Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday afternoon Nina picture

Pretty picture: Salvia elegans flowers

I really love pineapple sage, mostly for the smell, but the flowers are nice also. The only disappointing part is that they do not, in fact, cause a cloud of hummingbirds to materialize out of thin air, as many people suggest on-line, and as salespeople will tell you in person.

Not that I mind making my own hummingbirds. It just seems a little misleading, that's all.

Because I like the plant, I intend to try to overwinter it. We were never very good at doing this at work (it was usually a technical success but a practical failure: the plants would be alive, but hideous and unsellable unless we cut them back, which we always did too late because there was so much other stuff happening), but it's done so well for itself that I feel I owe it at least a solid chance.

Things haven't been working out, so far. I've already forgotten to water, and it's dropped a lot of leaves. Maybe it would be a good idea to take some cuttings to try to root, as insurance, but everything I could take as a cutting now has a flower spike (or at least buds) on it, which makes me not want to cut it off very badly.

Just an experiment anyhow. I'll buy another in the spring if this doesn't work. Maybe I'll buy several, actually. The smell really is nice.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some hummingbirds to whittle.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Random plant event: Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig' sport

This one's kind of subtle, but I think it should be visible in the picture.

We had a big huge Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig' at work when I started, and in the winter of 2007-08, at some point, possibly because there was cold water condensing on the greenhouse ceiling and then dripping onto the plant, one side of the plant got weird brown-black spots on the leaves, plus the tips and margins burned too, and it became unsellable.

So we cut it back. Because I hated the idea of just throwing away so much plant material, we chopped the canes into sections about three inches long and planted them in soil and threw the whole thing under a table somewhere. It took forever, but most of those sections surprised me by rooting and sprouting, so then instead of a big huge unsellable 'Janet Craig' with a bunch of half-dead leaves, we had a tray full of little tiny unsellable 'Janet Craigs' that had been cut off at the top and resprouted. Which is to say, there was not actually that much improvement in the overall 'Janet Craig' sellability situation.

We tried selling them anyway, but then spring happened, and then there was summer, and the greenhouse got hot, and they started to bleach and notch from the heat, as Dracaena deremensis will. So eventually the decision was made, by me, to throw them away, and by "throw them away" I mean take them home, because the two concepts were frequently interchangeable like that.


In all, I wound up with five resprouted stems, and they've done okay for themselves once they got out of the heat -- they're not up to the quality of what we'd have brought in new from Florida (leaves are smaller, plants are shorter), but they're respectable-looking for a houseplant. I've noticed, though, that one of the canes is doing something slightly interesting.

It's hard to get a picture of, because it's not dramatic in the first place, and the normally-colored leaves cover up the odd ones no matter what angle you take the picture from, but you may be able to see in the above photo that the plant in front has green leaves with a thin yellow line down the center. This is most obvious in the leaf that's facing the camera directly, but the same plant has a leaf to the left of that one and to the right of that one, which are both doing it too, as are most of that plant's leaves which aren't visible in the picture.

It's not what you'd call exciting news: even if the stripe were broad, distinct, and of a sharply-contrasting color, it'd still basically just be a Dracaena deremensis imitating a Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana,' and the two are already pretty hard to tell apart. It's like Megan Fox dressing up as Angelina Jolie for Halloween: she might look a lot like Angelina Jolie, but they look so much alike to begin with that nobody would find it impressive.

Still, it's something, and I'd like to think that the Dracaena gods are trying to make it up to me for The Skunky Incident (about which I am still bitter: SKUNKY WILL BE AVENGED!!!). If this is true, they need to keep working on it, because this is nowhere near as cool as 'Skunky' was.

In the extremely unlikely event that this is an actual mutation (instead of, say, some new and exciting kind of mineral deficiency, which is certainly also a possibility) and it turns out to be stable and propagatable, what would be a good name for the cultivar? I'm thinking maybe Dracaena deremensis 'No Passing Zone.'

