Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

(During Nina's brief exile from the terrarium, while I cleaned it)

Sort of a futuristic look for Nina today, just because I can. It's not clear whether she's accepted the new arrangement of plants just yet, but I've already gotten an unexpected bonus from the change, in that I can now see her most of the time when I look in. For a while there, I really couldn't tell whether she was moving around or not, because whenever I looked in, it was always the same: Stromanthe covering everything, and no visible Nina unless I scanned everything carefully for twenty minutes.

We're also about to change things up again, relatively soon. I found and bought one of the small-leaved white Fittonias like I've been looking for for the terrarium, at the ex-job last Sunday:1 thinking back, I guess I was aware that they had them, but they were just cuttings on one of the back tables, it seemed like they'd been there a long time, and didn't look like they were doing all that well, so I wasn't expecting them to ever be for sale.

But last Sunday the Fittonias were out for sale, finally, and I bought one. But! Then when I brought it home, I first sprayed it with neem oil. I've been doing this with all the new acquisitions lately, just in case.2

. . . And then I realized that I'd just sprayed an insect-killing substance on a plant that I was planning to enclose with a bunch of crickets. Who are insects, whatever you may have heard, and do sometimes chew on the plants.

So I'm waiting. Google tells me that the half-life3 of the active component, azadirachtin, is roughly 2.5 to 4 days, depending on the conditions, so I'm figuring that at least 95% of it should be gone by August 1, two weeks after the first application.4 Or I'll just wait until the plant no longer smells like neem. Probably both. And then she'll have her Fittonia and maybe will no longer be emotionally scarred.


1 Ginny Burton had offered to send me one in the comments to last week's Sheba/Nina picture post, but this wound up not working out. Which is fine, because clearly Nina is destined to get one anyway.
2 I can't prove that it's helping, but I figure if I got a plant home and then saw bugs of some kind on it, spraying with neem is what I'd do. So it should work just as well to spray the plants if I don't see bugs on them, right? And odds are that some of the plants I've gotten recently have bugs, just by the First Law of Retail Greenhouses, so surely this must have helped me at some point or another.
3 The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of a given substance to turn into some other substance. The half-life of the radioactive carbon isotope carbon-14, for example, is 5730 years. What this means is that if you have 100 grams of carbon-14, set it aside in a box for 5730 years, and then come back and check it again, you'll find you now have 50 grams of carbon-14 and 50 grams of nitrogen-14. Check again after another 5730 years and you'll have 25 grams of C-14 and 75 grams of N-14. And so on. With radioactivity, this is absolute: C-14 always turns to N-14 that fast, whether it's hot, cold, exposed to sunlight, or whatever. You can't make it faster; you can't make it slower. This reliability is the basis for carbon-dating.
With chemical compounds things are not always as mathematically tidy, but the basic idea still applies: if you're given 100 milligrams of a drug that has a 2-hour half-life in the body, then we'd expect only 50 milligrams to be left two hours after taking the drug, then 25 mg after four hours, 12.5 mg after six hours, and so forth.
4 The math is approximate, and it's entirely possible that the stuff breaks down a lot faster than this. It probably doesn't have to be 95% gone anyway; I'm just trying to be careful. Yes, I want the crickets to die, but only if they do so in a way that benefits Nina.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Graffiti: Rock and Roll

Just west of Riverside, IA:

What I like best about this one, I think, is the thoughtfulness of using (electrician's?) tape on the sign instead of the harder-to-remove markers or paint.

Iowa: home to gay marriage and considerate vandals. (Massachusetts, eat your heart out.)

Pretty picture: Asclepias tuberosa

I really like this plant, and at some point during the late winter or early spring, I bought seeds of it, with the idea that I could plant them somewhere in the back yard and then enjoy them forever. That didn't happen, due to dithering about where and how a back yard garden would be constructed, which regular readers already know because they got to read some of the dithering.

View full-size by opening in another window and see the fly (?) peeking out of the mass of flowers. It's really quite adorable, if you're the sort of person who can find flies adorable.

