Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pretty picture: Rosa NOID miniature

Valentine's Day again. I tried really really hard to come up with something cool and original to post here (the picture, at least, is new), but, you know, massive fail. So here's a repost, which I normally don't do and feel really bad about. It's at least maybe more financially relevant than it was last year:

Buy more stock in roses
Millionaires will always woo
Don't be shocked if roses
Make a millionaire of you

-"Roses," by Magnetic Fields (Stephin Merritt),
on the CD 69 Love Songs Vol. 2

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pretty picture: Clerodendrum thomsoniae

This was kind of an experiment; I got these in at work last summer because I'd seen them at Piersons (Cedar Rapids) not long before and thought well if they're good enough for Piersons. . . .

They arrived in 4-inch pots, which we sold a few of. Then I noticed we were having to water them, like, every day, so when the opportunity presented, we moved them up into hanging baskets.

And they went nuts. They all started climbing up the basket hooks, and then got themselves tangled in the (already kind of tangly) bars and supports the baskets were hanging from, and eventually they had to be cut back because if somebody had wanted one, we wouldn't have been able to sell it to them without giving them critical parts of the structure of the greenhouse.

I understand that similar things happen when they're planted outdoors in warm climates.

Clerodendrum thomsoniae is fairly well-behaved in the greenhouse, though they have a tendency to wilt really badly if we're even slightly late with the water, and they drop lots of leaves if we give them water before they're droopy. But still, those aren't so bad, really. They're better about spider mites than I expected from the reference sources we have there, and they seem to flower readily. So when what we have is gone, we'll probably try to get more.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Music video: Cracker "Guarded by Monkeys"

This album (Forever) was a big favorite a few jobs ago. There were four of us on the overnight shift (8 PM to 7 AM, four days a week), and the radio drove me crazy (the radio ruined Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee" for me, through sheer repetition: none of the radio stations around here seem to have more than about twelve songs at any given time), so eventually what happened was that we would all bring in our CD collections, and then we'd pick one another's CDs and put them in the five-CD stereo and hit "random." If you were the DJ, you had to choose one CD from each person's collection, and then for the fifth slot, you had to use a CD that more than one person had in their collection. So everybody got at least something, and a couple people got at least two things. It was the fairest arrangement we were able to come up with.

Anyway. Forever was originally one of my CDs, and one of only a few that had such broad appeal that everybody, by the time I left, had asked me for a copy. This is not necessarily the best song on the album (my personal favorite was "Superfan," and "Miss Santa Cruz County" is good too), but I like it. So.

Other CDs that more than one of us liked back then, that I still like, that remind me to some degree of that time period:

Rubies on the Lawn, Trish Murphy
This is the Trip, Sister 7
Overdub, David Garza
Wishing Well, Monte Montgomery
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Flaming Lips
Bachelor No. 2, Aimee Mann
Almost Human, Voltaire (not everyone's cup of tea, but nevertheless highly recommended)
Fashion Nugget, Cake
Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park
I Bificus, Bif Naked
Up!, Shania Twain (I didn't say we had impeccable taste)
Did I Shave My Legs For This?, Deana Carter
Johnny Socko, Johnny Socko

★ = one of my all-time favorites, even still; highly recommended

Random plant event: Stevia rebaudiana flowers

Stevia rebaudiana, "sweet herb," is a weird one. So much hype about the plant being the Next Big Sweetener on-line that I don't really know what to think: maybe it's going to save us all from high-fructose corn syrup poisoning; maybe it's going to give us all cancer. Probably it will do neither. The story varies pretty predictably according to the interests of the teller (if somebody tells you it's bad or dangerous, ask if they're connected to the corn, corn syrup, or sugar industry in some way), but at the same time it seems much too good to be true. Sweeter than sugar, non-toxic, non-mutagenic, and infinitely processible? Yeah, so was saccharin. So was cyclamate. So was aspartame. So was sucralose (Splenda).1 Granted that all of those were artificial to some degree or another (with aspartame being the most nearly natural), and stevia extract at least comes from a living organism, but . . . I don't know. So does sugar, and look at all the problems that's caused.

I'm also not convinced by the Stevia promoters' claims that it's been safely used by Native Americans in Paraguay for hundreds of years, either. What was the average lifespan of a Native American in Paraguay "hundreds of years" ago? Hmmm?

The plant itself is nothing to get excited about. A little weedy-lookin'. Not a problem child in the greenhouse. I don't know what it would be like to try to grow indoors, but I think Jordan and Annah were planning to attempt it at one time.

It's not a huge seller, either. (Whether this is because pre-processed stevia sweetener is already available in the grocery store, or because people are just not that interested in another sugar substitute, I don't know.) The flowers are tiny, and therefore hard to photograph. I haven't tried to propagate it, but I bet there's an easy way: seeds, or cuttings, or something. It just has that look, like it'd be easy to propagate.