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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

Well, I'd said that the Solenostemon scutellarioides profile was going to go up tomorrow (EDIT: it's been posted since.), but it was obvious a few days ago that that wasn't going to happen, so I'm going to do another transmitted light photos post to give myself a little time to work on the profile. No clue when the profile will be ready: you'll be the first to know when I find out.

(The previous transmitted light posts can be found here.)

Zamioculcas zamiifolia. This was a very hard picture to get: the leaflets are small enough that it's hard to keep extraneous light out of the shot, and thick enough that you need to have the light, like, right there in order to get the picture. It didn't even turn out that badly, considering.

Viola sp. Not really much to see here, unfortunately, but it was a nice, pristine, spring leaf, so I bet you this is as good as a Viola transmitted light picture is going to get.

Ficus maclellandii. Another case of a really difficult-to-get picture that may not have been entirely worthwhile.

Phalaenopsis NOID. Phalaenopsis leaves are so thick that, again, you pretty much have to hold them on top of a fluorescent bulb to get a picture like this.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Out for a walk one day, and found some Virginia creeper. So why not get a picture? Turned out well, too.

Anthurium andraeanum NOID (spathe). I keep trying to get Anthurium andraeanum spathe pictures, but I should probably stop. They never work out that well. (Still -- pretty color, at least.)

Epipremnum aureum 'N'Joy.' Can't really see the venation here so well, but the shadows picked up the weird, bumpy texture of the leaves nicely, which makes it interesting.

Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash.' Probably my second favorite from this batch. Not sure why.

Dieffenbachia 'Pacific Rim.' The variegation is more impressive by reflected light, unfortunately. Though not by very much.

Canna 'Phasion.' I kinda have to say this is my favorite, because it's so over the top. And I do like it, honestly (it's also very seasonal, with the black and orange and all), but it's also a little too intense to spend much time looking at. I get, like, ringing in my eyes or something.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fun With Plant Names

At Garden Web this weekend, someone asked a question about the difference between Monstera deliciosa and split-leaf philodendrons. I answered and said that there wasn't a difference, that both names referred to the same plant, which led to a long chain of posts which culminated in the realization that people sometimes also call Philodendron bipinnatifidum "split-leaf philodendron," which does kind of make sense, since its leaves are split, and it is a Philodendron, and that was the source of the confusion, though there are multiple Monsteras and multiple Philodendrons, and also plants that are called Philodendrons, which makes it all a little more complicated than that.

In the process of realizing this, at one point, I was going to write a list of which plants were which, and how to distinguish the similarly-named plants from one another, but it got wicked complicated really fast, so I decided it would be more appropriate as a blog post than as a post to Garden Web, both because it was going to wind up being long and because it might actually have been entertaining -- since stuff posted to GW is legally property of GW (or so the terms of service insists), I try not to throw away good material on GW if I can use it at PATSP. And so here we are instead.

First, there is the plant Monstera deliciosa, which started the whole mess and is called "split-leaf philodendron" or "swiss cheese plant," though it is not a Philodendron in the botanical sense. It is not made of swiss cheese, either, incidentally.

Monstera deliciosa.

There's a second, much less common "swiss cheese plant," sometimes called "swiss cheese philodendron," which is also a Monstera, but a different one, Monstera adansonii (sometimes Monstera obliqua). It is not a Philodendron or made of swiss cheese either.

Monstera adansonii.

There's also a second "split-leaf philodendron," Philodendron bipinnatifidum, which actually is a real Philodendron, though the common name it usually goes by is "tree philodendron." It is probably better known as Philodendron selloum, though I'm pretty sure Philodendron bipinnatifidum is the current correct name.

A not-great photo of a Philodendron bipinnatifidum.

Most of the problem with the above group, and the reason why it all got so confusing, is that the botanical name Philodendron has become part of the common name of plants which are not Philodendrons botanically. This is a situation that's not incredibly common, though I can think of other examples.1 So that's the whole "split-leaf philodendron" thing.