I'm assuming that it's probably too late, now, to do anything with the seeds, and even if it weren't, the back yard plans change frequently: I wouldn't know where to put them. Also "plans" is a charitable way of putting it: it's more like I have vague, mutually exclusive intentions about where to put certain plants. So oh well. It's not like the world is going to run out of seeds, and failing that, lots of places around here sell the grown plants. Whatever. Consider this post my announcement of intent to have one or more Asclepias tuberosas planted somewhere on property I own at some point in the future.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Random plant event: Glycine max flowers

I'm finding it very difficult to organize the information I've collected for the Schlumbergera profile, so that's going to take a little longer than what I'd originally said. And frankly, the original deadline (yesterday) was pretty optimistic to begin with.

So is the new deadline (next Wednesday).

(UPDATE: It's finished.)

Meanwhile, did you know that soybean plants have flowers? They do! The flowers, like Ryan Seacrest, are small, pinkish, and not very interesting, but one can at least see why soybeans are classified in the pea family (Fabaceae), and get some sense of how the plant works.

The most surprising thing about this particular event is that I'd never seen it before. Living in Iowa, you'd think it would have come up before, but somehow (possibly due to my finding corn waaaaaaay more interesting than soybeans) I missed it.

I wouldn't have seen it this year, except that the field that begins where our back yard ends is planted in soybeans this year, instead of corn like last year. (I liked the corn better: more picturesque. Though the soy is looking a little better now that they've filled in a bit.)

This last photo is really big, should you want to open it in a separate window and see all the gory details.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pretty pictures: Alcea NOID

I had an entirely different post planned for today, but technical difficulties prevent me from sharing it. Specifically, Firefox has been intermittently freaking out because my version of Adobe Flash Player is out of date and (paraphrasing:) going to make my computer catch fire and explode, so it sends me to a site to download the new version of Adobe Flash Player. Which I then dutifully download, giving my approval and permission where necessary.

And then AFP eats up all the memory in my computer for half an hour, does nothing, and eventually tells me that the file fails an integrity test or something, and then continues to hold all the computer's memory hostage for a few more minutes just to piss me off. After an hour in which I've been unable to do anything at all with the computer but also unable to go anywhere else, to do anything else, because who knows when AFP might let go and let me have the computer again, AFP finally relinquishes control and I can use my computer more or less normally again, except that I'm now an hour behind where I wanted to be, and in my hurry to catch back up, I do stupid things like accidentally double-clicking on something, opening 27 windows of Irfanview, and then slow myself down even more.

Since all of the prior AFP download attempts have failed (there have been about five or six, at random intervals over the last few weeks, and they all go like this), what this means is that at some point a few days or weeks from now, Firefox is going to be all like ZOMG YOUR GOING TO DIE UNLESS U DOWNLOAD THE LATEST VERSION OF ADOBE FLASH PLAYER!!!!1!11!11!!, and then we'll go through this whole thing again, and nothing will happen.

There should be more hollyhock pictures than just these two, but there was some problem I no longer remember with the other ones. (These are a few weeks old, from before it got too hot to walk with Sheba.) So: you'll look at the hollyhock pictures, and you'll like them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The One About Plant Theft

Sheba and I stopped to admire and photograph this Zantedeschia outside an insurance office in town when the agent inside saw us and came out to say hi. We'd met her before, on a walk, so this was cool. I explained my presence as being because of the Zantedeschia, and she said something to the effect of, yeah, we used to have two pots this size, both with callas in them, but somebody stole one of them so now there's just this one.

The Zantedeschia in question.

Oh. Well it's a very nice wait a minute did you say somebody stole one?

Yup. The theory was that it may have been someone in town for a funeral (there's a funeral home right across the street from the insurance office), because it didn't seem plausible to her that someone who lived in town would do this. I mean, it's a small place: someone would know.

Well, maybe. But it wouldn't surprise me if it were someone in town.

