Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pretty picture: Yet another NOID orchid

I don't know anything about this one. It does have an ID tag in the pot, but the ID tag identifies it as one of the orchids I've already blogged about: Bakerara Truth 'Silver Chalice'). So I know it's not that. (Sometimes tags fall out of the pots and we have to guess which plant to put them back into; sometimes customers pick them up to read them and then stick them any old place, not bothering to get the tag back in the right pot or anything. If the plant's not actually blooming, we have very little way to ascertain whether the tag is misplaced or not.) It seems like maybe a Brassia, or something with some Brassia genes, but I'm not going to try to get a closer ID than that; trying to identify NOID orchids in a serious way probably leads to madness. I welcome rampant baseless speculation though, if anybody wants to throw out an idea, or a half-dozen ideas, in the comments.

UPDATE: There's fairly conclusive evidence that this is a Miltassia of some kind (Miltassia = Miltonia x Brassia), very possibly (but not definitely) Miltassia Shelob 'Tolkein.'

Hat tip to telipogon, in comments.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Random plant event: Euphorbia grandicornis bloom

Almost missed this one, 'cause it's so small. Glad I didn't.

First, the context:

See it?

Then the flower itself. The same slightly greenish yellow all over. I can't tell exactly whether there are separate petals or not: you can see indentations like there are five petals, but they look like they're fused. Kinda cool.

And then, finally, the closest picture I could get that was even kinda in focus:

It's definitely unusual: I can't quite reach a decision about whether or not I think it's pretty.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dorothy Gale (Neoregelia 'Fireball')

When I finished the Breakfast Club series of plant profiles, I said I thought I wouldn't be doing another series like that again, because it was "hard." Which is true: it was. But . . . sometimes ideas grab me and won't let go,1 and so here we are, at the very beginning of what will become the Wizard of Oz series, beginning with, obviously, Dorothy.

There are a couple reasons why Neoregelia 'Fireball' seemed like a good match to Dorothy. The first, admittedly kind of a stretch, is because 'Fireball' too is familiar with rainbows, if not necessarily what's over them. In high light, it will be vividly red (see pictures); slightly less light gives you orange, and less light still will be green.

I am unsure whether light intensity is the only factor; I've seen different-colored plants sitting right next to one another before.2 Color doesn't change all at once across the entire plant; generally the center turns red first, and then the red rolls across the rest of the plant from the center out. The best I've been able to do for my own plant at home so far is to get the center sort of reddish and the rest green: I suspect that I could do better with artificial lighting than I have with natural.3

Orange on the left, green on the right. Both of these are plants I brought home with me from work, at more or less the same time, but only one survived. I don't remember, now, which one of these was the survivor.

The other reason is that both Dorothy and 'Fireball' are looking for home, in a sense. The plant probably doesn't care so much, but we don't know where home is for it, or how it got to the U.S., or anything else. You'd think this would be hard information to lose, but I ran into two completely different origin stories in the process of researching this profile, and I wouldn't be surprised to find others.

According to The Orchid Thief, 'Fireball' was found in a trailer park in Goulds, Florida, as a seedling growing on an orchid. The owner (not named in the book) then propagated it, set up his own nursery, and eventually made fifty thousand dollars off that one chance seedling. This story is vivid and dramatic and would make a nice short film, possibly,4 but the author (Susan Orlean) doesn't try to verify any of it, apparently, and the lack of details is suspicious, so its authenticity is doubtful.

Large work plant in a hanging basket: we've been using it as a stock plant.

The alternate story, from here, is that the plant was sent up from South America by Walter Doering (primarily an orchid collector) to Nat DeLeon, a bromeliad collector, from Brazil. The plant was temporarily named 'Fireball' for trading purposes, even though it was collected from the wild and is therefore probably likely to be a species unto itself, instead of being a hybrid or a sport.5 So far, it doesn't have an official species designation as far as I've been able to find, though the link states that occasionally, for no reason the speaker knew of, the plant was referred to as "N. schultziana."

The DeLeon story appears to have more currency in the bromeliad world than the spontaneous-origin one.