(As a side note: I have a terrible time writing anything about Philodendron bipinnatifidum, which is going to make the upcoming Philodendron bipinnatifidum profile that much more difficult, because I get it mixed up with the plant Philodendron bipennifolium, a vining plant with a similar botanical name. Its common name is "horse-head philodendron," because apparently when you take lots of psychoactive drugs and then squint at it until your eyes are almost closed, the leaves kind of look like horses' heads. I don't see it personally, but that's what I am told.)

I think this is/was (I don't have it anymore) a Philodendron bipennifolium, though I was never positive about that. There's also a "fiddle-leaf philodendron," which looks a lot like this but is allegedly different. It might be that this is a fiddle-leaf instead of a horse-head, or that fiddle-leaf and horse-head both refer to the same plant, or any number of other screwy things. Let's try to focus, though.

But the Monstera-Philodendron crowd is not the most confusing such group. Misleading common names are all over the place.2 And when both the botanical and common names are involved at the same time, trying to straighten out what's what can become nightmarishly complex. Witness the steaming hot mess that is the word "pothos:"

There is a plant commonly known as "pothos," which has the botanical designation Epipremnum aureum. lists as synonyms Epipremnum pinnatum, Philodendron nechodomii, Pothos aureus, Scindapsus aureus, and Scindapsus pinnatus.

Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen.'

Epipremnum aureum is very similar to another fairly commonly-sold plant, Philodendron hederaceum, to the point where a lot of people call Epipremnums "philodendrons" as more or less a common name. (This irritated me enough that I wrote a post specifically about how to tell them apart.)

Philodendron hederaceum.

There is also an actual genus, containing several species, by the botanical name of Pothos. I could not locate a usable picture of an actual Pothos-pothos. (The single non-usable picture I could find is of Pothos longipes and doesn't do much to illustrate the plant.)

Last is Scindapsus pictus, which is usually given the common name of "satin pothos," "silk pothos," or "silver pothos." Worse, Exotic Angel, pulling a fourth genus out of their asses just to ruin my life,3 sells Scindapsus pictus under the fake botanical name Philodendron 'Silver.'

Scindapsus pictus.

If you spend enough time thinking about what the above all means, it can develop a sort of Laurel-and-Hardy Abbott-and-Costello, "Who's-on-first?" sort of quality. So see if you can keep this straight:

  • If somebody says Epipremnum aureum, they almost always mean "pothos," not Pothos.
  • Scindapsus pictus means "silver pothos" or "satin pothos" but not Pothos or "pothos."
  • "Pothos" generally denotes Epipremnum aureum but can on occasion also mean Scindapsus pictus, and virtually never means Pothos.
  • Pothos could mean Pothos, but more likely means "pothos," or "satin pothos," which are actually Epipremnum aureum and Scindapsus pictus, respectively.
  • "Satin pothos" means Scindapsus pictus, but not "pothos" or Pothos.
  • "Philodendron," in the context of viney-type plants, usually means Philodendron hederaceum, but on occasion can refer to other Philodendron species, Epipremnum aureum, or even Scindapsus pictus, when Exotic Angel is involved.
  • Epipremnum pinnatum is "pothos" (or, to a few people, "philodendron") but not Pothos or Philodendron.
  • Philodendron nechodomii likewise means "pothos," which is Epipremnum, or "philodendron," but not Philodendron or Pothos.
  • Pothos aureus is a Pothos that actually refers to "pothos" (Epipremnum aureum) instead of Pothos.
  • Scindapsus aureus and Scindapsus pinnatus likewise mean "pothos" and Epipremnum, not Scindapsus.
  • Philodendron 'Silver' means Scindapsus pictus, and "silver pothos," but not Philodendron, or Pothos, though I suppose a case could be made for "philodendron" or "pothos."
I tried doing a Venn diagram for all this but gave up when it became clear that the diagram would have to be six-dimensional. And then I started smoking again. And started shooting heroin.

Just kidding. I didn't really start smoking again. (Smoking is bad for you!)

And that, kids, is why it's a good idea not to pay too much attention to common names. Or botanical names either, possibly. We should maybe just name them all "pothos" (since clearly the name "pothos" has a head start) and call it a day.


