Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pretty picture: Episcia NOID flower

Gesneriads and I have had something of a falling out lately, which I've made reference to elsewhere, for example in comments at Kenneth Moore's blog. It's not that I wouldn't like to like them. In fact, it's completely a sour grapes thing: I have too many other plants around to be worrying about keeping up with the watering on Saintpaulia and Streptocarpus, which means they don't do well for me, which means I don't like them. And some of them, like Columnea, didn't even do well for me at work. So screw you guys, I don't think your flowers are pretty anyway.

(Though I do still think Nematanthus and Aeschynanthus are okay. They put up with me better, and I even got the Aeschynanthus to bloom quite a bit a few months ago. So I guess it's not all gesneriads, just most of them. At least, so far it's just most of them. No doubt the Nematanthus and Aeschynanthus are just waiting for the perfect moment to fail in some new, horrible way.

Maybe mealybugs. I bet it's mealybugs. That would be just like a gesneriad.)

The reason for mentioning this is, my ex-job got in a whole bunch of Episcias at the beginning of June, and they were spectacular, but I didn't get one because everything I've heard about them says that they're touchy: high humidity requirements, but no water on the leaves, don't get them too wet but keep them evenly moist, etc. I didn't see a future there. So I settled for getting a close-up picture of the flowers. I don't really find this flower all that impressive; some of the other varieties had flowers that were much cooler. Unfortunately, this was the only picture that turned out even remotely well, so it's the picture you get.

We hadn't even ordered them previously, although they'd been available, because WCW had told me that they hadn't done well when we'd brought them in previously. Probably we should have ordered them anyway, because they apparently do sell. Either that or more than half of them had already had to be thrown away within a month of their arrival, which is also possible.

Who out there has experience with Episcia? Am I being unfair?

Friday, July 17, 2009


More cultivar names, potentially, though these might be a tad more obscure than my previous suggestions. On the other hand, there are so many Lilium hybrids out there, and more happening all the time, that I figure the breeders and developers would appreciate some suggestions, however little mass appeal they might have. So, I give you:

The older crowd might appreciate Lilium 'Gish.'

Their younger, hornier grandsons would find Lilium 'Garcia' more to their liking.

I'm not sure if Lilium 'Tomlin' is cheating or not. Maybe it would be okay if referred to as the "Tomlin Lily," instead of with the botanical name Lilium. And of course if "Tomlin Lily" is okay, we could also have Lilium 'Allen.' (Special bonus relevance: Lily Allen wikiposedly studied horticulture before her music career happened, so she's one of very few people in the world who could both be the subject of this joke and appreciate it properly.)

Just throwing them out there; nobody has to use them. Though I would like to see Lilium 'Gish' sometime. Kinda surprised it hasn't happened already.

Unfinished business re: How to Make Your Own Ferns at Home

Last November, I put up a post describing how I had taken spores from an Asplenium nidus and a Cyrtomium falcatum at work, and brought them home and germinated them (or whatever the appropriate verb would be: I'm not sure "germinated" is right if there are no seeds involved) on vermiculite. I don't remember how long ago the actual sowing of the spores would have been, but it was probably a few months before the post, so let's be conservative and say it was September.

In the November post, things had progressed to the point where I had some tiny green dots on the surface of the vermiculite, but nothing at all frondy or leafy yet.

And now:

I still don't have much of anything frondy-leafy. Ferns are horrible, perverse creatures that will not do what I want them to do. But it's obviously bigger than it was in November, and they've grown a lot faster since I put them in a west window (where they get some actual sunlight occasionally), and if you look closely at the pictures, full-size, you can see a couple of things that might be very young fronds, as well as fuzzy white things covering the vermiculite that might well be extremely young roots.

So we might have actual ferns at some point. I mean, these are actual ferns, but -- you know what I mean. Too early to tell whether I have Asplenium, Cyrtomium, or a mix of the two. I'm hoping for more Cyrtomium than Asplenium, because Aspleniums tend not to get along with me for more than about six months.

