Saturday, January 31, 2009

Question for the Hive Mind: Cereus peruvianus blotches

Bad news would be good news on this one. I've had two large Cereus peruvianus since 2004, and they did really well for me for quite a long time, tripling in height the first year and then growing more slowly thereafter. Never any problems, until they got mealybugs a couple years ago. I fought and cursed and agonized over the mealybugs for a good solid year and a half, at least, before finally managing to get rid of them with a systemic insecticide (imidacloprid) and neem oil and regular rubbing alcohol sprays and leaving them outside for the summer (they grew a foot in those few months).

Another such victory over the mealybugs and we are undone. But I digress.

So the situation now is that, one, the plant is sticky. Not sticky in the covered-by-honeydew sort of way. It's more tacky, like paint that's not completely dry. This has been the case since the plants came inside last October or November, and is apparently not going away. I've been assuming that it was probably related to the rubbing alcohol treatments in some fashion or another. The other weird thing that's going on is that I'm seeing odd tan-to-gray patches appearing on the stem. The worst of it is concentrated on one particular side of one particular rib of one particular plant, but these patches are all over. I don't know what this means. Picture of one of the biggest spots:

I think what I'm wanting to hear is that this is something terrible and irreversible but basically superficial, and that I should re-start the plant from cuttings of the stuff that grew last summer. But I'd also like to know, for future reference, what these patches actually are, how they got there, and how to prevent them in the future. Anybody have any ideas?

Friday, January 30, 2009

[Exceptionally] Pretty pictures: transmitted light -- Part V

(All prior pictures in the transmitted light series can be found here.)

It's that time again, and I have to say, this is my favorite batch to date.

Hippeastrum NOID. Well okay, this picture isn't so much a favorite.

Syngonium podophyllum. Or this one. Though I must note, as I often do, how happy it makes me when even the boring pictures are in focus.

Scindapsus pictus. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Little bit sparkly, little bit blotchy -- this could be cool, maybe, someday.

Neoregelia NOID 'Nuance.' I know it looks like when somebody on TV wears a striped tie, and the pattern gets all strobey and colors start to appear that aren't in the actual tie and you kind of want to look away from it but you can't. But this isn't a technical glitch: the leaf actually looks like this. Really and truly.

Farfugium japonicum 'Crested Leopard.' The interesting part of this one to me is not the round, lighter-colored spots of variegation, but the pattern of the veins in the bulk of the leaf, away from the main veins or the spots.

Strobilanthes dyerianus. And nobody ever even knows about this, because everybody's always so focused on the tops of the leaves. It's tragic, is what it is.

Cyrtomium falcatum. Ferns just have awesome venation.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar.' I aim for symmetrical photos, most of the time, but occasionally asymmetry is a good thing.

Cordyline fruticosa 'Florica.' A little washed-out, but interesting.

Polyscias balfouriana. I wasn't even expecting anything particularly interesting from this picture when I took it. Getting it home and seeing all the (in-focus!) detail pretty much made my day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pretty picture: Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie' flower

We're trying to overwinter some of last spring's sweet potato vines. Mostly it's worked. There have been a few casualties. It's kind of a long story. In any case, they flower off and on, throughout the winter. And the summer. And the other seasons. 'Blackie' seems to do this more than the other variety we have, a chartreuse kind called 'Marguerite.' 'Blackie' also does a weird thing that kind of looks like a disease but I think is just edema or something:

It only seems to happen when the soil is really, really wet. Doesn't appear to be hurting the plant especially, though. We never got a definite diagnosis, but the timing looked more or less like edema or guttation or something along those lines. (I don't suppose anybody could confirm this for me?) If 'Marguerite' does this, it's much harder to see: I don't think I've ever spotted it on any other variety of sweet potato.

Although I knew that sweet potatoes and morning glories were both in the same genus (Ipomoea), it hadn't really struck me how much the flowers resemble one another until I started writing this post. This is kind of cool. I like when the real botanists and I agree on something.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on Botanical Names

Periodically on the garden blogs, questions will arise about whether common names or scientific names are "better" for some purpose or another. (The biggest recent such post I've seen was at Garden Rant.) I've seen people at Garden Web asking about whether or not they "need to know" the botanical names for everything, and I've been snapped at for using the botanical names at GW and at work both. And I thought maybe a post about all this might be in order. So.