In any case, even if it's just another bromeliad species from Brazil, we don't know where it calls home specifically, within Brazil, or what its natural role in the ecosystem there might be. We don't even know if there are any left in the wild, until somebody finds some again.

Another 'Fireball' from work.

Fortunately for the plant, I guess, they're getting increasingly abundant in cultivation, so maybe it doesn't have to survive in the wild anymore. And they're not hard to keep going indoors, either.

WATER: I can't say that I've ever seen one react badly to being too wet or too dry either one; at work we tend to keep them fairly wet all the time, which seems to work fine, and at home I do more or less the same watering as I do for any of my plants: I let it get about halfway dry between waterings.
LIGHT: This is a plant which will give you feedback about how much light it's getting, more so than most: if it's green, it would like more; if it's green and red, it'll get by; if it's red, it's happy.6 A sunny, unobstructed south window is probably ideal, but I bet it could be grown using only fluorescents too.
HUMIDITY: I don't have the impression that humidity level is likely to be critical, though judging by the sorts of places where it's grown outdoors, I would assume that humidity is good if you can get it.
TEMPERATURE: A number of outdoor-gardening sites claim these are hardy to about 30F (-1C) outdoors, and they don't seem to have an unreasonable upper limit either, so temperature shouldn't be a concern for indoor growers. gives them the thumbs-up for zones 9b and higher, so some outdoor growers probably don't need to worry about temperatures either.

Work plant with new stolons; this was a newly-potted single offset less than six months ago.

PESTS: Have yet to see any, but would not be surprised by scale or mealybugs.
GROOMING: Almost non-existent. Dead leaves, dusting, maybe the occasional removal of hard water spots or something like that.
FEEDING: Don't, if the plant is outside. If inside, you may have to eventually, but I certainly wouldn't use full-strength, or even half-strength, fertilizer.
PROPAGATION: Remarkably easy. Sever the stolons your plant will inevitably produce and root them in unchopped sphagnum moss, or sphagnum and potting soil in a 50-50 mixture. Using straight potting soil, which stayed too wet for too long, was my problem with one of the two in the orange-and-green photo above. Rooting is quick, and about six months after that you should have the beginnings of new stolons.

New stolon on my plant at home.

The basic plant isn't the most fascinating thing. It changes colors, it's naturally very shiny (I've actually had customers say they weren't interested in it on the grounds that it looked artificial.7), it spreads and propagates well, and that's about the extent of things. However, it's also a good plant for creating hybrids: the spreading habit (which doesn't seem to be all that common among bromeliads) comes through often enough to make for more easily-propagated, spreading bromeliads (see links 1, 2). There are also a couple of cultivars, which are slightly more interesting: one is variegated and the other is slightly larger than 'Fireball.' (You can see them both for sale here; I do not know this company and do not vouch for it, so caveat, as always, emptor.) One site makes the claim that there are over 150 named clones of 'Fireball;' it's difficult for me to imagine how there could be that many distinct variations on this one theme, but that doesn't mean anything: there are lots of things I find difficult to imagine.

A surprising number of sites I stumbled into made reference to the difficulty of getting 'Fireball' to flower; people who'd been around them for years were complaining about the impossibility of getting a flower to cross-pollinate. This strikes me as very strange, since blooming was one of the very first things ours did when we got them off the truck in March. It never even occurred to us to try to make it happen. And, while it's true that the plants may have been set to bloom before we got them, we've seen several other flowers in the subsequent seven months. So I don't think they flowered because of any treatment they received in Florida; they're just not that hard to convince to flower. I wish I knew what, exactly, it was that we'd done that everybody else was failing to do.

With flower.

A number of bromeliads make good plants for beginners,8 Aechmea fasciata and Guzmania lingulata in particular, but I think Neoregelia 'Fireball' should be included in that group too. It's fast to grow and propagate, it gives excellent feedback about light, it's not particularly demanding: what's not to like?9


Photo credits: Picture of Dorothy is from; all others are my own.