This is not the first such story I've heard from around here. One of the people I worked with at the garden center sold daylilies and hostas (among, possibly, other things) from her home as a side business, and on multiple occasions in 2008, she came home to find plants missing. It was a specific weird number, too, every time, like she came home and found she had 31 fewer plants than before. Presumably whoever was taking them could only fit 31 in their car/pickup/whatever. It was really upsetting her. It kind of upset me to hear about it.

Hemerocallis fulva, I think. Hers were probably much nicer than this.

For readers who are commencing a knee-jerk reaction about how this happened because of whatever your particular theory about What's Wrong With the Kids of Today is (people today don't respect their elders; they think everything's a video game; it's all been downhill since the Supreme Court took prayer out of schools; schools don't teach the subjunctive mood anymore, etc.), catch that knee. This has been going on for generations. People suck now, because people used to suck in the olden days:

A Chicago Daily Tribune article from June 1876 bemoaned a crime wave at a city park: "Rare plants and flowers were ruthlessly dug up from the hot-beds and other places, and the old gardener grew greatly annoyed, and scarcely knew how to catch the thieves," the paper reported. Even after a police stakeout, 10 "splendid geraniums" went missing.

In 1901, Hyde Park was up in arms over bandits who snipped blooms from bushes, and in 1909 six newly planted trees were illegally "wrenched from the soil" near Armour School. "People of the neighborhood are incensed over the latest depredation," the Daily Tribune reported.
(Source: Chicago Tribune)

Sadly, the more serious thefts are apparently usually the work of people who resell them to unscrupulous (I don't want to say "shady") landscapers, or at least that's the explanation I've seen on-line. Which makes sense: I can't imagine any real gardener taking plants from another gardener's yard without permission. And it would really only pay to steal large numbers of plants if you could "launder" them somehow. I mean, if someone plants 500 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies in their yard, three days after all the Stellas within a 30-mile radius disappeared, you know, people would figure it out.

But even if the problem is mostly organized theft for resale, that's not what happened here with the Zantedeschia. I mean, there was a matching plant right there next to it, and they didn't take that one. Sometimes people are just greedy, or lazy, or impulsive.

I suspect this is going to happen more often, as the economy gets more dire. I can't think of any particularly good ways of preventing it, either.

Pilea nummulariifolia. Keep reading to find out why this picture is here.

There's also the issue of sneaky theft: the people who leave the whole plant, in more or less the same condition, but take leaves, seeds, offsets, or whatever without asking anybody first. That's a whole different thing, and if you want to see a bunch of people all get really self-righteous and angry with one another about where to draw those lines, this thread at Garden Web will make your day. Though remember to un-roll your eyes regularly. Whatever side you're on, you're going to want to do some eye-rolling.

Personally? I'm not pure as the driven snow on this one. I do believe it's wrong to take leaves / seeds / offsets without asking, whether it's a big box store, a mom-and-pop nursery, someone's personal garden, whatever. But I've still done it. Possibly this makes me a hypocrite; I prefer to think of it as just error-prone.

I've also realized while writing this that I've conveniently forgotten some instances: when I started, I could only remember the three-inch Pilea nummulariifolia (CLARIFICATION: Normally "three-inch Pilea" would mean a whole plant in a three-inch pot; what I actually took was a single cutting about three inches long. Doesn't make it more moral, but just to clarify your mental image.) I took from a big box store. (Plant is wildly successful; I feel seriously guilty.) Then I remembered the Zamioculcas leaflets from the floor of a mom-and-pop. (Plants are moderately successful; I feel no guilt at all but still should have asked.) Then I remembered the Kalanchoe plantlet from a different mom-and-pop. (Plant was a total failure; I feel moderately guilty.) It's possible there are others.

I would have been mad, if I'd seen someone take these same things from the garden center when I worked there. I wouldn't walk into a bakery and take a bite out of a donut and then walk out without paying; I'm not sure why the situation seems different when it's a plant involved. Some of the people in the Garden Web trainwreck tried to defend it by saying stuff like well, you know, the plant was almost completely dead already, I was just saving some offsets that would have been thrown in the trash. To me, that sounds a lot like "but I took it at 5:30 PM, and the donut was going to be thrown out at 6 PM; therefore it's not stealing because shut up that's why."