Pericallis x hybrida 'Pure Blue Jester.' The pictures for this post are unrelated but decorative. They'll also blow up huge if opened in a new window, if you're into that sort of thing.

I use the botanical names pretty much exclusively here at PATSP, because I think they're more useful, and also, as the sidebar says, because those are the plants' names. I don't ordinarily focus on the common names unless one is particularly stupid (as with "Timbuktu tree") or well-known (African violet), or unless I find myself saying the plant's name over and over and I need a synonym. (Food plants are exceptions.1) I also generally think in terms of the botanical names, to the point where I've had customers ask me for a common name for something and I've been unable to come up with one.2

This is not out of pretentiousness, or at least I don't think it's about pretentiousness. You have to understand, if I want to look up a plant on-line, or in a book, or order plants wholesale, the botanical names are what I have to know: common names are too localized and nonspecific, and I need to make sure we're talking about the same plant, you know? This may or may not be the case for you, but for me it's only natural to use the scientific name, and I don't consider it difficult or impressive. This is a chair, that is a table, over there is an Aglaonema.

I do appreciate that for a lot of people, the vernacular is a lot easier to pick up. Some people just don't acquire new words well, especially not new words that are weird. Still, you probably know fahrvergnügen, or sudoku, or et cetera, right?3 Dieffenbachia is not any worse than Haagen-Dazs or schadenfreude.

Plus you probably already know a lot of botanical names, even if you've never tried to learn them. Gardenia, Petunia, Aloe, Begonia, Ginkgo, Hibiscus, Philodendron, Hosta, Ficus, etc., are all official names, just off the top of my head.

Pericallis x hybrida 'Carmine Bicolor Jester.'

Common names also tend to cause confusion. I've heard Dieffenbachia spp. and Kalanchoe pinnata called "mother-in-law plant," and Sansevieria trifasciata called "mother-in-law tongue." This might lead you to think that they're similar, but the three are not really alike at all. African violets (Saintpaulia) are not much like regular violets (Viola), either. Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa) is not like zebra plant (Haworthia fasciata), zebra plant (Calathea bella), zebra plant (Calathea zebrina), zebra plant (Sanchezia nobilis var. glaucaphylla), zebra plant (Aechmea chantinii), zebra plant (Cryptanthus zonatus), zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis), or the zebra orchid (Caladenia cairnsiana). You get my point.

This is not to say that there aren't issues with the botanical names being similar or confusing (it was a proud day for me when I realized that I finally knew the difference between Verbena, Viburnum, and Verbascum, for example), but at least the botanical names are actually all distinct, similar though they may be. You won't run into a situation like with the "zebras" above, where you have seven completely different plants with the exact same name. You also won't have the problem of the same plant going by totally different names depending on who you're talking to. As I mentioned in the Chlorophytum comosum profile, what in English is "airplane plant" or "spider plant" becomes "mala madre" in Spanish.

There is one pro-common-name argument that I'm sympathetic to, that some of the common names are pretty, or poetic-sounding, or have some kind of interesting historical background to them. I enjoy learning about that kind of stuff myself, and agree that it would be a shame to lose those names entirely. At the same time, though, the people who subscribe to this idea rarely stop to acknowledge that the same is frequently true of the botanical names as well. Dizygotheca elegantissima is just about the most perfectly appropriate name for any plant in any language: the name just sounds like the plant looks (to me, anyway).4 Soleirolia soleirolii (so-lay-ROW-lee-uh so-lay-ROW-lee-eye) is as musical as any English name you want to put it up against,5 and is vastly superior to "baby's tears"6 or "mind-your-own-business." Admittedly, history and stirring human trivia is not the strong point of a lot of botanical names, but there's certainly got to be some kind of story behind names like Chamaedorea elegans ("small, elegant gift"), Caryota mitis ("unarmed nut"), or Rhapis excelsa ("exalted needle").

Pericallis x hybrida 'Blue Bicolor Jester.'

