Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday morning Nina picture

Hide and Seek.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cactus Blindness: Its Causes and Treatment

It's time to admit my shameful secret: I have cactus blindness.

Cactus blindness is one of a number of widespread horticultural learning deficiencies (HLD), resembling (and often overlapping with) other HLDs like fern blindness, shrub blindness (I am also considerably shrub-blind, by the way), and palm blindness. Afflicted individuals are easily able to learn and recall names of different cactus species, but are unable to visually distinguish cacti well enough to apply the names accurately to plant specimens.

Ferocactus latispinus? Not particularly confident, but I didn't see much that was particularly close. Flat, yellow, curved spines don't happen a lot. UPDATE: There appears to be consensus that this is in fact Ferocactus latispinus.

Many causes have been proposed for HLDs, ranging from the socioeconomic (lack of exposure to, or accurate identification of, enough plant species in childhood) to the organic (HLDs sometimes occur following stroke or brain injury in previously unaffected individuals). Though below-average intelligence and sensory impairment may also lead to the inability to distinguish cactus species from one another, persons with these conditions are specifically excluded from the DSM-IV definition of cactus blindness, as they lead to much broader difficulties.

Cactus blindness is also distinct from the condition called cactus alexia: in the latter, species are easily distinguished, but the patient experiences great difficulty in learning the names that go with the plants.

I originally suspected this of being a Pachycereus pringlei, and then for some reason decided that it couldn't be, so I switched to Carnegiea gigantea. Carnegiea is fairly common in cultivation (easy to grow from seed), but it's also incredibly slow-growing, which means that it should cost more than these did. So now I'm leaning back toward Pachycereus pringlei. UPDATE: Could go either way, but the smart money appears to be on Carnegiea gigantea.

I bring this up first of all because of Karen715's brave admission a couple weeks ago that she, too, suffers from cactus blindness. Her courage has given me the strength to admit that I, too, find it extremely difficult to identify many of the specimens I encounter. (It is my hope that we can start a support group or something.)

Stenocereus thurberi. Not particularly certain about this, but it does match: newest spines are dark and become lighter, plus the dark areoles -- if it isn't Stenocactus thurberi, it's something that's fairly indistinguishable from it. Also I kind of want this now. UPDATE: Does in fact appear to be Stenocereus thurberi. Yay me.

Secondly, I recently went back to my former workplace and photographed a few cacti there (bought a couple, too, alas), thinking I could identify them easily and then use the photos for yearbook pictures, and I think I even actually did, with great difficulty and the assistance of the photos at, identify a couple of them. However, some of them continued to stump me, either because none of the 1257 species represented at looked like the plant in question, or because far too many of them did for me to be able to pick one. (Some of the more questionable photos I took are decorating this post; I welcome any ID verifications or suggestions anybody wants to throw at me.)

Pachycereus marginatus. I'm just, you know, damn positive that I've got a P. marginatus this time. I had previously reported buying a P. marginatus, which for some reason I really really wanted, but I now think that that plant is probably an Isolatocereus dumortieri instead. So now I have this, which I really think probably is a Pachycereus marginatus. UPDATE: Experts agree.

Treatment of cactus blindness typically falls into one of three types. In conventional cactus blindness therapy (CCBT), CB sufferers are encouraged, with the aid of worksheets, photographs, and (when possible) actual cactus specimens, to describe plants in minute detail, with the aim of training the individual to notice the small distinctions between species. This is essentially the training of afflicted individuals to become cactus taxonomists, and while it has a high success rate (about 80% of subjects will become able to identify at least 100 cactus species with at least 70% accuracy), it also takes a considerable amount of time, and requires the assistance of a qualified trainer at all times. Consequently, it is very expensive, and CCBT-certified trainers may not be found in all areas, though cases are known of people who have taught themselves to overcome cactus blindness through informal CCBT-like methods.

Was tagged as "Lemaireocerous." They probably meant Lemaireocereus, though that still doesn't help, since the genus is now obsolete, and the species in it were distributed across five or six other genera. None of the pictures within those genera at resemble this as far as I'm concerned, and of course we have no real guarantee that Lemaireocereus was the right ID to begin with. UPDATE: I lean toward the suggestion of Browningia hertlingiana (see comments).