So I dunno. I'm not looking for a confessional here, and I'm really not interested in everybody doing a lot of posturing about their personal moral code. We're all good people here (Well, except you there, in the back: you're kind of horrific.); we don't have to prove goodness to one another or convince everybody else that we're the most moralest, bestest person ever.

What interests me is that last question. Why would plants feel like an exception to the general don't-take-it-if-it's-not-yours rule, enough so that people would be at Garden Web defending something that is, at least technically, stealing? (Even, in some cases, arguing that they're practically doing the place a favor by taking stuff -- stuff which clearly has value to someone, because it has value to the person doing the arguing -- without paying for it?) I'm curious. What is it about plants? Or is it specific to plants?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Random plant event: trade plants rooting, growing

Still waiting to see anything new above ground from the Selenicereus cuttings I started last spring, but the Epiphyllum cutting I received by trade in mid-May is suddenly sprouting all over. (Perhaps the Selenicereus would prefer to have an actual potting mix of some kind, instead of just the vermiculite? I'm pretty sure there are roots in there. Maybe I should do that. . . .)

Epiphyllums are not the tidiest, most manageable plants out there, so I'm a little concerned about how big and how fast it will grow, but it's always gratifying to see plants doing stuff they're supposed to be doing. Particularly since they so often, you know, don't.

Meanwhile, I received some Ficus elastica cuttings by a different trade, at around the same time. It was originally a single long cutting, which I cut in half and stuck both parts in perlite. I've been watering approximately once a week (not very consistent about it), and they're in the basement, which is cool, but humid and bright, thanks to the artificial lights.

The original, baseline photo of the cuttings, immediately after they were put in the perlite.

These, too, have been zipping right along: a couple weeks ago I noticed I had roots growing out the bottom of the pot already.

I had always sort of had the impression that it was hard to get Ficus cuttings to root, mainly because when I tried rooting them in regular potting mix at work, the majority keeled over and died within a week or two. I also tried vermiculite once, with a work-pruning of Ficus microcarpa 'Green Island' that I brought home, and that failed in a big hurry. I don't know whether that was the fault of the vermiculite, the species, the variety, the no-drainage plastic cup I put it in, the amount of time it had to sit out before I brought it home, or what. Whatever the case, perlite seems to be very effective when it comes to Ficus, and makes the whole process very easy. Go Team Perlite!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Walkaways Part 10

Okay, well. As promised when I posted about my newer plants last Wednesday, these are the plants I didn't buy. As a group, they're probably more interesting than the ones I actually bought, but I have my reasons for not buying them.

The first three, two succulents and a cactus which happened to get my attention, were at Lowe's.

Euphorbia polygona cv. 'Snowflake.'

I would have bought this in a heartbeat, but for the fact that all of the Euphorbias with this kind of "corn-cobby"1 habit I've ever bought (specifically: E. anoplia, E. enopla, E. horrida var. noorsveldensis) have gotten etiolated2 really easily, and seem to be considerably worse about it than the larger-growing columnar species (e.g. E. pseudocactus, E. ammak, E. grandicornis). Though I love the look of the plant and would like to have one, I don't really want to buy one just to watch it slowly turn grotesque and unhealthy.

Kalanchoe eriophylla.

According to the tag, K. eriophylla is similar to K. tomentosa (panda plant) except for being more of a low, trailing plant. Which I don't mind trailing plants, but the genus Kalanchoe and I have a long history together which has not been satisfactory to either party, and K. tomentosa and I in particular aren't good together. And it's not like it's ever really going to be beautiful, right? Only fuzzy.

I mean, not that beautiful is a requirement, but it's nice to be able to think it's a possibility.

Melocactus azureus.

I just liked this one. I'm not sure why I didn't buy it; it may be that I thought I had too many bluish cacti at home already (Pilosocereus pachycladus, Cereus peruvianus, the one that may or may not be Browningia hertlingiana, Leuchtenbergia principis). Kind of regretting the choice, now that I re-examine the picture.