Is this a practical way to get ferns? Well, that sort of depends on what you consider "practical," I guess. (It also depends on whether or not it ever actually works: it's worth pointing out that it's been almost a year now and I haven't gotten a single fern out of this.) While it's true that this has taken a long time, I've also had to put almost no work into it. So if it's not very immediately gratifying, it's at least not extremely demanding of time and energy, either. Possibly we'd be closer to immediately gratifying if I'd given these guys sunlight earlier.

I'll be back with another update if and when something new happens.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to Rebloom a Peace Lily

Although the more experienced houseplant growers are probably rolling their eyes at this, I get a lot of hits from people searching for ways to make their Spathiphyllum rebloom, so I figure I should probably try to address the question directly. It's slightly more interesting than it appears.

The first thing to realize is that there are a lot of varieties of Spathiphyllum, and some are more inclined to bloom than others.1 That's just the way it is. Larger varieties, like 'Mauna Loa' and 'Sensation,' are particularly unlikely to bloom, compared to the medium-sized and small plants.2

One of the more recent flowers from my large NOID Spathiphyllum, which is probably either 'Mauna Loa' or 'Sensation' or both. The reason for the odd perspective and textures is because this was on the top rack of a set of shelves, so a lot of the picture is ceiling.

Second, the growers cheat. Most or all of the peace lilies available for retail sale have been forced to bloom, by application of a plant hormone called gibberellic acid.3 Gibberellic acid induces blooming roughly two to four months after it is applied, and is apparently reliable enough that plants can be sold in bloom at any time of year. Plants are extremely sensitive to gibberellic acid, and overapplication can harm the plants or produce weird, misshapen flowers, so it's probably not something you should be messing with. Also, as far as I know it's not easy to find at the retail level,4 so you likely wouldn't be able to use it even if you really wanted to.

Third, although a lot of people don't realize this because forced-bloom plants are available year round, peace lilies are seasonal bloomers, to a degree. The season begins in February or March, and ends around September. Some varieties will bloom sporadically in the off season,5 though it's unlikely and unreliable. So if you're in the wrong time of year for flowers, don't be upset if you don't see flowers.

Finally, we come to the things you actually can do something about.

My own plants will sometimes respond to a change in location by blooming. It doesn't seem to matter whether the new spot is better or worse than the old one: the mere fact of a move appears to be enough to get them excited. I don't know how solid the cause-effect relationship is, and I haven't seen anybody else recommend this, so the reader would do well to be skeptical, but it's something to try, and it won't cost you anything.

One might also try playing with the light levels: although Spathiphyllums will accept very low light, and can be bleached or even damaged by too much light,6 they do well if they're in a somewhat brighter spot than people usually give them. One of my plants, which I had not moved, once spontaneously flowered in mid-winter, because the angle of the sunlight coming in the (south) window finally got low enough to reach the plant on the other side of the room. It was weak light, and we didn't have sun every day, and the sun only lasted for an hour or two when it did happen, but getting that little extra hit of light intermittently seems to have given the plant enough of a push to form a flower. My 'Mauna Loa'/'Sensation' plant's threepeat blooming happened following a move to a location with multiple bright fluorescent lights. From everything I've seen, increasing light is the most reliable way to induce a bloom.

But what if you've got your plant in a bright spot already, and it's doing nothing? Peace lilies do best in a warm (65-90F; 18-32C), humid room: though they may live for a long time and look perfectly healthy and happy in a cooler7 or drier spot, it's not the ideal situation for the plant. Providing a more natural, tropical environment may be enough to convince an undecided plant to go ahead and bloom: try adding a humidifier or pebble trays and raise your thermostat.