Botanical names don't come without some special dangers of their own, of course. They can, for example, make possible a very special brand of douchebaggery, wherein a jerk will correct your pronunciation or ID or whatever just because s/he7 wants to look smart. Correcting pronunciation is particularly choady behavior, because it's unfair: not only do most of us see these names written out before we hear them spoken, so our first stab at a pronunciation is just a guess, but there's not exactly a "correct" pronunciation for most of these anyway. From L. H. Bailey:
There is no standard agreement on rules for the pronounciation of botanical binomials. Even in the best practice, there may be variations in pronunciation of a given word; this is unavoidable, and no more to be regretted than similar variations in pronouncing many English words. The particular sound to be given the vowels (within the categories "long" and "short") rests with the individual. Many persons pronounce generic and specific names simply as if the words were English, but for the most part the accent, at least, follows usage in Latin.8
Things have probably changed somewhat since 1933: I'm sure if nothing else, someone somewhere has probably written up official pronunciation standards, but I think Bailey really has the saner approach for the low-stakes garden center / hobbyist area. What's important is that everybody knows what plant is being discussed, and whether it's HOOK-er-uh / HYEW-ker-uh / HOY-ker-uh or whatever is really awfully beside the point. Pronounce it the way you think it should be pronounced; if other people say it differently, adopt their pronunciation if it makes more sense, and don't if it doesn't. Things will work out. Don't be intimidated.

Pericallis x hybrida 'Carmine Bicolor Jester.'

In any case, there's no excuse for people who work in the plant business not to know the names -- both names -- of the plants they're selling, and to include that information on the tags. Which was pretty much the consensus opinion on Garden Rant, by the end of it all. The people who are selling the plants need to know what they're selling, and what the customers are asking for. This is, or at least ought to be, pretty basic customer service: it's not that much to expect.9 As a customer, of course, you can know or not know anything you want, but if you only have time or motivation to learn one name, the botanical name is the one that's going to be worth more to you in the long run, I think. A lot depends on who you plan on discussing the plants with, and whether you anticipate becoming a collector: if you don't really care beyond having something in your yard that looks pretty and doesn't need a lot of work from you, learn either. If you're going to want to talk about them on-line with people from all over the world, or ask your local garden center for help with them, or do Google searches on them, the effort you put into the botanical names will pay off, I can just about promise. But, you know, don't feel obligated.

Your thoughts?


1 Food plants seem like an acceptable exception to me because most of the time when you encounter them, they're already separated from the plant and reduced to just the edible parts. Still technically alive, sure, but no longer the entire plant with roots and soil and leaves and the whole shebang. Somehow this makes it okay, as far as I'm concerned, to forget about the botanical name unless you really want to know it for some reason. But I only feel that way about food plants.
2 Anthurium andraeanum seems to be particularly bad that way. I've heard the names "flamingo flower" and "tail flower" used for them in books and stuff, but nobody I know uses those names for them: at work, everybody calls them Anthuriums, all the time, so when I have to use "flamingo flower" or something I always get kind of self-conscious about it. Somehow it ends up feeling like I'm making the name up on the spot, even though I'm not.
3 If you don't: fahrvergnügen is a word from a 1989 Volkswagen ad campaign, which means "driving enjoyment" in German. Sudoku is the Japanese name for the puzzles where you have to put all the digits 1-9 in a grid so that no row, column, or smaller grid within the grid contains the same digit more than once. Et cetera is a Latin phrase meaning "and the rest," which is presently in the process of being butchered into the Englishized "eksetera." At least as far as pronunciation goes. I'm usually pretty tolerant of other people changing pronunciations and spellings, but "eksetera" and "aks" and "ekspresso" all drive me up a wall. Something about the "ks" sound.
4 Which makes it all the more tragic that it's no longer correct: it's technically a Schefflera now, so the name is the much less musical Schefflera elegantissima.
5 I forget whose original point this was; someone mentioned it in the comments here a long time ago, and I agree, so it stuck with me. I just can't remember who said it originally, for which I apologize.
6 (Not that crying babies aren't lovely.)
7 (It's usually a he.)
8 How Plants Get Their Names, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, NY, 1963, p. 115. This edition is an unabridged reprint of a work initially published in 1933, which is why it sounds all literate and crap.
9 Though it does get to be a lot to expect in situations like mine, where I'm expected to know not only the names for the 250-300 species of plant we have in the greenhouse, but then also another 50-100 annuals, maybe 150-250 perennials, and unknown numbers of shrubs and trees. I'm learning as fast as I can, but I still need to look at the tags, or ask people, on the more outdoorsy stuff.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Random plant event: Neoregelia 'Gazpacho' true flowers

It's actually a little weird how identical all Neoregelia flowers turn out to be. Both pictures below can be enlarged to ridiculous proportions if opened in a new window.