1 Usually with respect to purchasing plants, as opposed to writing about them. But the writing part happens too, occasionally.
2 One site mentioned overfeeding as a possible reason why specimens might stay green; I didn't see this anywhere else, so I'm not sure how seriously to take it, but it could explain why two rosettes getting the same amount of light, sitting right next to one another, can end up different colors.
3 It stays in the window anyway because, despite desperately needing to rearrange all the plants and put them in better, more culturally and aesthetically pleasing spots, I don't have room to put all the plants temporarily while I sorted out where everybody should be. I could move 'Fireball,' but if I move 'Fireball,' then I'll have to move plants B and C, and then they'll displace D, E, F, G and H, and then they'll bump aside I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, and B again (me having realized in the meantime that F really actually needs to go where B was), and so on and so forth until I've got plants wandering all over the apartment, packs of refugee Dieffenbachias from the kitchen trying to start a fight with the Saintpaulias in the living room, the Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckei' pleading for order in the midst of it all, Aglaonemas looking down on the whole mess disappovingly like the Pope, and inevitably somebody's going to get knocked over and lose all their soil. So for the time being, even though the current arrangement is far from ideal, there will be no large, sudden relocations.
4 Perhaps a Lifetime movie, with a good woman (Cynthia Stevenson?) teaching a gruff, damaged but nevertheless hunkalicious widower (Dylan McDermott) how to love again, plus an optional brush with a non-disfiguring form of cancer.
5 As explained at the link, just because a plant has an incomplete Latin name and is identified by an English name, that doesn't mean it's necessarily not a species. It may, as in this case, just mean that people haven't yet been able to agree on a specific Latin name, or that there's some kind of hold-up with the official written description or type specimen, or that the origin is disputed, or who knows what all else. Provisional names don't usually last for forty years, granted. But they're not necessarily hybrids, even so.
6 If it's an eerie, luminous purple, it's angry. Leave your home immediately. Get to a safe location and crouch with your hands covering your head and neck until instructed otherwise by a public safety official.
7 Alas, the reverse is never true: no customers reject artificial plants because they look too real.
8 Though I have an amazingly hard time convincing customers of this. I think the problem is that when they hear me say that the parent plant dies after blooming and the offsets can be potted up separately, they either stop listening entirely after "dies," or they stop listening when I say "potted up separately" because potting things up sounds like too much work. Either way, at some point they generally stop listening.
9 Just so you know: I tried desperately to work in a ruby slippers and/or Emerald City reference, both of which seem like they'd be easily done in a post about a plant which is variously red and/or green, but to no avail. Nothing sounded right. Something will occur to me about twelve hours after the post goes public, though.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Random plant event: Yucca guatemalensis tops rooted

When we got plants from Florida in mid-August, the Yucca guatemalensis that came in had ridiculously high numbers of heads on them, like maybe twelve heads on a single cane. This is not typically advised, because a cane with that many heads will usually not grow any of them to appropriate size: all twelve will compete for nutrients and end up sort of stunted. (I don't take the heads off deliberately, though, on the theory that the customers probably prefer as much foliage as they can get. And I do want them to sell.) Anyway. So in the process of getting them off the truck and unwrapping them and putting them out on the floor, a couple of the heads got torn off, and I scooped them up and took them home, because I love Yucca guatemalensis even if they are just the plain green ones.

I can't say that I've ever seen anybody recommend water-rooting Yuccas (and, for the record, I don't know if this works for species other than guatemalensis), but I've done it a few times now. The first time was by accident; I cut back some too-tall plants just after the husband and I moved into our current place, a couple years ago, and there was enough chaos with the move that I didn't have time to think about what to do with them exactly. So I stuck the tops into water, figuring that that would keep them alive until such time as I could do something more proper with them, and they rooted in the water before I got around to tending to them, and then they made a perfectly smooth transition to soil. So with these, I figured I'd water-root deliberately, and whaddya know, they did just fine.

So now I have no reservations about recommending that people water-root Yucca. You'd think they'd rot, but provided that you strip off the lower leaves when they start to yellow, and change the water regularly (at least once every couple weeks; probably ideally more often than that), they won't rot, and leaf drop when transferred to soil is minimal. It almost couldn't be easier.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pretty picture: Dendrobium NOIDs

Not that I'm obsessing on the Dendrobiums or anything, but . . . I'm obsessing a little on the Dendrobiums.