I do not recommend changing your watering practices significantly. If you've figured out how to water a peace lily in a way that keeps it happy, you shouldn't mess with that, except insofar as giving your plant more light or warmer temperatures might leave it needing water slightly more often. (If, on the other hand, you haven't figured out how to water a peace lily in a way that keeps it happy, you should check out the PATSP profile for Spathiphyllum spp.)

One sometimes sees the claim on forums like Garden Web's that plants like Spathiphyllum and Hoya carnosa bloom better when potbound (i.e. when the roots have filled most of the volume in the pot). I think this confuses cause and effect. In my opinion (and it is only opinion, at this point: I don't have hard evidence to back it up), it's not that being potbound causes blooming, it's that age causes both blooming and potboundness. A younger plant, in both cases, is unlikely to bloom just because it's younger, not because it has room for its roots to spread out. There's no advantage in the wild to preferring a potbound state, since there aren't pots in the wild, so I don't see how there would be any direct advantage in the home either.

As far as it goes, I've had a plant or two bloom after a repot. I don't necessarily recommend repotting in order to get blooms, because I'm not convinced about the cause-and-effect issue there either, but that has been my experience once or twice. Potboundness, in any case, is unlikely to be the issue: peace lilies are capable of doing just fine in a cramped pot before complaining, and even then, your only observation is likely to be that they need watering a lot more often than they used to.

Your results w/r/t the whole potboundness issue may vary, and if they do, I'd be delighted to hear about them.

No, really. I would!

Fertilizer, like temperature and humidity, is unlikely to be the missing piece on its own, though if you have not fertilized or repotted your plant in a long time, it could be the case that missing nutrients might be holding it back. If you decide to fertilize your plant again after a long time without, DO NOT try to make up for lost time by adding more than the package recommends. That will only burn the roots and kill the plant. Just give the plant what the label says, or possibly slightly less than that. It might also be a good idea to deliberately pick a fertilizer formulation that contains micronutrients, specifically magnesium, as Spathiphyllums do have a higher magnesium requirement than most plants and consequently could run out sooner than other plants would. A good garden center should be able to direct you to an appropriate fertilizer. A bad garden center would -- wait a minute. Why are you shopping at a bad garden center?

Keep in mind that even if you do exactly what the plant wants you to do, flowers do not appear instantaneously, and it might still take a few months from the time you change your conditions to the time the buds start to show. So be patient.

To sum up, then. The best things to do to rebloom a peace lily are:
  • Start with a variety that flowers abundantly to begin with,
  • Move the plant to a brighter, warmer, more humid location,
  • Between February and August,
  • While delivering appropriate amounts of fertilizer,
  • And apply a tiny amount of gibberellic acid to the leaves if you can find any.


