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.]
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.