Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The BDSP, and other new plants

So last Monday, after my last (unless I do seasonal help at some point, or unless I'm called back for a day or two here and there in the next little bit) day (except for the part in the morning I missed because of a prior appointment) of work (though putting away a tropical order is as enjoyable as work ever got, so it's not work in the usual sense, and it wasn't exactly working for money, either), I got some new plants. I will now share pictures, as four out of the five are pretty interesting, at least to me, and I don't want the fifth to feel left out so I'll include it too. The photography herein is going to be a little meh, because I haven't quite figured out the optimal lighting situation for the new place, but you'll at least get the general idea.

So let's meet the new residents --

#1 -- Senecio macroglossus, 3", $3.95 from work

I talked myself into this one while writing the post about its flower. I was never particularly good at keeping it happy before, and I may not be all that good at keeping it happy again, but it seemed worth trying.

#2 -- Pleomele thalioides, 8", $39.95 from work

This is the one I was the most excited about getting: it photographs poorly, and I have no idea whether it will prove to be a good plant indoors: doesn't recognize anything by the name "Pleomele" except for Dracaena reflexa (which used to be Pleomele reflexa), a Garden Web search for it turned up no matches (I didn't try just "Pleomele" by itself, because I figured doing so would turn up nothing but Dracaena posts), Wikipedia has heard of the genus but not this particular species, and even Google only comes up with 189 hits, the overwhelming majority of which are either informationless lists of species names or written in languages I do not speak. So I have no idea. But we'll try it. What the hell.

#3 -- Furcraea foetida 'Medio-Picta,' 6", $10.99 from somewhere other than work

This plant is apparently known to everybody but me as a false agave. I'd never seen it or heard of it before. I wasn't all that excited about seeing it, either, because when I did a google search for it, what came up were fairly boring-looking green plants that looked just like Agaves in every particular except for being, somehow, even less interesting. What actually came in, in the order, was this:

Which, you know, OMFG. Unfortunately, OMFG also pretty accurately describes the price tag ($89.95 -- not the priciest thing on the shipment, and not particularly unreasonable, given the size and apparent age, but a higher cost than I was prepared to take on). However: a few weeks back, WCW had informed me that there were very cheap Agaves for sale in town, and I, expecting, you know, an Agave, had dutifully gone down there to check it out. What was there instead were these fleshy, twisty things that had the general shape of an Agave but were nothing like any Agave I was familiar with. In fact, they were so unlike what I was expecting that I walked past them like three times before finally asking the person at the counter if they had Agaves, and where, and when she took me to these, I was kind of befuddled.

But, so. You see where this is going. Coaxed the husband into going back to the other place, and bought a small one, since I couldn't have the big one from work:

In theory, all we need is time, and this one will turn into the other. Good luck, buddy.

#4 -- Zingiber malaysianum, "midnight ginger," 4", $9.95, from work

Most of the time around here, "ginger" means a variegated Alpinia zerumbet, a perfectly nice plant as plants go, but one I've never felt that much desire to grow. They seem to dry out quickly, and I've accepted the fact that I don't do well with plants that can't handle drying out more than they would prefer every once in a while. Plus they get big, even in containers, and I knew I didn't have that kind of room. But this -- this is something special. (I am told that WCW just about crapped her pants upon finding out that these were available again; it's apparently been five years since they were last on the availability list.)

Like the Pleomele, I have no idea whether this will be growable. But it's got awesome dark red-black leaves, and it smells nice (just barely, but enough to notice), and it gives spectacular photos by transmitted light, so we're going to give it a shot.

#5 -- The Big Damn Screw Pine (Pandanus veitchii), 8", $29.95, from work

This guy's been talking to me for a very long time: he was there when I started work, and had been there for some unknown period of time before that.

Now, I think Pandanus are amazing plants -- relatively easy to grow indoors (I've had four or five small ones for quite a while, and never any problems except when I let them get too dry. Even then, they're fairly forgiving.), fast-growing, potentially huge, etc. There's just the one problem: the leaves have sharp spines all along the margins and on the underside of the leaf, along the midrib, which are not only sharp and omnipresent, they're also hooked, so it's very hard to do anything to the plant without getting multiply stabbed, having one's clothes caught, etc. Also, on me at least, the spines leave little itchy welts that last for about a day, day and a half before going away.

Hooked spines are easily visible if the picture is opened in a new window.

But it's also like four feet tall. And for only thirty bucks, how could I say no, right?

So although I don't typically name my plants, this one is going to be the exception: he will be called the Big Damn Screw Pine, or BDSP. And shortly, I'm planning to up-pot him, which should be good for lots of swearing, after which he will be slightly taller, and then (if the ones at work are any indication) he should then begin to grow really quickly. Pandanus don't seem to mind being rootbound especially, but if they've got room to grow, they'll do so in spades.

So if I play my cards right, by winter I may be able to grow him to the point where he'll have to have his own bedroom, because we won't be able to walk around him anymore without having body parts sliced off. I don't know why this should be a goal, but it kinda is. (I told you I like the mean, stabby, poisonous ones.)

And there you have it. Comments? Anybody want to share previous experiences with, or helpful tips for, Pleomele, Zingiber, or Furcraea?


Ivynettle said...

I can't offer you any information on the Pleomele, Zingiber, or Furcraea, but the BDSP looks like what I know as Pandanus veitchii. I can't guarantee that it is the correct name - I might be the one to hunt down botanical names at work (and who will do that when I'm gone in autumn?), but I'm too lazy right now.

mr_subjunctive said...

I'd been assuming probably P. veitchii or P. utilis, since those are the names I've run into most often. They all look pretty similar to one another anyway, as far as I can tell, so I'd be surprised if there was any practical difference in care. I just like to have as specific of an ID as possible, 'cause I'm neurotic that way.

sheila said...

