Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

I was told a couple weeks ago that some of Dad's side of the family (though not Dad himself) had recently rented a local campgrounds for a week-long family get-together. They're more scattered around the country than they used to be, which has made organizing family events more difficult, though they used to do this all the time. Some families in this situation might give up on getting together for holidays, or scale back and only try to get everyone together for Christmas or something, but this group has just moved all the major holidays so they fall within a single week, instead. So on one day, they stayed up until midnight (for New Year's Eve); on another day they trick-or-treated (Halloween), there was a big turkey dinner one night (Thanksgiving), they hunted for colored eggs one morning (Easter), they had sparklers and firecrackers (4th of July), and they exchanged presents (Christmas). I may be forgetting some holidays.

This strikes me as being a really good idea, though since I'm related to all of these people I suppose I may not be genetically objective. But still. It's fun, it's festive, you get to buy all the same holiday paraphernalia, but you can do it when everything's heavily discounted, making it thrifty, and it's less of a disruption to everybody's lives because you only have to go through it once a year. What's not to like?

None of this has anything to do with Sheba or Nina or any of that, but I thought of it because of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and then it seemed like something you'd be interested in, so there you go.

On to Sheba news. We've been taking her outside, unleashed, since Wednesday: the in-laws brought a Chuckit! for Sheba when they visited a couple weeks ago, which even if it's just a very large plastic stick with a ball-holding pocket at one end, it lets me fling the ball way further than I would otherwise be able to, and this means Sheba gets more time to run and chase it. Which she appears to like.

The back yard is incompletely fenced, and there were concerns that maybe she would run away if we let her out without a leash, which is why we hadn't done so before this week. But then the in-laws brought the Chuckit!, which we can't really use in the house, so I just explained things to Sheba before the first time on Wednesday, how if she ran away then everything would be bad. She didn't say okay, but she licked my hand, which looked enough like comprehension and agreement that I figured it was worth a try. And it's worked fine. Not only does she not run away, she seems a lot clearer on the retrieve-and-relinquish concept outdoors than she ever was indoors, so I don't have to chase her down, wrestle her to the ground, and pry her mouth open to get the tennis ball back. (Not that I was doing that before. I'm being colorful.)

Normally, we would be due for a Nina photo, but as I've just spent a couple paragraphs on Sheba, it seems more appropriate to go with Sheba this time. We'll get Nina her photo next week.

Waiting for me to throw the ball.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Video: "Desperate Houseplants" (Sesame Street)

I think the one on the right is some kind of caudex-forming succulent, maybe a Pachypodium or Adenium or something. The one on the left looks like nothing I've ever seen. (Via the blog Houseplants.)

Bonus video: Olivia teaches Big Bird about the slow growth rate of Peperomia obtusifolia.

Spotted in Iowa City: Dracaena

Thursday, July 1, 2010

PATSP Learning Moment: Cycas

About a month ago, I took the Cycas revoluta off the shelf to water and it was doing this:

My guess is that it's a nutrient deficiency, probably of iron, magnesium, or nitrogen. I did spray it with an iron-containing trace-nutrient spray, and the parts that were still green appeared to have gotten greener. That doesn't necessarily mean that the iron fixed the problem (it's at least as likely that I misremembered how pale it had been before the iron), but that's my guess. I'm looking for 1) confirmation on the diagnosis, and 2) someone to tell me whether or not the yellowed parts will turn green again, ever (I'm assuming not).

This kind of nutrient deficiency is, of course, made more likely to happen by the way I water my plants. I flush with fairly large amounts of water at each watering, because that keeps salts from building up in the soil. A lot of my plants are sensitive to such salts, and this keeps them happy. Happier. Unfortunately, flushing out the soil to remove unwanted minerals winds up being the same thing as flushing out the soil to remove necessary trace nutrients too. This yellowing is a fairly rare phenomenon for me, because usually I repot things before mineral depletion becomes an issue, and also I add fertilizers to replace the minerals I leach out. But it's still happened a few times (Strelitzia nicolai and I have been through this more than once, for example). Usually I have more advance warning, though: the Cycas bleached out pretty much overnight.

