Saturday, February 21, 2009

Random plant event: Sansevieria cylindrica flowering

In late November or early December of 2008, I noticed that we had a flower bud on one of the Sansevieria cylindricas at work. At the time, I figured I'd better take a picture of it, because either it would bloom and be over before I knew it, or a customer would buy the plant -- either way, I'd miss my chance to document the process. I've seen the occasional Sansevieria trifasciata bloom, but never a cylindrica.

And so the documenting and waiting began. (The dates here might not be precisely correct: they're the dates I saved the pictures, not necessarily the dates when I took the pictures. They should be correct enough for our purposes.)

6 December 2008.

These tend to be difficult pictures to get in proper focus: my camera will automatically focus on whatever it thinks I'm trying to take the picture of, but with thin objects that are also moving around, it doesn't really have a clue.

Not that the plants are moving around so much (though sometimes they wave back and forth as the fans blow), but I can't ever hold the camera completely steady.

14 December 2008.

In case you're wondering: I don't buy it myself because I have absolutely no room for such a thing. The plant is actually pretty huge. (We'd had them as multiple plants in six-inch pots, but they failed to sell that way, for at least a year, so I potted several pots' worth together in 12- or 14-inch clay pots. Makes for a bigger, fuller-looking plant, but they're still not selling.) They're also kind of pricey, as one would expect for an extremely slow-growing plant in a very large pot. (Seriously: they're slower than Zamioculcas zamiifolia.) But really it's mostly the size, not the price.

31 January 2009.

Six weeks later, individual flower buds were clearly defined.

14 February 2009.

By this point I was starting to wonder what color they would be: I'd never heard of a Sansevieria flower that wasn't white, but the way the tips of the flower buds were turning purple made me wonder.

20 February 2009.

But, it turned out to be white after all. Unlike S. trifasciata, I couldn't detect any odor at all from these flowers. The proportions are different, too: longer stamens and pistils, more tightly curved petals. Check the picture out in its own window to see the detail a little better.

Differently proportioned or not, it's still pretty clearly a Sansevieria flower. I'm disappointed with the lack of scent, but whatever. Cool enough.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pretty pictures: Tulipa NOID

I've been experiencing technical difficulties with the computer, so no commentary. Fortunately, I don't think these pictures need a lot of commentary anyway.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Random plant event: Pilea 'Moon Valley' flower

Yes, we've seen Pilea flowers before. A couple times. But these are different: they're pink.

They're borderline attractive, even, though they have the same basic molar shape as the Pilea cadierei flowers did. Click on the picture for a really really close-up look.

'Moon Valley' is a plant I was reluctant to buy at first, because I'd read accounts of people finding it difficult. It doesn't seem so bad, though. I suspect it's more or less the same as for P. cadierei: give it adequate humidity and bright light and pinch it back occasionally, and you should be good.

I didn't do anything to try to get it to bloom; it just did. Even some cuttings I'd started in a little bottle of water are blooming. It must just be time to bloom.

'Moon Valley' is kind of a problem taxonomically. The tag in the plant I bought called it P. mollis, and Dave's Garden has it as both P. mollis and P. involucrata (twice). I personally lean toward mollis: this is too different from the other plants I've seen identified as involucrata. For the time being, I'm hedging my bets and just calling it P. 'Moon Valley,' with no species designation at all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Small Rant About Plant Toxicity Lists

Plant toxicity comes up a lot at work. People who are buying a plant often want to know if it's safe for dogs, cats, birds, children, or what have you, and this is something that houseplant books are surprisingly reluctant to cover.

We do have a (cat-specific) list at work, up at the front counter, and I refer to it sometimes, but it's not entirely accurate (it lists Sansevieria trifasciata as safe, when it is not) and is really horribly incomplete.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Moonglow' or 'Moonshine' (which are possibly the same plant under different names). This species can be lethal to cats.

So I've been trying for some time now to do the research and come up with some kind of actual, useful list to make a blog post about, and/or use at work instead of the list we've got, and this has been frustrating. There will still be a list, eventually: I'm trying as hard as I can. But here's why it's taking longer than it should to come up with:

1. The lists do not agree with one another. One list has a plant as safe, the next list will say it's poisonous. Sometimes this is resolvable, sometimes it's not.