The other treatment approach is known as wholistic cactus blindness therapy, or WCBT. WCBT de-emphasizes verbalization of the distinctions between species and instead focuses its efforts on the subconscious: subjects are presented, repeatedly, with randomized pairs of photos or specimens of cacti, and asked to identify whether they are the same species or different species. This, it is said, trains the mind to identify the relevant details which distinguish one species from another, without the tedious completion of worksheets as in CCBT. WCBT is also easily adapted to computer software, making it considerably more affordable and accessible than other therapies. Critics of WCBT point out that it does little to link the image of a particular cactus species to a species name, and is therefore not particularly useful in fostering cactus-related communication. Many WCBT trainers have responded to this charge by adding an additional four-week program to the end of a course of WCBT specifically for the purpose of linking names to the now-mentally-distinct species in the subject's mind.

NOID cactus #2. Lots of stuff looks sort of like this, but the arrangement of the spines (short ones pointing up, left, and right, plus a long one pointing down) seems like it's trying very hard to mean something. I couldn't find a match, and wasted a really ridiculous amount of time trying. UPDATE: I kind of lean toward Mammillaria winterae, though to be safe I think I'll just go with "Mammillaria sp."

Incremental cactus blindness therapy (ICBT), the newest of the CB therapies to gain acceptance, focuses on learning the distinguishing characteristics of only the most commonly-sold or -observed cacti, and those with the most distinctive appearances (e.g. Astrophytum myriostigma, which is fairly hard to confuse with anything else), slowly expanding the pool of one's knowledge only once the initial easy group have been mastered. Its largest advantage over the other methods is that it is more immediately useful than either CCBT or WCBT, enabling the subject to identify several commonly-encountered cactus species after the very first therapeutic session. ICBT is also somewhat adaptable to computer software and requires considerably less of a therapist than CCBT, making it less expensive and easily available. The main disadvantage of ICBT is that accidental exposure to unknown cactus species can result in the mental assignment of mistaken identities, which are frequently difficult to unlearn later on. ICBT also has a rather steep learning curve, which subjects often find discouraging, leading to a dropout rate more than double that of CCBT or WCBT.

To the best of my knowledge, the above therapies have not been attempted with other varieties of HLDs.

NOID cactus #1. This one makes me kind of crazy: I see it for sale all the time, so you'd think it would be easy to find out what it is, but no. I found plenty of approximate visual matches at, but nothing I could be positive about. UPDATE: Appears to be Parodia leninghausii.

Personally, I'm working a combination of CCBT and ICBT, on my own, with only the internet to guide me, and if I manage to learn anything I'll let you know. Meanwhile, perhaps we should be looking for some available church basements, or setting up a dedicated CB blog, or something. Who's in?

Mammillaria spinosissima. I'm actually pretty confident about this ID; the coloration is pretty distinctive, and I know it's a fairly popular species ("red-headed Irishman cactus"). (UPDATE: Experts agree.) This is one of the two I went ahead and purchased.

UPDATE: Enormous thanks to Daiv Freeman, Peter Breslin, erin, and CelticRose, for their help and suggestions on the NOIDs in this post, and confirmations on the ones I thought I had right.

Totally skippable political correctness disclaimer and commentary:

I'm not trying to imply that actual learning disabilities aren't real or shouldn't be taken seriously. They of course are, and should. The targets of ridicule here are more the non-disabled people who patronizingly claim every little obstacle's defeat as being inspiring and courageous than for the people who actually have the disabilities, people who try to make unchosen conditions into something shameful, and my own very real difficulty in distinguishing cacti from one another.

Sometimes overcoming disability / adversity / tragedy actually is courageous, of course, but sometimes one never really gets a choice about whether or not to overcome, and in any case it's kind of a weird thing to take someone who has an unusual life situation and single them out as being even more unusual by waxing poetic about their courage and whatever.

As far as it goes, I also don't mean to suggest that the blind are more disabled than others, by using the word "blindness" as part of the term for my made-up condition. It seemed like a better metaphor than, say, deafness, because people generally look at cacti a lot more than they listen to them.