The plant appears to be growing another set of leaves, though it's happening so slowly that I'm not positive, and it's maybe not getting enough light, too, in which case the leaves (should they actually come in) will be grotesque, big, pale things anyway. I didn't really mind until it changed colors on me, but if I'm honest with myself, this whole Cycas attempt really hasn't been going that well.

Meanwhile, I spent part of yesterday fixing up and publishing two posts, one about guest posts and product reviews (because I am occasionally asked), and the other a master list of every plant I've attempted to grow indoors in the last four or five years, and how that's been going, as of May 24, 2010. The latter is pretty dull, but it's there if anyone is curious. Links to both pages are located directly under the Caladium-themed header above. They will be joined by the Infrequently Asked Questions, as soon as I get around to doing that.

Also, I want to wish my Canadian readers a merry and festive Canada Day. May Celine Dion come down your chimney and bring you all the Nanaimo bars, Atom Egoyan DVDs (I really like The Sweet Hereafter, actually), and hockey sticks you asked for.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

List: Houseplants With Large, Broad Leaves

This is a particularly fun category for me to contemplate, because I really like plants with big honking leaves. Always have. So for this list, I went around the house and measured the biggest leaves on some of my plants, to see how everything measured up. Because it was fun.1

Some explanations and disclaimers:

The plants listed with photos below are plants I personally own, along with the measurements of the largest leaves from each. The photos are old ones, some of which were taken a long time before I measured the plants this week, and consequently may or may not show leaves the size I'm talking about.

Some of the plants in the "not pictured" list can produce considerably larger leaves than the ones with photos. Some of the plants that have photos are capable of much larger leaves than my personal plants have given me: they're not under ideal tropical conditions like they would prefer, and it stunts them a bit.

Anthurium "hookeri"2 (27 x 9.5 in / 69 x 24 cm) This is more of a cry for help than anything else; I suspect the large leaves are the plant's way of telling me that it would like more light than it's receiving. However, a big leaf is a big leaf, and this definitely counts. The biggest leaf on this plant is the second largest leaf in the house (measured as leaf length times leaf width).

Anthurium andraeanum cvv. (some cvv.) (10.5 x 6 in / 27 x 15.5 cm) I've seen larger on greenhouse-grown (or Florida-grown) plants, but this is still pretty good, for plants that have been indoors for a long time. Look for plants with heart-shaped leaves and flowers; they tend to be larger than the varieties with more elliptical or lens-shaped leaves.

Asplundia 'Jungle Drum' (21 x 12 in / 53 x 30 cm) This plant gets third place at the moment, for biggest leaves in the house, though each new leaf seems to be larger than the one before, so I think it may have the ability to get first place eventually. I've seen few photos of a mature Asplundia, so I'm not sure what this is capable of.

Cordyline fruticosa (18.5 x 4.5 in / 47 x 11.5 cm) The plant in the photo has had some tough times since. It's had spider mites pretty bad (it seems to have them all the time), and then this spring it started to drop a lot of leaves for no obvious reason. I've moved it outside, and it seems to be getting better, but the new leaves are still not coming in quite as big as they used to. Most varieties will produce very large leaves, though a few will not.

Dieffenbachia cvv. (16.5 x 8.5 in / 42 x 22 cm) The photo is of 'Tropic Rain,' though in the house at the moment, 'Tropic Snow' is actually the Dieffenbachia with the largest leaf -- it's only half a centimeter longer than 'Tropic Rain,' but it's 4.5 cm wider. Both big, though.

Ficus lyrata (10.5 x 7 in / 26.5 x 17.5 cm) Ten and a half inches long is not really even close to the full big-leaf potential of Ficus lyrata, but it's the best mine is doing at the moment. Compared to, like, a Peperomia or something, that's still plenty huge.

