaller; it doesn't appear to have any different care requirements or anything.

As a genus, Vriesea's closest relatives are the Tillandsias, which surprises me a little (they certainly don't look terribly related from the leaves.). One can see a resemblance in some of the flowers, though. (Compare Vriesea splendens with Tillandsia cyanea, for example. Specifically, the flattened arrangement of bracts.)

Finally: I don't think Vriesea splendens is likely to be toxic to children or pets, based on the fact that bromeliads typically aren't, and none of the sites I looked at mentioned anything to that effect. The plant also has no spines or anything that might injure anybody. So if it has a license to kill, it's playing it pretty close to the vest.

UPDATE (22Jan09): See the unfinished business post on this plant for more about the offsetting and relationship to Tillandsia spp.


Photo credits: All mine except the last one, which is from "Tequila" at Wikipedia.

1 Okay, maybe Aphelandra squarrosa.
2 I do suspect, though, at least: the smaller of my plants made it through last winter just fine. So I would be surprised if winter were a big problem for them this year.
3 As has been previously noted, I have a large number of plants in a small amount of space, and they do all keep the humidity elevated for one another. Still, my cheapo K-Mart thermometer/humidity gauge generally stays around 40-60% at all times: it's good compared to an office building, but it's hardly a greenhouse.
4 Humans, of course, only have 23. Vriesea chromosomes are apparently small, as chromosomes go, so it does probably take more DNA to make a human than it does to make a Vriesea. (This is not a foregone conclusion: the genome for onions, for example, is much larger than the human genome. It is not yet clear how much of the DNA in each species actually needs to be there, though.) While I'm here, digressing anyway: the ancestral bromeliad species is thought to have had 25 pairs of genomes as well, because it's the most common number for modern bromeliads, and those species that differ tend to have either very close numbers like 24 or 26, or multiples of 25, like 50 or 100.
5 I couldn't find any information about 'Splen'whatever by itself. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was supposed to be easier to care for than the species, given that I'm having an easier time with it than everybody seems to think I ought to. But I have no actual evidence for that, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find out that it's a cultivar for some entirely different reason (bloom longevity, or seed production, or who knows what).

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Over at Shakesville, there's a thread going now in response to the question, "In what ways has the idea of sexual assault and/or street harassment affected your daily movements?"

I do like to keep this blog more or less about the plants, just because I know that for a lot of people, myself included, gardening is a way of escaping and avoiding the various unpleasant life stuff we all have to one degree or another. But this is too important not to say something about. So please. I implore you: you should read this. Even if you think it can't possibly apply to you, especially if you think it can't possibly apply to you, you should read it. All of the comments. Or at least as many as you can take. If you have, yourself, been the victim of sexual assault, you may find this triggering memories you'd just as soon not relive, so in that case, you're excused from following the link.

For everybody else: do not leave your own comment there about how everybody's overreacting or being paranoid or whatever, because if you do they will fuck you up. No tolerance for trolling over there. If you feel compelled to question any of what's being said, it very likely means that you do not understand it yet. You have been warned. If you absolutely must question what's being said over there, please come back here to do it and let them have their space.

Non-trollish comments are welcome here too, of course.

Random plant event: Polyscias fruticosa seeds

Not all that terribly long ago, I posted about our Polyscias fruticosa at work, which was flowering. Well, it's still flowering, four months later, which I think is exceedingly weird, but it's also produced, here and there, seedpods. Or maybe just seeds. (I didn't go so far as to dissect anything.) They're not much to look at, so I stuck a few in vermiculite. We'll see if they sprout or rot or what. I'm not expecting any new plants out of the deal, but then, I wasn't expecting seeds, either, so I suppose we can't rule anything out. I'll keep you posted.