I love both of these NOIDs. The light pink one below was the one that caught my attention initially, because it was the first to bloom in this latest round of flowers:

And the light pink is gorgeous, but the next one is the one I fell hard for. Once multiple buds opened and the petals straightened all the way out, it looked . . . I guess you'd call it upscale. The sort of orchid that attends art galleries, vacations in Italy, and has Scarlett Johansson on speed-dial.

It even looks like Humphrey Bogart, for crying out loud:

You see the resemblance, right? Sorta that whole area between the eyes and the lowest petal?

This second one looks a lot like Den. Genting Lipstick Green, though I doubt that's the actual name. There are way too many crosses out there that look too much alike for any kind of actual positive identification to be made. But anyway. I settled for buying a keiki (sort of like an offset, but keikis form on the side or end of an existing plant's cane) of it, which is a fairly low-reward, low-risk strategy. I could either spend $11 for maybe flowers someday, or $50 for flowers right now. I can't afford flowers right now. So.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Semi-political: Terriost

The husband and I went driving around in, and then north of, Cedar Rapids today, and near a little town called Robins, IA, we saw this:

That's right. It says "terriost." Somehow, the sign's . . . "author" (?) managed to flip the I and O around and lose one R entirely.

Well, you say, maybe the sign was being done in a hurry. People misspell things when they get upset.

That's true. They do. But it was spelled the same way on the other side of the sign. This is how this person thinks it's spelled. Just in case you needed a close-up:

I fail to understand this on so many levels, and it's multiply offensive as well, but the emotion it evokes in me mostly is pity. Which is probably not the intent.

It will be so nice when this election is over.

I hope.

[Exceptionally] Pretty pictures: transmitted light -- The Sequel!

The last transmitted light post went over so well, I thought I'd do it again. (All posts tagged "transmitted light" can be found here.) I wound up with kind of a mixed bag, though: some of these are pretty cool, and some of them were a little disappointing to me.

Monstera deliciosa. Obviously a bigger, more split leaf would have been more interesting (if harder to photograph), but bless me, I can not get mine to split yet. I think it's mostly a temperature thing: too much air conditioning this summer.

Homalomena 'Selby.' Looks remarkably like the Homalomena 'Emerald Gem' picture in the older post, which surprised me since the two cultivars don't look much alike in size, color, shape, or pattern.

Schefflera actinophylla. A favorite from this batch, despite the plainness. I always enjoy when I can get a picture to be more or less in focus.

Peperomia obtusifolia variegata. Possibly the leaves are too thick for this to work out well, but the pattern is novel.

Codiaeum variegatum, probably 'Petra.' I was at work thinking about this post when it occurred to me that it was sort of strange that I hadn't thought of doing Codiaeum variegatum already. And then I remembered that I don't have any at home anymore, and I stopped wondering.

Anthurium 'hookeri,' new leaf. Don't have a real name for this birdsnest-type Anthurium; it was sold to us as Anthurium hookeri, a species, but I've since learned that that's just what people call Anthuriums they don't know when they have to come up with a name for them. It's an awesome plant regardless; you should see the one we have at work.

Saintpaulia ionantha 'Kris.' The weird cloudy/hazy look is mostly because the leaf was too small to take up the whole picture and be in focus simultaneously, so I took a big picture and cropped it down, but I still had a lot of light from the light source hitting the lens while I was taking the picture. Hence the flare in the lower right.

Neoregelia 'Gazpacho.' Another favorite, mostly just for the colors. It's a very good houseplant, too, by the way. I ♥ Neoregelias.

Euphorbia pulcherrima. Pretty sure this is a bract, not a leaf.

Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Snow.' Because nobody does variegation like Dieffenbachia does variegation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Personalish: Plant-accumulation graph

This is a graph of how many plants I own, over the last couple years, according to my journal (where I occasionally pause to note things like that). It's still going up, and I'm surprised and alarmed to see that it doesn't look like it's even leveling off yet. Somehow in my mind, it's only a problem if I'm buying or bringing home new things; plants I propagate from stuff that was already here doesn't count. (I think it's like how when you slice a cake into small enough pieces, the cake stops having calories.)