I would never willingly admit a screw pine to my home. You're a braver, and much more masochistic, man than I!

Nice plants, though. I've never heard of the pleomele either. Can't help with cultural advice for any of them, but I'm sure you'll do fine.

Except I'm guessing that the ginger, if it's like most other tropicals, is going to be prone to pests, so I would grow it cool in the winter to slow them down.

Steely Dan said...

Pleomele and Dracaena are two of those ill-defined genera that seem to overlap like a Venn Diagram. Your name, P. thalioides, was used recently in a recent (2004) taxonomy paper for all monocots. Wikipedia, however, has an unsourced statement that implies all Pleomele have been subsumed into Dracaena (maybe this happened in a reference I can't search for). When plants from one genus are transferred to another, they typically keep the same species epithet; just the generic epithet changes. So sources for Dracaena thalioides likely refer to the same plant.

Karen715 said...

I had* that Zingiber, and sad to say, in my experience it is even less forgiving of erratic watering than Alpinia zerumbet variegata. I got them both as very small plants, the Alpinia in 2007, and the Zingiber in 2008. The Alpinia, despite suffering a bit from dryness on occasion, is now large, and pretty good looking, though I have to prune away ugly foliage every now and again. The Zingiber, well, see my footnote.

*technically I may still have it, since I have a small hope that it might return from the rhizome, which was almost, but not completely dried out. The pot is outside enjoying rain and humidity. We'll see.

mr_subjunctive said...


It's masochism, mainly, though the fact that the plant is large and vigorous helps. I like the plants that have fairly broad definitions of what's acceptable care, and will reward acceptable care with rapid, measurable growth. I'm impatient that way.

Steely Dan:

Cordyline, too. There's definitely a Venn Diagram to be made.

I went looking for Dracaena thalioides and found some pages about it (though it's not at under Dracaena, either, which surprises me): it appears to be mostly used as a landscaping plant in those areas lucky enough to have year-round warm temperatures, and only occasionally as a houseplant. Asiatica Nursery even offers a variegated one (link). Almost nothing about care as a houseplant, though Asiatica advises good light and high humidity, which is never a good sign.


One of the references I saw for the Zingiber (a commenter at, maybe?) said something about them being exceptionally rot-prone if kept too wet, too. Though I think in context, s/he was talking about having them planted outside during cooler weather, too. We'll see how it goes.

Ivynettle said...

Ah-ha! My trusted plant-name dictionary does not contain the name Pleomele, but there is a Dracaena thalioides, which apparently was renamed again, to D. aubryana (I couldn't really find any info for that name, either, although I have to say I'm not trying hard either), I dare say you can trust that book to have the correct name.
The name Pleomele seemed familiar, so I searched my books again, but the only mention I've found (other than references to Dracaena) was in a book about Hawaiian plants (which is an odd possession for a person who's never travelled outside Europe), and since that only contains instructions for propagation and planting it outdoors, I doubt it would be much help to you (and it doesn't specifically list P. thalioides either).

In regard to Pandanus veitchii/P. utilis, I would say veitchii - I've seen utilis as well - admittedly only once - and the "screw-shape" seems to be far more pronounced in utilis (, and as far as I can tell, there isn't a variegated form of utilis, either.

Oh, and I totally understand about being neurotic about plant names! It's what led me to your blog - the search for the name of a Dracaena deremensis (or rather, since it's been renamed, D. fragrans) cultivar.

Pam/Digging said...

I totally get the desire to admit spiky, sword-throwing plants into the garden, but I draw the line at the door. ;-)

I'm sorry you couldn't find the true agave you wanted--big, bold, and dangerous, right? But the false agave looks interesting. Some of the real agaves have soft, twisting leaves too, so it looks passable to me. I hope yours grows into the size you want soon.

Water Roots said...

I found myself drooling over the Furcraea foetida and the Zingiber malaysianum. Wow, talk about stunning...

Anyway...I've never grown a Zingiber malaysianum, but I have grown an Alpinia zerumbet variegata. And if the two are similar in their care needs, I'd recommend this: don't let your Zingiber malaysianum dry out, and make sure it receives ample humidity. Under-watering and dry air lead to drying of leaves, brown leaf tips, etc, and the plant becomes very unsightly.

In any case, good luck with all your new plants!

Daffodil Planter said...

Your BDSP is a puzzler--could it be that you did not want to leave him behind? Sort of like a long-time (oops, you may be about to correct my punctuation!) shelter employee adopting a dog no one else wants? Or is it the thrill of a gigantic and singularly inappropriate for a normal house specimen that has induced temporary insanity--not unlike Henry Mitchell and his fixation on banana trees?

In the words of Princess Diana, "There were three of us in this marriage"?

mr_subjunctive said...

Probably more the animal shelter thing than the other. Though the facts that it was cheap for its size and I like strappy-leaf plants (Dracaena, Yucca, Clivia) anyway didn't hurt.

Andrew said...

I've been looking for an ID on a plant for almost a year that I now (thanks to this post) believe is Pandanus utilis (possibly 'Red Edge' or 'Red Dragon' or similar).

I saw a very large specimen of it at the Toronto Zoo and loved the very pronounced spiral growth pattern on it as well as the stunning red thorns.

Here's a picture of the thorns on the P. utilis I took:

Now that I know what I'm looking for though... I think I will have to buy one as soon as I can find one!

mr_subjunctive said...

Andrew, that's a hell of a good picture.

Jenn said...

Treat your senecio like a succulent, bright diffused light, let dry between waterings.

Mine is doing this weird growth right now, long and thin - very different from the fleshy existing stalks. I'm not sure if it needs less water or more light, but I probably should try more light and see what happens.