1 Other examples of botanical names bleeding into the common names of a different genus:
  • One occasionally sees references to "cordyline dracaenas," on availability lists or whatever, which are usually Cordyline australis. Cordyline australis more typically goes by the common name of "spikes," or "cabbage palms," though they are not cabbage, palms, or even related to cabbage or palms.
  • There is also the strange case of the "night-blooming cereus," which sometimes actually is a Cereus (generally Cereus peruvianus), but seems to refer just as often to night-blooming cacti of the Epiphyllum, Selenicereus, or Hylocereus families.
  • Then there are a few thoughtful plants that incorporate a genus name in their common name but at least give you clues that they're not really of that genus, like for example "false agave" (Furcraea foetida) and "false aralia" (Schefflera elegantissima).
  • But not all pretend aralias are so honest: the "dinner plate aralia" and "balfour aralia" are Polyscias balfouriana, the "ming aralia" and "parsley aralia" are Polyscias fruticosa, the "snowflake aralia" is Trevisia palmata, and the "Japanese aralia" is Fatsia japonica. Actual Aralias do exist, but are not usually kept as houseplants.
  • One of the worst offenders has to be the common "geranium," which is actually Pelargonium x hortorum.
  • "Nephthytis" is Syngonium podophyllum, not Nephthytis. (I am particularly bothered by this one, for reasons I cannot articulate.)
  • "Florist's cinerarias" are Pericallis.
  • "Florist's gloxinias" actually were Gloxinia at one time, but are now Sinningia.

2 A very few:
  • Neither Screw pines (Pandanus spp.) nor Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are actual pines (Pinus spp.).
  • Madagascar palms (Pachypodium spp.), Ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata), and sago palms (Cycas spp.) are not palms (Arecaceae), either.
  • Pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is not a cactus (Cactaceae).
  • Corn plants (Dracaena fragrans) aren't corn plants (Zea mays).
  • Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) is not related to jasmine (Jasminum spp.), nor are Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda), night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides) or crape jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata). Most of these are not related to one another, either. On the plus side, apparently wherever you are in the world, you get a plant to call "jasmine," which is nice. Or at least very egalitarian.
  • Asparagus ferns (Asparagus spp.) are not ferns (Pteridophyta).
  • Strawberry begonias (Saxifraga stolonifera) are neither Begonias nor strawberries (Fragaria spp.).
  • Neither African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha cvv.) nor Persian violets (Exacum affine) are violets (Viola spp.)
  • Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum cvv.) are neither lilies (Liliaceae) nor especially peaceful.
  • "Lucky bamboo" (Dracaena sanderiana) is not even close to bamboo (the Bambuseae tribe of the Poaceae).

3 It is perhaps the case that Exotic Angel plants has only a single, large, collective ass they pull wrong names out of, as opposed to each employee having to pull names out of his/r individual ass. If I knew someone who worked there I could ask them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Propagate Begonias From Leaf Sections

So. You want to propagate a Begonia, eh? Well, here's how to get a ton of plants (and I do mean a ton) from a couple leaves.

You will need:

1 clear plastic clamshell container of cookies, donut holes, or other delicious baked goods (yes, it is critical to the success of the propagation that the baked goods be delicious. Anything with frosting is good.)
1 pair of scissors
1 Begonia you wish to propagate, or at least a couple leaves from someone else's (who you asked permission from first, of course, as you are not a thief)
1 assistant (optional)
1 small piece of stiff, flat plastic or metal (e.g. a plant tag, credit card, etc.)
dishwashing liquid

Step 1: Open the container of baked goods and eat them. If you can't finish them on your own, ask your assistant to help. A previously-emptied container can be used, of course, but it's not really in the spirit of things. Remember: this is one of the most legitimate-sounding excuses you're ever going to have to buy donuts, so you'd be a fool not to take it. ("But honey, I need the container for the Begonias I want to propagate.")

Step 2: When the baked goods have all been eaten and you feel the sugar buzz beginning to come on, wash out the inside of the container with dishwashing liquid and warm water. (This is also a good step to delegate to an assistant while you eat the last two of whatever they are.)