2. The lists are usually very short. It's a rare one that has more than about fifty names on it: there are more than fifty species of plant in the room I'm sitting in right now. So they're extremely limited, and many plants aren't on any list, period.

3. They give almost no indication of how dangerous a plant actually is. Tradescantia zebrina, which plant might, at worst, make your cat throw up or irritate your baby's skin, is sitting there on the same "unsafe" list as Adenium obesum and Nerium oleander, either of which could take down your whole family reuinion. Nerium and Tradescantia are clearly not equivalent safety risks, and yet the lists almost never indicate that some plants are more dangerous than others.

Tradescantia zebrina.

4. There's a lot of guilt by association. Dieffenbachia spp. contain calcium oxalate crystals. Dieffenbachia spp. are ridiculously dangerous. Spathiphyllum spp. also contain calcium oxalate crystals. Therefore Spathiphyllum spp. must also be ridiculously dangerous. Except -- no. As far as I've been able to find in firsthand accounts or in the medical literature, Spathiphyllum spp., if eaten, might make your mouth burn and hurt, but there don't seem to be any actual cases of someone being killed or seriously injured by one. The calcium oxalate crystals, while unpleasant, are clearly not the whole story. This is not to say that association is never useful: it's a pretty reasonable bet that if Maranta leuconeura erythroneura is safe, and Calathea ornata is safe, then Stromanthe sanguinea, which is also in the family Marantaceae, is going to be safe too. But do you want to bet somebody's life on that?

5. The names. Oh, gods, the names. Looking around at the existing on-line lists, I have found:

a. Names which are merely misspelled but otherwise clear ("buddist pine," "cineria"),
b. Common and botanical name mismatches ("aralia -- Dizygotheca elegantissima"),
c. Names which are so vague as to be completely useless ("evergreen"),
d. Names which refer to more than one plant at once -- a common enough pitfall of common names anyway ("zebra plant"),
e. Cultivar names being presented as common names ("Florida Beauty"),
f. Cultivar names that refer to more than one species (If "Florida Beauty" is on the list, then does that mean that Philodendron 'Florida Beauty' is toxic, or that Dracaena surculosa 'Florida Beauty' is? Or are they both? Or are we talking about some other "Florida Beauty," perhaps Caladium 'Florida Beauty?'),
g. Names which are fragmentary ("elaine," "cordatum"),
h. Names which are obscure ("monkey plant" -- or is that a typo for "money plant?" And if it's a typo, which "money plant" are they talking about?),
i. And names which are just plain wrong ("dracaena palm," "lily spider").

Philodendron hederaceum, the plant most likely being referred to as "cordatum," above.

6. And then even the most conscientious of sites will usually make no distinction among the possible victims: either it's poisonous to everything: cats, dogs, people, birds, fish, snakes, and lizards, or it's safe for everything. The odds are good that some plants are toxic to reptiles but not mammals, or toxic to cats but not anything else. None of the lists acknowledge this.

So here's the rant part, specifically for the medical, veterinary, and pet-enthusiast communities:

If you're going to put one of these toxic/non-toxic lists on your website, I beg you to please go to the trouble to, you know, make sure that your lists refer to actual plants. It's not good enough to throw names together at random without differentiating between botanical, common, and cultivar names, or worse yet, putting botanical, common and cultivar names together in new combinations. If you do this, you're making the toxic-plant situation more confusing, and therefore worse.1 If I can't figure out whether Begonias are dangerous or not, given weeks to look at all the on-line lists and the relatively low stakes of having no actual pets or children to worry about, how in the hell do you expect people who do have pets or children to be able to figure it out? Should they just go with whatever website comes up first in the Google search? Flip a coin?

It'd also be nice, in light of the variability of common names,2 if someone would include some pictures with these lists. I may not know "aluminum plant," and I may not know Pilea cadierei, but if one of these is in my house, I'd recognize it:

I will continue to try to piece together a usable list from other lists, anecdotes, inference, and guilt-by-association, but don't count on said list being available anytime very soon. I've been working on it for months already, and have not actually answered most of the questions I set out to answer. So it's slow. Don't hold your breath.