1 Among the varieties I'm aware of: 'Lynise,' 'Sweet Chico,' 'Sweet Pablo,' 'White Flag,' 'Sensation,' 'Mauna Loa,' 'Domino,' 'Tasson,' 'Mauna Loa Supreme,' 'Deneve,' 'Ceres,' 'Figaro,' 'Viscount,' 'Starlight,' etc. A longer list, with descriptions for a few of the plants, can be found here, and a still-longer list without descriptions is here. If you don't know your plant's variety name, you may be able to rule out a few of these, but there's so much overlap and the differences between varieties are so subtle that you're unlikely to be able to definitively identify any particular plant by variety. Twyford International, a plant breeder/grower in Florida, says on their website that they produce ten Spathiphyllum varieties ('Avalon,' 'Claudia,' 'Double Take,' 'Emerald Beauty,' 'Florida Beauty,' 'Lynise,' 'Petite,' 'Sophia,' 'Starlight,' and 'Valentino,'), but then use the same paragraph of description for each one. See for yourself: go to this page and select "Spathiphyllum" from the first drop-down menu. My hope is that they're just being lazy, not that they can't tell the difference between varieties, but with peace lilies it could go either way. Oglesby is a little more helpful, providing a little bit of information about each of their nine Spathiphyllum varieties ('Milkyway,' 'Patrice,' 'Power Petite,' 'Prima,' 'Sensation,' 'Supreme,' 'Sweet Chico,' 'Sweet Dario,' 'Sweet Pablo'), and get downright gushy about 'Sensation,' though that still doesn't necessarily cover whatever variety you've got at home. My advice about Spathiphyllum cultivars: don't bother trying to figure out what you've got. You won't be able to, and the process will just make you angry. Even if you could figure out for sure what variety you have, figuring out whether it's a good bloomer or not is an additional layer of complexity, and information on that is even harder to come by. So just accept that you have a peace lily and don't know what variety it is. Trust me.
2 Though it's not impossible. I've had one since 2003 that has maybe flowered six times in the last six years. Trouble is, three of those happened one right after another during the fall and winter of 2008-09: most of the time, there's nothing. And for what it's worth, I find the big cultivars of Spathiphyllum a lot more easygoing than the smaller ones: less prone to turn black, slower to wilt when dry, etc. This is also the case with Dieffenbachia spp., that the larger varieties do better for me than the smaller ones. Your results may vary.
3 Flowering doesn't appear to be the usual response, in the plant kingdom, to gibberellic acid; it's main industrial application appears to be inducing seed germination and/or rapid growth. It just happens to trigger flowers in Spathiphyllum.
4 Though it's out there if you want to Google for it. I don't encourage this, frankly, because I don't especially like Spathiphyllum flowers in the first place, and the gibberellic acid formulations I found seemed really unreasonably overpriced, so the whole thing seems like a lot more trouble than it's worth, to me. But hey, if you care about the flowers that much, you know how to Google, don't you? (If I remember correctly, it involves putting your lips together and blowing. Though it's possible I have Googling confused with something else.)
5 (As, for example, did my big 'Mauna Loa' or 'Sensation' or whatever it is.)
6 Most peace lily cultivars should have dark green, glossy leaves. The exceptions are variegated types like 'Domino,' chartreuse ones like 'Golden Glow,' and there are a few gray-silver ones around too but I don't know any cultivar names for them. If your plant was dark green and turns lighter green, or yellowy-green, this is a sign of either too much light or a nutrient deficiency. Both are fairly easy to correct.
7 Something people don't know about spaths: they're surprisingly cold-tolerant. Where most tropical indoor plants will start to slow down or suffer damage at around 60F (16C), and a couple begin to have problems at the completely unreasonable temperature of 70F (21C), Spathiphyllums can go down to 40F (4C) and be fine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pretty picture: Canna NOID flower

This is probably better at full size (open in a separate window to judge for yourself), but I liked it anyway. I've never been a big fan of Cannas as flowering plants: there just didn't seem to be enough balance between the leaves and flowers to make it a fair fight. Obviously the foliage was the draw.

However, like Pam at Tales From the Microbial Laboratory, I'm not incapable of appreciating the flowers on their own. This is definitely a nice color. If only the flowers and leaves were a bit more in proportion with one another, you know?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Random plant event: Ardisia elliptica flower buds

About a week ago, I went back to the ex-job to look around and buy clay pots and talk to people and that kind of thing, and saw this while I was there. We had three Ardisia ellipticas in 6-inch pots, that had all gotten pretty big and then all but stopped growing, which nobody has been interested in buying so they've been stuck in a corner for the last, like, eight months or something.

When I was there last, though, all three plants were budding like crazy, which I thought was kind of cool. Flowers would have been cooler, but I was too early.

I've seen Ardisia flowers once. We had a bunch of Ardisia crenatas that did the same thing: we potted them into 6-inch pots, they grew for a while, then stopped, and then they all flowered at once. Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures of the crenata flowers, because they all flowered at the busiest, craziest point of the busiest, craziest season, so I only had one chance to take pictures and the pictures I got didn't turn out well. They weren't interesting flowers anyway, just little white things. Closest thing I can think of would be the little white flowers on some ornamental peppers.