This does clarify pretty well how the taxonomists can be so certain that 'Gazpacho,' 'Nuance' and 'Fireball' all belong in the same genus, though. The flowers look pretty much interchangeable.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pretty picture: Crocus 'Pickwick'

Not a lot to be said about these; I think they pretty much speak for themselves. Before seeing these, I wasn't actually aware that Crocuses could be more than one color like this. (I've lived a sheltered life, when it comes to crocuses.) So I was impressed.

I also got a closeup of the stigma, just 'cause I thought it was interesting. Also 'cause I knew if I photographed it, I'd be able to look at it more closely than if I just looked at it, and I was curious about how it was put together. It actually turned out to be quite pretty besides.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Site-related: Blogroll changes

Some of you who are linked in my blogroll may have noticed that the "Links to this post" section of your own posts, at your own blog, have been filling up with links back to PATSP. I know I've seen this at a few other blogs (Rock Paper Lizard, May Dreams Gardens, Wicked Gardener). Today, finally, someone pointed out (nicely) that it was kind of obnoxious, so I'm trying to fix it.

I don't definitely know what's responsible, but this never seemed to happen until I used the Blogger blogroll widget, so I've taken it down and, through arduous cut-and-pasting, replaced it with a plain list of links. The blogroll was enormously convenient for me; I really liked having it sort out which of the sites I like to read had updated recently, and how recently, and all that -- it saved me a lot of time compulsively checking sites over and over to see whether there was a new post. However, it's not worth cluttering up everybody else's blogs, so it's gone.

Hopefully this will resolve the problem. If it doesn't, well, I only really have just the one idea about how to fix it, so I may have to resort to Blogger Help or something. Anybody who has any ideas about why this happened, better ways to keep up with a large number of blogs at once, or alternative solutions to the problem, please feel free to speak up in the comments. I'll also accept retroactive complaining from people whose blogs I was inadvertently spamming, so long as we're all clear that I'm aware of the problem and trying to fix it.

For the record: I don't really care if your site produces a ton of links on my posts here at PATSP. If it does get to bothering me, I'm pretty sure there are options somewhere in the Blogger layouts for turning off automatically-generated links.

Golden Girls (Peperomia caperata and P. griseoargentea)

Peperomia caperata is a frustrating plant to research. It's doubly so after an information bonanza like Cordyline fruticosa, where I all but had to fight off new trivia with a stick (and mostly failed, as you know if you read that profile). Web pages that come up when you do a search for Peperomia caperata mostly fall into one of three categories:

1. Terse superficial stuff about caring for them as houseplants. These usually involve a brief description of the plant, and then a colon-heavy list of care requirements, a lot of which will be phrased in such a way as to contradict themselves, or be so vague as to be useless (e.g. "Light: moderate.").
2. Pages that look like those in category #1, but which actually have not been fully filled-out, and therefore offer no information or picture and are essentially just placeholders until such time as someone manages to put something on them.
3. Lists of plants suitable for terrariums. A subset of these will be lists of plants suitable for terrariums containing reptiles, specifically, but it's pretty much the same list with or without the snakes, as far as I can tell.

Assorted 6-inch pots of Peperomia caperata cvv. from work.

This is kind of a depressing state of affairs, because it gives me very little to work with for this post, and a lot of what it does give me is not especially usable. So, what to do?

Well, I guess we can begin with the distinction between caperata and griseoargentea (sometimes griseo-argentea). Both are smallish plants with wrinkled, heart-shaped leaves, red petioles, and tiny white flowers held on little rat-tail-like spikes. The botanical names are less help than you'd think, and could apply to at least some specimens of either species: caperata means wrinkled, referring to the leaves, and griseoargentea means gray (griseo) and silver (argent).1 The differences are more of degree than anything: caperata leaves are much more deeply grooved, while griseoargentea are mostly flat. Griseoargentea is also, as best as I can determine,2 always at least partly gray, whereas caperata may be wine-red, metallic violet, dark green, white with green speckles, or gray. There are multiple cultivars of both species, though there seems to be more interest in caperata.