1 As far as it goes, this is a really good argument for why houseplant owners should make the effort to learn the botanical names for their plants. You don't have to be able to pronounce it, you don't need to be able to spell it, but at the very least you should be able to recognize it if you see it, or know what letters it starts with, or something. Can you imagine calling Poison Control, thinking your pet or child is dying in front of your eyes, and not being able to call the plant s/he just ate anything more specific than "tropical foliage?" Or (to bring back my favorite example) "zebra plant?" ("Okay, sir/ma'am, calm down. Can you tell me which zebra plant you're talking about? There are eleven by that name in the book here.")
2 I know someone who had a plant she calls "Polish plant" because it came from a relative originally, and the relative believed that it was from Poland. This was the common name within the family, but of course nobody who wasn't in the family would have known what "Polish plant" was, or had any way to find out. Also the plant turned out to be a Pandanus veitchii, and they're not Polish at all. Not even close, really: veitchii is from Madagascar. (Wikiposedly, anyway.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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

It's transmitted-light photo time again! (Mostly because I've been too busy to come up with a real post and I'm doing this at the last minute!)

The previous transmitted light posts can be found here.

Philodendron 'Moonlight.' Looks like there's a bit of reflected light happening in addition to the transmitted light.

Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Marianne.' This is a difficult plant to photograph: something always happens to make the colors and textures less interesting.

Aspidistra lurida 'Milky Way.' Is that the constellation Cassiopeia in the top left?

Ficus elastica 'Tineke.' I think F. elastica may be too thick-leaved for this technique to work particularly well. But I tried.

Clerondendrum thomsoniae. Is it just me, or does this seem kinda . . . disorganized, for a plant?

Platycerium bifurcatum. I think this picture is awesome.

Neoregelia NOID 'Nuance' (bract). There's something subtle going on in this picture that I really like. I just can't put my finger on what it is exactly.

Alpinia zerumbet. Not bad, considering the position I had to hold myself in to get the shot.

Fittonia albivenis. Anybody who knows tropical plants knew that Fittonia was going to show up in one of these posts sooner or later.

Cordyline fruticosa 'Bicolor.' Love all the different colors.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pretty picture: Tulipa 'Svetlana'

Spring be sprung, yo.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Random plant event: Polyscias fruticosa fruits

This one actually happened a long time ago; sometimes ideas for posts have to wait until I'm really desperate for something to post about before I can get to them. It's not that this wasn't an interesting event, it's that it seemed like it would be a long, picture-heavy post.

Anyway. So the story begins with us getting in a large Polyscias fruticosa maybe about a year ago. Nice-looking plant. And then it budded:

And flowered:

The budding and flowering, by the way, are still happening, despite starting eight months ago; this is apparently a plant that can flower whenever it likes.

I then found a seed pod on it, which I thought was weird, and which probably was on the plant before we got it, because it seemed too old to have developed on its own in the four months since arriving:

The "pod" was hard, sort of kind of like a nutshell (though not as tough as that). I tried planting it, the whole thing all together, but nothing happened with that, so either the shell needs to be cracked, or they take a really long time to germinate, or this particular one was a dud, or . . . well. It could have failed for a lot of reasons. Anyway. That's all what's happened so far. What this post is about is the stuff that happens between the flowering and the pod.

Late last November, I found this (open in new window to enlarge):

Unlike the possible "seed pod," this was slightly squishy (the approximate size and texture of a smallish blueberry). Both intrigued and impatient, I removed it:

And then poked at it gently with my fingers, at which point it did this:

So then, figuring I had nothing to lose, I poked at it less gently, and got this:

Which you can kind of see, in the leftmost part of this picture, a fairly clear image of two seedlike things.

So I cleaned the seedlike things as best as I could, and planted them in some vermiculite we were using to start some African violet (Saintpaulia) cuttings, and that also has failed, apparently. Or takes a really long time, or whatever.

So the moral of the story, I think, is that even if your Polyscias fruticosa kicks all kinds of ass and flowers and fruits and stuff, getting seedlings is a whole new level of difficulty. On the plus side, if you're lucky enough to have a plant that's doing that, you should have a pretty never-ending supply of opportunities to try. The real growers propagate Polyscias from stem cuttings (which doesn't sound that easy either, by the way), instead of seeds, which might mean that seeds are more trouble than they're worth. But still, it's always nice to see plants doing what they would normally do, even if it doesn't lead to seedlings.