Next up, plants I didn't buy at the ex-job:

Begonia 'Soli-Mutata.'

I maybe should have asked for some leaf cuttings, to take home and propagate. I couldn't have afforded the whole plant, but I'm reasonably confident in my ability to start new plants from leaves, which is way cheaper.

Begonias and I don't get along amazingly well, but it might have been worth a try. The texture on those leaves is pretty cool.

Selaginella flabellata.

No spikemosses or clubmosses ever, at least not in an extra-terrarial sense. This one isn't even especially pretty, though it kind of looks like a piece of arborvitae (Thuja spp.) or something, which is interesting. The common name, according to the tag, was "cypress fern," which pleases me, because it's another instance of a common name where all parts of the name are technically wrong. It's not a fern, it's not a cypress.

Zygonisia Cynosure 'Blue Birds.'

I don't normally include orchids in the walkaway posts, both because orchids usually get their own posts and because they usually don't count as walkaways: most of the time, they're far enough out of my price range that I can't ever even be especially tempted.

I wasn't especially tempted by this one either, although: I'm told that this was the only plant from the most recent shipment of stuff that WCW purchased, I haven't seen it before, or even anything terribly similar (Zygonisia is a cross between Aganisia and Zygopetalum, and I've seen Zygoneria, which is a cross between Neogardneria and Zygopetalum. So I can say I've seen a relative, maybe.), and the pot was small (4" / 10 cm), which briefly gave me hope that it might be more affordable. (Sadly, no: $35.)

That said, I took more pictures than just the above, so as long as we're here anyway, we may as well stop and look at them:

Okay. Now on to Wallace's, in Bettendorf, IA.

Pilea microphylla 'Pink.'

When I first saw this, I thought it was kind of neat. It's at least something I'd never seen before, and hadn't even imagined, so points there. And it was cheap ($5), and belongs to a genus I generally find congenial.

But then there's the part where it's, you know, kind of ugly. While I was looking around, at one point a mother and son (who looked about 10-13) came by, and the mother was talking to someone on the phone. She told the son to hurry up and pick something out for his grandmother so they could go, and then she went back to talking on her cell phone. He started reaching for this plant, which she noticed. She stopped her conversation long enough to tell him, in a what's-wrong-with-you tone, Not that one! What are you thinking? That looks half dead.

I couldn't help it. I laughed. She was right! It looks way better close up than it does from a distance, and despite the name, it's more sort of an ivory than a pink. Maybe for a small terrarium, though.

Aglaonema 'Cutlass.'

This was a serious temptation. Not that I don't already have a lot of Aglaonemas, but I like the look of this. They had a couple other Aglaonema varieties that I hadn't seen before ('Juliette' and 'Mystic Marble'), which were both sort of like what you'd get if you averaged 'Maria' and 'Jubilee:' just your basic Aglaonema with medium sized, elliptical leaves patterned in dark green and silver. Technically I hadn't seen them before, but I'd still seen them before, you know? 'Cutlass' I like, though: I've seen a few Ags with long, narrow leaves, but nothing this extreme. Perhaps we'll run into one another again someday.

Adiantum sp.

Not a serious temptation -- what am I, crazy? -- but I thought the Adiantum was worth noting. As far as I can remember, this is the first one I've seen for sale anywhere in, literally, years. I miss things, and forget things, so maybe I've missed or forgotten a maidenhair fern here or there too, but still. You don't see Adiantum around. This is maybe because as soon as someone ships them here, they wither, brown, and turn to dust. Just guessing.

Anyway. What about yourself? Anything cool you've passed up lately? Or anything dull, even: we don't judge, here at PATSP.3


1 (Not a particularly good word, but the best I could come up with.)
2 Etiolated: describes plants with thin, stretched-looking, and pale new growth, caused by insufficient light. Though they may produce normal-sized new growth if moved to a better location, the old growth won't bulk up to match.
3 Not technically true, but tell me anyway. I'll be nice.