As far as I can tell, caperata is definitely from South America and probably from Brazil in particular. There's less information out there about griseoargentea, but the genus Peperomia seems to be exclusively from South America (with a few succulent African exceptions),3 so I think it's safe to say its range is similar, if not the same.

And that pretty much exhausts the amount of trivia I could find. So let's move on to the care information.

One of my own plants.

LIGHT: Bright indirect or filtered sun seems to be about ideal; my plants at home do well in bright artificial light.

WATER: Watering is definitely the most difficult part of care for these Peperomias. All the advice I've ever seen says that P. caperata prefers evenly moist soil, without ever getting too wet or too dry. The books and websites that say this never offer any advice about how to achieve this: you're apparently just supposed to know. I find that this is all somewhat exaggerated; it's easy enough to kill one by over- or underwatering, but a little paying attention goes a long way. Basically you're aiming for a good, thorough watering at about the point when the soil has dried out enough for air to reach the roots again. If your plant is too dry, it will likely be somewhat limp, not in the completely flattened way that Spathiphyllums do, but in a subtler, not-quite-standing-up-on-its-own way. Too much water will also make the plant go limp, but it's accompanied by leaf drop; sometimes they'll go yellow first, and sometimes the petioles turn mushy without warning and you get more or less intact-looking leaves hanging over the edge of the pot on a black, shriveled petiole:

Other Peperomia spp. do this too, sometimes: I've seen it on P. argyreia, the watermelon peperomia.

The root systems of Peperomia caperata and P. griseoargentea are usually not terribly deep or sturdy, so it's important not to plant them in heavy soil, make them stand in water, or overpot them.4 According to some books and websites but not others, Peperomias are often semi-epiphytes in the wild, and usually do not have much soil around their roots. It's very important to avoid very heavy, wet soils with high peat content: if that's all you're able to get, at least try to cut it with an equal volume of perlite or something.

HUMIDITY: They do need more humidity than most plants. This, plus their tendency to stay fairly small for a long time, makes them particularly suitable for terrariums, hence the aforementioned third category of websites. I haven't found their humidity needs to be all that terribly extreme, though some other people have: I ran into one person saying that without the protection of a terrarium, griseoargentea in particular wouldn't "survive for more than a couple weeks." This seems exaggerated, to me, but at the same time, I have my few griseoargenteas in the mini-greenhouse, so it's not like I've put it to the test, have I?

Small green-speckled white caperata.

TEMPERATURE: Don't go below 60ºF/16ºC. Injury begins around 50ºF/10ºC. As best as I can tell, this is true even for very brief cold exposure. Even temperatures in the low and mid 60s (16-20ºC) can be problems, not so much because of the temperatures directly affecting the plants, but because the plant will use water more slowly, and water will evaporate more slowly from the soil, which can lead to rot unless you change your watering habits to match.

GROOMING: There's really not a lot of grooming necessary. Plants that get large will eventually start to drop leaves, and dropped leaves should be picked up or picked off, but otherwise, there's nothing time-consuming involved. As plants age, they lose their attractive mounding shape and sort of halfheartedly try to crawl; these can be cut back and resprouted, restarted from leaves and cuttings, or both.

FEEDING: As best as I can tell from the growers' guide and elsewhere, Peperomias in general are not heavy feeders. However, Lynn P. Griffith Jr. is way more focused on Peperomia obtusifolia than other Peperomias, so I'm not sure about caperata specifically. If you're having trouble with small or pale new growth, I'd worry more about light level than fertilizer, but one does still need to feed periodically, just not all the time or in gigantic amounts.

Super-shiny caperata from work. From a stem cutting.

PESTS: They're not really known for anything in particular. Mealybugs are the most likely suspect, though Peperomias can also be attacked by scale, thrips, and various kinds of mites. Several types of fungus and virus are known to attack Peperomias as well, though those are primarily issues only during propagation. Personally, I've only experienced fungus gnats, and then not in any huge number. The plants at work have never, to my knowledge, had any bugs whatsoever.