As I have alluded to before, I don't want PATSP to be accidentally offensive to anybody, of whatever age, gender identity, sexual orientation, degree of disability, country of origin or residence, race, mental illness, etc. I want as much of the offensiveness as possible to be on purpose. At the same time, pretty much any reference to certain of these topics is going to be offensive to somebody, however it's phrased, because minority communities don't ever necessarily agree unanimously on PC language, reclaiming slurs, etc. (There's not even total agreement on whether "the disabled" exist as a group, or, if they do, exactly who belongs in it.) So I figure my choices are to never mention these people at all, effectively "disappearing" minority groups into nonexistence, or mention and try to make clear that I'm doing the best I can not to piss people off through my own privilege as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered, American male. (I've been noticing lately that I tend to assume my readers are U.S. or Canadian residents, in a way which probably marginalizes readers from other countries, and have been trying to think of ways to make that happen less often.) I do actually try to think about these things. Sometimes I don't think hard enough.

If I have expressed myself in a particularly inelegant or ignorant way on the matter, please let me know.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Really, really new plant:

Plant Daddy presents an Aglaonema that's so new, I don't even have one yet.

I will, though. Oh yes, it will be mine.

Behold: Aglaonema 'Key Lime.'

Random plant event: Gynura aurantiaca flower buds

This is hardly news; it's been happening forever. Though it's kind of news that it's been happening forever: I didn't expect the Gynuras to keep trying to bloom like this.

In any case: it's a good idea to try to keep up with the plants, pulling buds off as you see them. I wouldn't ordinarily bother with pinching them off: even when I know that it's not good for the plants in the long run, I'm reluctant to mess with them doing what they're naturally inclined to do. But these flowers stink. It's not terrible if there's just a couple of them, but if a bunch of flowers are open at once, you wind up with a strong body odor / vomit / feet / rancid butter kind of smell. (Picture of fully-opened flowers at this post.)

So I pinch. I figured this picture was kind of interestingly dramatic, or maybe I'm just overly impressed when the pictures are in focus, so I thought I'd post it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pretty picture: Hippeastrum NOID

I think this may be the first Hippeastrum picture I've posted here, in the two years I've been doing this. I don't have an explanation for the omission exactly, though I'm sure part of it is that any blooming Hippeastrums while I was working in the greenhouse tended not to stick around long enough to be photographed. Plus, Hippeastrum season coincides with poinsettia season, and I tended to be more focused on the points because there were a lot more of them, and they were more needy.

I'm particularly stricken (struck? strucken?) by the range in bulb prices for amaryllis. The ones where I used to work start very high (I forget if it was $17, $19, or $21, but whichever it was, that's a lot for a bulb), and get insane (the one in the picture is $31 -- though that includes a fairly nice pot). On the other hand, you can buy some at Lowe's for a fraction of that (I didn't actually price them this year, but my memory from previous years is that they were running about $4-6). They can't really vary that much in quality, can they?

I suppose one of these years I will have to do this; I know enough indoor gardeners who like them (including, but not limited to, Karen715) that I figure there must be something worthwhile there. Perhaps if I can find some on clearance or something.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Question for the Hive Mind: Cordyline fruticosa 'Kiwi'

The last time I watered everything, I noticed this, and I'm wondering if anybody could explain it. If I didn't know anything about the plant's history, I'd suspect fluoride damage, but A) I do flush the soil pretty heavily at every watering, B) I don't use a fertilizer containing fluoride, or at least I don't think I do, C) it seems weird to me that it's only on just the two leaves, instead of the whole plant.

I guess I'm mostly concerned that this is from cold (although I think the temperature in the plant room has stayed above 60F/16C, I'm not positive about that) or chemicals (the process of putting a bathtub in the plant room is ongoing; every step appears to require some kind of solvent or adhesive or whatever). It's also only just the two leaves you can see in the picture, which makes me think it's probably something other than fluoride (which I figure would affect all the leaves). But I'm not sure. Anybody seen anything like this before, or happen to know whether Cordylines are sensitive to chemicals?