Step 3: Fill one side of the container about half-full of vermiculite. Add enough water to completely soak the vermiculite. Drain off any excess. You want it all to be completely wet, but you don't want any standing water, either.

Step 4: Get the leaves you want to propagate. If you're taking them off of your own plant, try to get a leaf which is old enough to be fully-developed, but not so old that it's been damaged or discolored.

Step 5: Use the scissors to cut a circle out of the leaf around the petiole. It doesn't have to be huge; an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter is plenty.

Step 6 (optional): Cut away any jagged edges from around the outside edge of the leaf. You don't necessarily have to do this, but it can make the leaf pieces a little easier to work with and a little more uniform in size, and it can also give you a few extra leaf sections later on.

Step 7: This is probably the trickiest step, which is unfortunate, since by now the sugar buzz is probably beginning to fade. Cut the leaves into sections between the main veins of each leaf, so that each section has a main vein at its center. These larger veins are where the new plant will originate. If you cut pieces off the margin of the leaf in step 6, you can cut a few wedges out of the margins as well, again with a primary vein at the center of the wedge. (In the picture below, the five-sided wedges on the right were taken from the margins of the original leaves; the more triangular wedges on the left came from the inner part of the leaves next to the petiole.)

Step 8: Use your stiff piece of plastic or metal to slice a number of evenly-spaced slices into your wet vermiculite. If the vermiculite is runny and the slices close back up after making them, drain off some more water and try again.

Step 9: Insert the leaf wedges, narrow end down, into the slices you've made in the vermiculite. You can also take the original petiole, with its circular bit of leaf, and plant it in the vermiculite as well, though I didn't. (No particular reason. It may be that I forgot that that was an option, or that the sugar buzz was long gone by this point and I was just trying to hurry through the rest of the process.)

Step 10: Put the top back on the container and set the container in a warm, bright location. Ideally you want about 80F/27C, but this still works if it's cooler than that. I don't necessarily recommend a spot that gets direct sun (too much sun can get too hot for the leaf sections), but it is not actually the end of the world if there's a little direct sun, particularly if it's filtered through a sheer curtain or other plants or something. The leaf sections in this example did get a small amount of direct sun.

Step 11: Wait. I started the leaf sections in this example in late July and saw the first new growth in late September. By mid-October, four of the 22 had sprouted leaves. None of the sections have died.

The main hazard with doing this is rot, which is why I used vermiculite instead of soil -- vermiculite is sterile, or at least really ought to be, and as long as the container is closed most of the time, the chances of a pathogen getting in are pretty minimal.

Another, worse option is to use regular potting soil, but sterilize it by pouring boiling water into it. The disadvantages with this are: you can't pour boiling water into one of these clamshells without melting the plastic, you can't stick leaf sections into hot soil until it's cooled down, and the sterilization may or may not be complete, or may be undone by something landing on the soil while it's cooling down.

Plants can be left in the clamshell for quite a while without a problem, but I would pull them out and pot them up once they get big enough to touch the lid of the container, or have three or four leaves, whichever happens first. For best results, try to ease them into regular life gradually, by propping the lid open slightly, then a little more, and so forth over a period of a few days: otherwise the change in humidity will hit them all at once and they'll suffer for it (it will probably not kill them, but they won't like it).

This method may not work on all Begonias: I've personally only tried it with the variety you see here, though it's supposed to work for all rexes, angel-wings, and other varieties with large leaves. Plants with small leaves are more easily propagated by leaf cuttings: cut off a leaf with a petiole and plant the end of the petiole into your rooting medium (sterilized soil, vermiculite, or whatever). Cane-type plants are more commonly propagated through regular old stem cuttings.

Each leaf section you plant is capable of producing more than one new individual. My experience has been that two or three is fairly typical, and actually, so long as the medium remains sterile, rumor is that one can remove the new baby plants from the leaf wedges and then put the wedges back in to root a second or even third time. In theory, then, the two leaves I started out with here could be turned into approximately 150 new plants. (It'd be okay with me if things didn't go that well, though. I don't even like Begonias particularly.)