Monstera deliciosa (12 x 9.5 in / 31 x 24 cm) My plain green Monstera has never really lived up to its potential, which I don't entirely understand, but 'Cheesecake' is pretty impressive already, and this isn't even close to the maximum possible leaf size. (For an idea about the maximum possible size, see this post at Life Among the Leaves.)

Philodendron 'Spicy Dog' (15.5 x 9.5 in / 40 x 24 cm) It remains to be seen how well 'Spicy Dog' is going to work indoors -- some Philodendrons like me a lot, and some don't -- but it's certainly got big leaves. And so far, it's behaving quite well, so I'm hopeful that there will be bigger leaves than this eventually.

Spathiphyllum cvv. (some cvv.) (20.5 x 8.5 in / 52 x 21 cm) This is probably quite a ways short of the plant's potential. We got a Spathiphyllum in at work once that was a good five feet tall. The leaves had to have been at least 30 inches (76 cm) long. I took a picture, but it didn't turn out well.

Strelitzia nicolai (20.5 x 13 in / 52 x 33 cm) In the house right now, Strelitzia nicolai has the single largest leaf, and 20.5 inches is actually nowhere near the plant's potential. If you want a plant with big leaves, this is your guy right here.

Honorable mentions:
Some compound leaves may still be very large, even if the individual leaflets never get huge. If my Schefflera actinophylla's leaves were solid, instead of divided into leaflets, it would actually beat Strelitzia nicolai in total leaf area. Tetrastigma voinierianum would also be competitive under those circumstances.

I also left out Philodendron bipinnatifidum, Radermachera sinica, Nephrolepis exaltata, Polyscias fruticosa, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, and palms (like Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, or Chamaedorea cataractum), because although the leaves on all of these can become very large, they're also divided.3 Therefore, they look and function more like a large number of small, narrow leaves than they do like single large, broad leaves, even if they are, botanically speaking, single leaves with a lot of surface area. I'm looking at this list more from an interior-decorating angle than a botanical, what-technically-qualifies-as-a-leaf one, because I'm assuming that anybody searching for a list like this on-line is going to be more interested in the look than the botany.

Selenicereus chrysocardium is capable of producing very large stem segments, big enough that, again, were they actual leaves, and solid, my Selenicereus would outrank every plant on the above list in leaf area except for Strelitzia nicolai. However, they're not actual leaves, and they're not solid, so Selenicereus doesn't make the list.

Now, recommendations. The three plants from the above list that I think give the best balance between having huge leaves and easy care would be Spathiphyllum, Asplundia, and Strelitzia. Strelitzia does need good, bright light to do well, though. Asplundia tend to be sold as small plants (I've seen them in 4" and 6" pots here), and take some time to develop the truly huge leaves I'm talking about, but mine has only been in my care for three years, and even though it was tiny when I got it, it's a monster now. So it's not that long of a wait, really. Not all Spathiphyllum varieties are capable of getting to be large; the varieties 'Mauna Loa' and 'Sensation' are the two most common huge varieties. I don't know which I have, but I believe the five-foot one I talked about earlier was 'Sensation.'

For the anti-recommend, I'll go with Anthurium "hookeri." Not that hard to keep alive, but the huge leaves tear easily, and it just looks funny, having the new leaves come in huge like that, when the older leaves are darker, thicker, tougher, and smaller. If I really loved it and wanted it to be happy, I'd let it summer outside. Though it'd just burn. And then the wind would rip the leaves to pieces. So maybe it's more loving to keep it inside. I don't even know anymore.