PROPAGATION: Part of the reason I like Peperomia caperata and P. griseoargentea so much is that they're very easily propagated, by several different methods. The most straightforward is by stem cuttings: these species naturally branch as they grow, and any branch can be broken off and planted. I've thus far only done this at work, but basically you take your plant, snap off branches with your hands, and stick them into regular potting soil. No rooting hormone, no fungicide, no vermiculite, just the straightforward sticking of stuff into dirt. The heat and humidity of the greenhouse environment probably helps, but this should be easy enough to do at home, too.

At least four potential plants here, looks like. Maybe five.

The more entertaining way to do it, though, is to use leaf cuttings. Clip a leaf off of the plant, shorten the petiole down to a couple millimeters long (about 1/8 inch), and then plant it in potting mix with the tip of the leaf pointing up and the remains of the petiole slightly below the mix. This also works with vermiculite. It takes a while (vermiculite seems to take longer than soil, which I find surprising), during which time the mix needs to be moist but not soaked.

Tray of leaf cuttings in 3-inch square pots.

Eventually the plant will produce new leaves from the old petiole (see earlier post), and the plants can be potted up individually when the new plant is producing decent-sized leaves. (Or you can just leave them where they were, if you started the cuttings in pots to begin with.) The original leaf will usually rot away fairly soon after the new leaves start coming, though not always. Occasionally leaves will produce more than one new plant. Overall, I have about an 85% success rate with leaf cuttings: a few will always rot immediately, but anything that doesn't rot in the first week or so will generally go on to produce a new plant.

The leaves have such a strong desire to live and sprout anew that they are even capable of growing new plants while being continually tumbled around and submerged in water, though it's not really a method I recommend:

(Picture from a previous post.)

So they're fun plants to play around with. The flowers, as mentioned, are extremely tiny, are produced on white to cream-colored spikes, and appear whenever the plant feels like producing them.5 I was unable to find any information at all about seeds for these species: I assume that they must exist, because there are a few instructions around for sprouting seeds of other Peperomias, but nobody has them for sale, nobody has pictures of what they look like, and the individual flowers are so tiny to begin with that I expect you could look directly at the seeds and not see them. If they are being produced in the greenhouse, they're not especially viable: I can't say that I've ever come across a seedling on the greenhouse floor, or in a neighboring pot.

Caperata has a number of cultivars, though aside from 'Emerald Ripple,' none seem to have consistent names from one grower to the next. lists 'Metallic Ripple,' which varies from red to gray, 'Schumi Red,' which is in fact actually red, and 'Red Ripple,' which looks to me more like a griseoargentea cultivar and is more of a purple and/or greenish gray. offers a 'Silver Ripple,' which is a fairly plain gray. At work, we have one that is a light cream color, with flecks of green throughout the leaf: in good light the petiole, and the part of the leaf surrounding the petiole, gets slightly reddish.

Possibly the same green-speckled white plant pictured above, just some time later.

Griseoargentea has cultivars also, though aside from the gray-on-gray species, most of the other varieties I've run into have resembled the one calls 'Pink Marble.' The variety we have at work has new leaves of a pink to coral color, which slowly become flecked with gray as they age, and ultimately become solid grayish green. I made a few new plants from this plant at work, and eventually bought one and brought it home, and when grown at home, the leaves come in as a mix of peach and gray, and then stay that way as they age. It might be that mine is different because it's younger, and it might be that it's different because it's in a different environment. I don't know which.

Peperomia griseoargentea, maybe cv. 'Pink Lady?'

Baby from a leaf cutting of the above plant, raised at home.

Which is another interesting point: the same plant can look very different when grown under different conditions, which makes positive identification of a specific cultivar a little more difficult. None of the cream-colored caperatas with green flecks from work had developed the reddish spot around the petiole, to the best of my recollection, but the ones I brought home with me did. The pink-to-gray griseoargentea, for me, was more of a peach-flecked gray. New growth on 'Emerald Ripple' is frequently a dark purple-gray around the petiole, before eventually turning green. So they still have the power to surprise you once in a while.