So but anyway. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Stevia. Anybody tried eating it yet? Cooking with it? Will I like it better than Splenda? Will the Lords of High-Fructose Corn Syrup strangle it in the crib?


1 Which, by the way, I hate passionately, and cannot understand how anybody can manage to eat it. Not that it's not sweet, but the aftertaste, which I cannot find words adequate to describe (I tried several metaphors but they all wound up involving Amy Winehouse.), turns my stomach. Give me the good old metallic saccharin aftertaste any day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pretty picture: Saintpaulias with fused petals

I believe the technical term is bell; they're not quite fused enough to be a wasp. We haven't seen this type before a few months ago; they didn't appeal to me enough to buy them (for chrissakes, I have nineteen African violets already: enough is too much), but they were interesting all the same.

I would occasionally glance over that way and wonder for a split second what these were: the shape of the flowers was just different enough to make me question whether they were even Saintpaulias.

The below pictures are slightly Barbara-Waltersed, because they were taken on the same day and close to the same time. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Random plant event: Gasteria NOID pod

I can't think of anything else in the Aloe / Gasteria / Haworthia family that was flowering at the same time, and I didn't think Gasteria flowers were self-fertile, but nevertheless, we had a pod form. It failed to develop, though, and dropped off shortly after this picture was taken. So maybe it was never all there to begin with.

In any case, it's the first time I've seen even the beginning of this process, so that was kind of cool.

The plant in question.

The pod.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Q: Is Coraline worth going to see in the theater?

A: Oh my gods yes. Run, don't walk. May want to leave kids under about 8-9 years old at home. But do go see it. It's insane (in the good way). Also gorgeous. The words "instant classic" would not be inappropriate.

Special bonus for garden bloggers: the parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) are garden writers, who for the first part of the film are working on writing a gardening catalog. There are scattered gardening references throughout the film. The big reveal of the "Other" world's garden alone is worth the price of admission. Seriously.

Pretty picture: Begonia NOID flowers

I wish that this picture did better justice to the flowers themselves. It's not that Begonia flowers are that awesome -- we've all seen them, and I'm actually kind of sick of them, myself, because we've got some Begonia hanging baskets that I'm forever picking up after: they seem to always be dropping flowers on whatever's below them -- but this particular spray (technically panicle, the botanical term for a highly-branched inflorescence) of flowers was, I don't know, cooler than the picture makes it look.

Incidentally, I'd noticed while picking flowers up off the tables and the other plants and so forth that some of the flowers are lightweight and flimsy, basically nothing more than a few petals, while others have a large, heavy, solid base attached. I'd noticed this, but then never went any further with it to try to figure out what was going on, why they were making two different kinds of flowers.

I recently found out that this is totally on-purpose, and that the difference is just the difference between male flowers (flimsy) and female flowers (solid).

Male flowers.

Female flower, from the side.

Female flower, from the front.

I'm not positive that first picture, way up at the top, has any male flowers, but Begonias are supposed to have both male and female flowers on the same plant. I'm also fuzzy about whether or not the number of petals means anything; it seems to vary a lot for no particular reason, but I've never made a careful study of that either.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Music video: Wax Audio "Tori's Deranged" (Tori Amos / David Bowie mashup)

Not entirely clear why the whole video has to be clips from David Lynch's Lost Highway, but whatever. Nicely done mashup.

Random plant event: Vriesea NOID true flower

I probably should have cropped more out of this photo, but you can see the interesting part pretty clearly by opening the picture in a new window. It's not going to win any beauty contests, I suppose, but I've seen worse.

These smaller, plain-leaved Vrieseas offset after flowering like Guzmania lingulata and Aechmea fasciata do. I bought one that was similar to this, long after it had flowered, because it had five good-sized offsets on it already, and it was only in a four-inch pot. Both the original plant and all five (now-separated) offsets are doing fine. I don't know whether removing the offsets on these will encourage more to be produced, but that's kind of what I'm hoping. It seems to work that way for the Guzmania and Aechmea. The parent plant is at least not dead, or showing any signs of wanting to be dead (listening to Portishead, giving longing looks to stray razor blades), so I figure that's a good sign.

The bad part is that I bought the plant long after the flower was gone, so I have no idea what color it's going to be when they finally bloom. I think I'm hoping for yellow like the one in the picture. The best bet for another color would be red. It's a pretty red, to be sure: kind of a deep but not dark red. But the yellow has the added interest of a second color, so it's more interesting to me at the moment. Whichever color it is, I won't find out for years, and by that point I may have changed my mind anyway, so it's probably not worth thinking too hard about.