Not pictured:

Aglaonema cvv.: the leaves tend not to be as big as some on the list, but they'll produce them even in fairly crappy conditions. 'Emerald Bay,' 'Brilliant,' 'Gold Dust,' and 'Silverado' are all potentially quite large.
Alocasia 'Frydek:' it's not easy to grow Alocasias indoors, but 'Frydek' has good-sized leaves when it's happy.
Alocasia amazonica 'Polly:' same as above.
Alocasia melo: I don't know for sure if this one even can be grown indoors, but the leaves are wicked cool.
Anthurium crystallinum 'Mehani:' dry air and/or soil will cause tears and gaps in developing leaves. Doable, but somewhat difficult.
Some Begonia species produce large leaves, though difficulty varies a lot from one variety to the next.
Calathea ornata, roseo-picta, rotundifolia, etc.: Calatheas are demanding, but they're gorgeous plants, with large, oval leaves.
Chamaedorea metallica: As for Aglaonema, the leaves are not huge huge, but they're bigger than average, and the plants are easy to grow.
Codiaeum variegatum: Leaf size varies a lot with the cultivar and the conditions in which it's being grown, but there are some varieties out there with respectably large leaves. Also not the easiest plant for indoors.
Colocasia cvv.: As with Alocasia, they're not easy, though certain Colocasia are capable of monstrous leaves.
Epipremnum aureum: I debated whether to add this species. They're capable of growing very large, Monstera-like leaves, if in warm, humid conditions and given something to climb. This is fairly difficult to pull off in the home, though, and plants being grown indoors year-round, even if they have large, split leaves when purchased, will usually revert to small, juvenile leaves inside. This is not to say it can't be done, just that you should probably not buy one with the idea that it's going to give you big huge split leaves eventually.
Eucharis grandiflora: I'm not sure what I think about these as indoor plants -- my plant and I have gone through good and bad spells -- but the leaves can get large in good conditions, and people can grow them indoors quite successfully. (See e.g. this post at Our Little Acre.)
Ficus elastica: A pretty obvious, but solid, option. Plants will grow larger leaves if they're not getting as much light as they'd like.
Homalomena 'Perma Press:' These plants get enormous, but the leaves stay in proportion to the rest of the plant, at least. I have a small one that's currently having a growth spurt, which has been fairly unproblematic as long as I didn't let it dry out.
Homalomena 'Selby:' Similar in size and shape to some of the medium-sized Dieffenbachias. They're terrifying if allowed to get too dry, which makes them not a good plant to grow if you're prone to panic,4 but if you can keep up with the watering, it might be okay.
Musa spp. (and Ensete spp.): Ornamental bananas are hard indoors -- they don't handle dry soil or air well, and they're (in my experience) very prone to spider mites too. They're also one of the few plants that can compete with Colocasia and Strelitzia on leaf size.
Phalaenopsis cvv.: As with Epipremnum, Phalaenopsis can sometimes have very large leaves when you first buy them, but a plant being grown indoors, unless your whole life is going to revolve around it or you have a perfect outdoor spot for it during the summer, is not likely to get huge. Not that huge is really the point with Phalaenopsis.
Philodendron 'Autumn,' 'Moonlight,' 'Prince of Orange:' Leaf size in Philodendrons has a lot to do with conditions. They're easy to keep alive, but if you want big leaves, you need to provide warm, humid conditions and a lot of light.
Philodendron 'Congo Green,' 'Congo Red:' as for 'Autumn.' 'Congo Green' strongly resembles a young Strelitzia nicolai but doesn't get anywhere near as big when mature.
Philodendron 'Florida Beauty:' I've never had one of these, but want one. I would guess that the situation is basically the same as for 'Autumn.'
Philodendron 'Imperial Green,' 'Imperial Red:' as for 'Autumn,' but, like, a lot more so.
Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald:' as for 'Autumn.'
Philodendron gloriosum: The leaves on my plant have been fairly decently-sized the whole time I've had it, though if I went back and looked at the pictures again, I would probably find that the leaves are smaller than they used to be. Still, it's not as drastic of a difference as for some of the other Philodendron species on the list. It's also more susceptible to spider mites, and has sort of an annoying growth habit.5
Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Kong' series ('Kong Mosaic,' 'Kong Rose,' etc.): I've pretty much given up on trying to keep coleus of any kind going indoors, but it can be done if you really, really want to.
Strelitzia reginae never grows leaves as big as S. nicolai, but they're still substantial.