I will follow up with pictures of the elliptica flowers if I manage to see them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Repotting the BDSP

For those of you who don't know, BDSP stands for "Big Damn Screw Pine," and refers to a particular plant I bought in early June 2009. I knew when I got it that it had been in the same pot for at least a year and a half, because it had been in the greenhouse as long as I worked there (and I suspect it had actually been there for at least a year longer than that), so odds were that it probably needed to be repotted.

The BDSP, about four weeks ago.

This seemed particularly likely because it was already nearly four feet tall and probably about as wide, but was only in a 6-inch pot, and had roots coming out the bottom.

So this is the story of how I repotted a plant nearly as large as I was, that was covered in sharp spines, without hurting myself even a little bit, and how surprising that is.

I started out by wrapping the leaves in plastic. This is kinda key for the whole rest of the procedure. I didn't take pictures of the wrapping itself, but I used my Boston fern scrunchie technique, just with an unusually big piece of plastic. Lay the plastic out flat in a rectangle on the ground, lay the plant down on top of the plastic so the bottom of the plastic is lined up with the top of the pot, and then roll the plastic and plant together so the leaves are loosely held up and away from the pot.

The next order of business was figuring out how to get the pot off the root ball. Ordinarily, with most plants, any roots growing through the drainage holes are thin and flexible enough that one can just pull the pot off, and the roots will be fine. In this case, though, the roots were woody and thick --

-- and that wasn't going to work. I did try pulling a little bit, just on the off chance that maybe it would slide, but no. So I cut the roots off with a new, sharp razor blade and slid the pot off that way.

This is not actually ideal, as the fresh wounds in the roots could become infected with bacteria or fungi, leading to rot. I'm not so much worried about that in this particular case, because I didn't have much choice -- either the roots had to be cut off, or the pot had to be cut away from the roots, and the latter option would have resulted in a lot more wounds. The safest course would have been to cut them, then dust the open ends with fungicide. I didn't have fungicide, though, nor did I have powdered cinnamon,1 so we're just going to have faith that it's a large, tough specimen of a large, tough plant, and it either won't be tempted to rot in the first place, or, if it is tempted to rot, it can live without the roots in question.

And as we can see, if the plant has anything at all, it's roots to spare:

Yes, that's pretty much solid roots all the way through.

Ordinarily at this point in the process, I would try to loosen up the root ball, but in this particular case, the roots were so intertwined in each other, and to some extent actually fused together, that I couldn't. I loosened what I could (mostly just a few little ones from the very bottom of the rootball), and went on.

I don't have pictures of the next couple steps, because I needed both hands for them. Basically what I did was, I got the new 10-inch clay pot, and put soil in the bottom a couple inches deep. Then I set the root ball of the plant on top of that, held the plant upright with one hand while trying to scoop soil into the pot around the root ball with the other, and eventually, through this awkward process, managed to fill in the remainder of the pot with soil. Then I packed down the soil and added more until it was all as firm as it was going to get, set it on the ground, pulled off the plastic, and wound up with this:

You'll notice that although I broke the First Rule of Repotting2 and went from a 6-inch pot to a 10-inch pot, the pot still looks tiny compared to the plant. Ordinarily I advise breaking the FRR only for extremely rootbound plants of the genus Ficus, and even then I say you shouldn't go up by more than four inches per repot. In this case . . . well, you saw the rootball. There wasn't even really any soil3 in that pot. Plus, I was going from a pot that was more or less a straight upright cylinder made of plastic to a substantially tapered pot made of clay: it seemed like I probably needed to go up four inches in order to fit the bottom of the rootball in the pot, first of all, and since the new pot was going to be drying out faster than the old one had, it was probably justifiable to make it a little bigger than I ordinarily would have.

Also I'm not saying any more about it until you let me talk to my attorney.