So don't ever complain that you don't have enough Begonias to take care of. Nobody will believe it, they'll just think you're begging for free Begonias in a weird passive-aggressive way, or they'll think you're really stupid.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear "wholesale nurseries" and "wholesale perennials,"

Stop spamming my blog. You are wasting your time. I don't actually care so much if you want to waste your time, but you are also wasting my time, and this is starting to piss me off. I will delete all of your comments as soon as I see them. I don't even click on them first! Or read them very closely!

Also, in case it had escaped your notice because you were too busy spamming to read any of the posts you were commenting on, this blog is primarily about houseplants, so information about how to select perennials or plant trees is not really even all that relevant to what's going on here. So you're wasting your time even more than the usual degree of time-wastage entailed by comment-spamming a blog.

Is this really how you want to be spending your life, leaving unwanted comments on blogs you don't even have time to read, that will be deleted within hours? Life is short! Get outside! Breathe the air, write a haiku, watch a squirrel, listen to the laughter of children, tell someone you love them, organize your kitchen colanders by size. Seize the damn day already. Just stop crapping all over my blog.

Thank you,


Pretty picture: Tillandsia cyanea flowers

I really like Tillandsia cyanea as a houseplant, though I bought mine post-flowering (for cheap, from the grocery where I was working at the time: this was a long time ago) and have not been able to get it to reflower. Not that I've been trying very hard, but still, it would be nice.

I haven't tried very hard in part because if I'd wanted to see one in bloom, all I usually had to do was go to work (the above is a picture from last week, of a plant where I used to work). They were a fairly solid seller, when flowering. After flowering, not so much, though we did keep one around long enough to flower a second time (and then it sold).

I would have sworn, in fact, that the re-bloom came from the same rosette of foliage that flowered the first time, though that's not what's supposed to happen: according to the Internet, the original plant, the one that flowered, dies back while offsetting, like for every other bromeliad.

The thing is, though, that I think this may not be true for the Tillandsia genus, because not only did it look like the one at work rebloomed from the same spot and never died back, but my plant at home never died back either. I also don't remember any of the "air plant" Tillandsias at work dying back, though the plants at work usually didn't stay around long enough to be watched.

Perhaps there's something about me makes bromeliads really want to live -- I have a Aechmea fasciata from November 2006 (35 months ago) which is still alive and producing pups, even though the conventional wisdom is that bromeliads die within 9-12 months of flowering -- but I suspect not.

Hà Xuân would know, I bet. She has an incredible and gigantic T. cyanea that bloomed a few weeks ago, which has clearly been around for a while and would surely have died back a couple times by now, if dying back after blooming is something they actually do. I've left a question in comments on her blog a couple days ago, so maybe I'll find out soonish.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Snow! (?!)

Well this was unexpected. Yes, the forecast from the National Weather Service had occasionally included a chance of snow over the weekend, but the days when the snow was supposed to appear kept changing, and sometimes they weren't predicting any at all, and it seemed very early, still, for snow to be happening (there often isn't any at all until mid-November), so I wasn't taking this all that seriously. But it snowed for a couple hours here anyway, Saturday morning, and it was coming down hard enough for some of that time that we actually had some accumulation.

It had all melted off a few hours later, but still. Not only very early-seeming (I have no idea whether it's early statistically), but also an awful lot, for a first snow.

Last winter and the winter before were both exceptionally snowy years around Iowa City: I couldn't track down any specific information about it, but 2007-08 was at least the third-snowiest winter on record. I wouldn't object, personally, if this were to happen again (I know a lot of people would, though.), except for one thing: we must not lose electricity this winter. Extended periods without electricity and large tropical plant collections do not go well together. Not to mention Nina.

The husband and I have talked about getting a kerosene heater and/or a generator; both seem like pretty good ideas to me, but I don't know if we can afford either. (Also kerosene heaters are hard to find now? Apparently?) There does need to be a plan of some kind, though. A long spell of temperatures below 60F/16C would kill about a third to a half of my collection, and if it went below 50F/10C for a long time, I might lose three-quarters. This should not be allowed to happen.