They have a lot going for them: they're interestingly textured, some of the color varieties are quite pretty, and they're non-toxic to pets and kids. However, I wind up not recommending them to customers very often at work, because almost every customer who asks for recommendations wants the same thing: a low-maintenance, low-light, neglect-tolerant plant for a work area or living space.6 Many, many plants fit that description better than Peperomia caperata and P. griseoargentea do. (Many Peperomias also fit that description better, actually.7) We do have the occasional customer who's looking for something terrarium-friendly, and in those cases I'll take them directly to the Peperomias and not let them leave until they pick one up, but those situations are rare.

Leaf close-up.

I had enormous difficulty coming up with a "person" for these plants. Usually I wait to do a profile until I have a person-plant match, but in this particular case, I'd been thinking a lot about these plants already, and was optimistic about finding something interesting to say about them, so I went ahead and committed myself to doing it on the assumption that sooner or later something would occur to me. Which didn't happen. In the end, I resorted to the technique I used for Hoya carnosa and Begonia rex-cultorum, and put a few descriptive words into search engines to see if anything would come up consistently. I used a few different combinations of words like "wrinkly," "gray," "entertaining," "cute," "adorable," and so forth: mostly these yielded hits about bulldogs, ironing, and Mel Brooks,8 but there was one in there about Estelle Getty (Sophia, on "The Golden Girls"), and that fit well enough that I ran with it. In fact, in retrospect it seems kind of inevitable, no?


Photo credits: all photos are my own.

1 For reasons I can't quite get my head around, caperata's generic common name is usually "radiator plant," among those reference sources that provide one, but it's more often referred to as "Emerald Ripple," which makes more sense but is still sometimes wrong: Emerald Ripple is actually a cultivar name, and only refers to the dark green variety. It's gotten generalized to the point where people sometimes talk about any caperata, regardless of color, as being an Emerald Ripple, but the other color varieties have their own names.
Griseoargentea is also confusing: it's usually called the "ivy-leaf" peperomia, though its leaves aren't shaped any more like English ivy (Hedera helix) than caperata's, nor does it have an ivy-like habit, or ivy-like coloring, or anything else relating in any way to ivy. The 1978 book Crockett's Indoor Garden (Crockett, James Underwood, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, MA) says that griseoargentea "looks like a small heart-leaved philodendron," a resemblance I don't see at all. Either I have badly misidentified it, in which case so have several other people, or names have been shuffled around crazily between 1978 and 2009, or James Underwood Crockett was growing something more powerful than Begonias in his greenhouse(s).
2 I'm open to being corrected, if anybody knows differently, but I'm basing the IDs here on the amount of leaf wrinkling, and by the few pictures I've seen on-line that had griseoargentea identified as such.
3 There are also a few claims of Peperomia species native to Hawaii. Continental drift could explain Africa, if it had to, but Hawaii doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to me. I think I believe the claim; I just don't see how the seeds would have gotten from South America to Hawaii without human intervention.
4 And by "overpot" I mean putting a plant in a pot which is much too large for it. This is a weirdly common problem, and I think it stems from the mistaken idea that giving the plant more soil is a way of being nice, that more soil means more room to grow or something. In actuality, overpotting either prevents air from reaching the roots, suffocating them, or it holds water at the roots so long that they rot. The parenting equivalent of overpotting would be buying your five-year-old son men's XXL shirts, men's size 11 shoes, and jeans with 40-inch waists: it's only good for the child to the extent that it's a step up from having no clothing at all.
5 Actually, I ran into one bit of text somewhere that said that flowering is partly temperature-dependent: Peperomias are short-day plants when temperatures are warm, and indifferent to day length when temperatures are cool. I was unable to verify this, and I don't remember where I saw it in the first place. Make your own observations.
6 And in fact they also often ask for something that flowers, as well, which if they find Spathiphyllums acceptable means that the conversation pretty much ends there, and if they don't like Spathiphyllums -- which many people don't -- then we have a talk about reasonable expectations for low light.
7 Thinking mostly of P. obtusifolia, which I had some issues with back in college, but which has behaved itself just fine for me since I got my current specimen nine months ago.
8 !?