In other news, as I write this (Sunday morning), we've got a major snowstorm predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday. More or less a blizzard, in fact, if the National Weather Service is to be believed (and I usually do). Winds 30-50 miles per hour, something like 6-12 inches of snow, adjectives like "historic" and "dangerous," warnings of widespread power outages, etc. I wasn't under the impression that twelve inches of snow from a single system was necessarily enough to shut down civilization entirely, but it's also probably more than I've seen out of a single storm for several years, so I could be wrong.

We're ready for it, in any case. Getting the generator ready to go, cancelling Wednesday appointments in Iowa City, etc. I just hope that the storm actually is as bad as all that, because if we go out of our way to prepare for it, then it really kind of owes it to us to be hardcore. It's happened before that I've gotten all excited because we were about to have weather, and then when it actually arrives, it's not exciting at all, and I get all disappointed. (This happens to me, for example, about five to ten times every tornado season.) So if we're going to do this, let's do this.

I mention all this partly because it's interesting (isn't it?) and partly because I want to have an explanation up in case I'm suddenly unable to respond to e-mails and blog comments on Tuesday/Wednesday. I mean, odds are it won't come to that, but if it does, just know that if our generator is working, then I'm probably having a good time. If it's stopped working, then I'm having a completely miserable time. Either way, I have posts written ahead through Thursday or Friday, so PATSP, like my heart, will go on, whatever the weather does.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Random plant event: Ardisia elliptica berries

These are from my ex-job, though my personal plant at home has also produced a small cluster of about five berries. The plant at home is behind the one at work by at least a few weeks, though, so its berries are still white or very light pink.

The plant at work has been around forever; I don't think it was there when I started working there (now over two years ago), but it must surely have started not long after that. Originally we got maybe four individual plants, in 4-inch pots, and those were moved up into 6-inch, where they lived happily for a long time before finally beginning to bloom last July. At some point between July and December, the three remaining 6-inch pots were potted together into one big one, which is the plant in the photo.

I'm actually really shocked that this hasn't sold yet; they have a pretty inexpensive price on it (inexpensive relatively speaking, at least), it's full and bushy, the new growth is coming in red, and now there are the decorative-seeming pink and black berries. It seems like it would be appealing to customers. (I'm half tempted to buy it myself, actually, even though I already have one.) But you know how customers can be, pearls before swine, and all that.

If it doesn't wind up selling, it'll be interesting to watch their development: I have no idea how long it takes Ardisia elliptica to produce berries, nor, for that matter, what one is supposed to do with the berries once they appear, or whether the plant continues to produce them, or etc. Hopefully, between the one at work and the one at home, I'll be able to figure something out. It might be fun, raising Ardisia elliptica from seed.

Why is this not a more popular houseplant? Ardisia crenata, too, for that matter. I don't get it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pretty pictures: Anthurium andraeanum NOID; also, Personal-ish: funeral. But not in that order.

Terribly distracted as I write this (late Saturday night), because I just talked to Dad about the funeral mentioned previously, and it actually sounds like it was pretty traumatic for all present. Dad actually said it was the hardest funeral he'd ever gone to. (Technically, he said "probably the hardest:" I come by my tendency to hedge and qualify statements genetically, it would appear.) I consider myself extremely lucky both for not having to go and for not having to make the decision about whether or not to go.

Dad also, somewhat against my will, gave me details about the death and subsequent events that make it considerably more horrible and painful. Based on what Dad had to say, there's at least one, and probably two, horrible and painful aftershocks yet to come, either of which would be plenty bad on its own.

I know this is all really vague: it's vague on purpose. Privacy reasons, mostly. Also it's not really any of your business, however much I kinda want to talk about it. And I do!

You really don't want to know the details anyway, I promise. I sure as hell didn't.

Or, I mean, I did, being curious and all, but I can't say I'm happy to have gotten the details I got. This really is no way to run a universe. (I'm reminded of Glory's line in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "No Place Like Home:" I could crap a better existence than this.)


I'm having some trouble focusing, and am, in any case, not really in the mood for plants at the moment. Monday will be better. Here are some Anthurium flowers.