In any case, the new pot is not, to my eye, yet in proportion with the old one, and the plant is significantly top-heavy, but I don't dare go any larger until I'm fairly sure that the roots have spread through the new soil.

The next step, then, is to water in the plant. Which is done more or less the way it sounds: you water it repeatedly, so the water can penetrate all areas of the soil. And then you're pretty much done.

I didn't get hurt even once, because of the plastic, and I'm getting better at moving the plant around even when I don't have the plastic, so everything seems to be working out so far.

Judging from past experience with repotting a Pandanus veitchii (much smaller plants in those cases, needless to say), the plant is about to have a big growth spurt. The BDSP might do this even more dramatically than they usually do, because not only did it get new soil for the first time in a couple years, it's also going to be spending the summer outside. I like the idea of a growth spurt, though I'm more ambivalent about the prospect of a sharp, pointy plant I can't bring in the house because it's bigger than the rooms are. I suppose we will deal with that if and when it happens.

For the summer, at least, it's going to be sitting just outside the back door. I've always wanted a guard plant, and the Euphorbia grandicornis isn't big enough yet,4 so this should be nice for me. Unless I need to get in or out of the back door, I suppose. [thoughtful look] But that almost never happens. And if the BDSP needs repotted again in September, then I can blog about that process as well.


1 A number of people at Garden Web swore by powdered cinnamon as a superior, or at least more readily available and less dangerously toxic, antifungal for all kinds of purposes. This makes perfect sense to me, as cinnamon bark has to have something in it to keep it from rotting in its native Sri Lanka, which has a tropical climate with annual monsoons, hurricanes, or whatever: this, obviously, is very conducive to rot, so any intelligent plant would have to have something antifungal with which to protect itself. It doesn't hurt that cinnamon smells way nicer than your average fungicide.
I would use cinnamon as a fungicide except that we don't have any around. Neither of us cook. Or, well, the husband barely cooks, and I cook not at all.
2 (The new pot shall be no more than two inches wider than the old pot.)
3 I'll stop here for a second and wave to the pedants who are scrolling down the page to find the comment box so they can point out that I don't use soil, I use a soil-less mix, and that the two things are different and I shouldn't use the word "soil" here. Hi, pedants. I know there's a difference, and when there's a good one-syllable word for soil-less mix, then I'll call it that. But I'm not going to type out "soil-less mix" or "growing medium" or "potting soil" every time I have to mention dirt. (Aha! say the pedants, what about the word "dirt?" It's one syllable, is it not? Well, yes, it is, but there are pedants who will get on one's case for using the word "dirt" too, because of course "dirt" is just the word we use for soil that's in an undesired location, and is therefore unnecessarily pejorative.) You can't win against a dedicated critical pedant, so I am electing to skip past the whole thing saying "la la la, I can't hear you!" rather than do a search-and-replace of "growing medium" for "soil." :^P
4 The Euphorbia tirucalli actually might be, but, a) it's kind of top-heavy so it would be hard to keep it upright for the summer, and b) I personally am actually kind of afraid of the Euphorbia tirucalli. So we don't ask it to go places or do things.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pretty picture: Dendrobium NOIDs

It's been a while since I did anything with the Orchidaceae: this is mostly because I haven't been around very many lately. But, I went to my ex-job last week and got a few halfway decent pictures of some Dendrobiums. They had other orchids there, but for one reason or another they were all unsuitable for pictures, so here we are.

I don't have much of a comment about these; orchid flowers tend to speak for themselves (saying, "I'm awesome! You are so much less awesome than me! I out-awesome you in all key respects, plus a few incidental ones! You probably shouldn't even be looking directly at me, because of how awesome I am!"). I will say that I prefer the first one, with the violet-tipped white flowers, over the second, with its purple and orange net-patterned ones. This is not so much about the color and pattern as it is about the petal shape, I think. Though it has to be noted that the second picture is much, much better than the first.

No clue on the names of the particular varieties depicted here; holler if you know.