I'm sure I've left things out, so hit me with any suggestions that come to mind.


1 (I have very low standards for "fun.")
2 I call it Anthurium "hookeri" because it was sold to me as A. hookeri, but almost certainly isn't: "hookeri" is a common name for Anthurium hybrids of unknown origin. Since it's the only name I have for the plant, I still use it, but "hookeri" is most likely wrong, and it's not a cultivar name either, therefore double quote marks.
3 Philodendron 'Spicy Dog,' which I suspect of being a cultivar of P. bipinnatifidum, is allowed on the list because its leaves aren't pinnate like bipinnatifidum's are.
4 And possibly not a great plant even if you aren't -- I've never seen an old 'Selby,' and I have to wonder why that is.
5 It looks like it would be a climber, but Philodendron gloriosum is actually a crawler. It doesn't produce enough leaves to be good in a hanging basket, and it's hard to repot. The thick, inflexible stems basically hit the edge of the pot and make a right angle straight downward, which means that if you want to repot one, you pretty much have to cut all the stems back in order to do it. I've been waiting for the courage to do this to my plant for a good year or more now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pretty picture: Pleurothallis truncata

Occasionally, with the orchids, one is moved to ask what is the point. I mean, I guess the color's nice, if you can see it.

Google tells me that the species lives high in the mountains of Columbia and Ecuador, and prefers cooler temperatures and lots of moisture. Presumably the pollinators at those altitudes are so hard up for flowers that they have no standards, hence the tiny orange things here.

The above is, in any case, about as pretty as the pictures get. In the googling, I found a few photos that were maybe more dramatic, or more professional-looking, but the flowers themselves pretty much always look like this.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Question for the Hive Mind: Schlumbergera

It's bad enough that one of my Schlumbergeras (the pink one) has decided to disintegrate completely, following what was apparently a badly-timed repotting (though the peach/salmon one was repotted at the same time, and seems really happy about the repotting, putting out new growth for the first time in forever), but 'Caribbean Dancer' isn't looking so good either, all of a sudden:

Prior to this, I had no idea that Schlumbergeras even could look water-soaked like this, much less water-soaked and . . . lumpy?

To the best of my knowledge, nothing in the plant's life had changed. I was watering the same way, and at the same times, the temperature range was as close to the same as is possible in the house, it had not been repotted, it hadn't been moved, it hadn't been sprayed with anything, it hadn't been handled or spoken to in a harsh manner. And yet. The afflicted portions of the plant are all on the same side of the plant, which suggests that it's not random, but beyond that, I have no idea. Anybody have any guesses?

Incidentally, Schlumbergera cvv. won the vote during the hiatus, so it will be the next plant profile (UPDATE: Profile has been written and can be found here.), with Aloe vera and Ficus elastica following, in that order. I have no idea how long this will take to do, but regular readers will know not to hold their breath.

(UPDATE: I had to postpone the Ficus elastica profile for several months, but it has now been written.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Walkaway: Codiaeum variegatum 'Revolutions'

I am having a serious headache right now (Saturday night), for the second night in a row. Consequently, I have to phone it in today. On the plus side, the internet situation appears to be resolved, so if I ever do have a night where I don't have a headache, I should be able to write and save posts again. That should be a welcome change from writing posts but not being able to save them because the internet has vanished.

Anyway. This is a Codiaeum variegatum that I hadn't seen before. I wasn't even remotely tempted to buy it, because, you know, it's a Codiaeum variegatum, and also I think it's kind of ugly (if only the people coming up with these new croton varieties could be persuaded to use their powers for good, rather than evil!), but it's certainly different.

My first reaction, upon seeing it, was . . . well, actually, my first reaction would have been I have to get a picture of that for the blog! But my second reaction was to imagine how hard it would be to get spider mites off of one, with all those half-folded leaves for them to take shelter in. Or mealybugs either, as far as it goes. No, thank you.