Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Fall Hiatus is almost upon us, and I'm hoping to post the Aloe vera profile before that happens, ideally on Sunday. (UPDATE: Done!) So minimal commentary today. Neither Nina nor Sheba had a very exciting week, though it's looking like Nina will be getting a new place fairly soon.

The fish in the basement aquarium aren't doing well; I don't know why, but I suspect it probably has something to do with the changes to the basement since the flood a month and a half ago. I'm not going to start treating them worse in the hopes that they'll die, but sooner or later they will anyway, and when they're all gone, I'm going to clean out the tank and give it to Nina, rather than replace the fish. It's not a huge step up, but it'll be a little roomier in every direction, and I can maybe use some taller plants. The Vriesea she's sitting on in the photo is all she has to climb right now, and it's getting a little ratty. It'd be nice to give her something a little taller. Don't know what it would be yet, but it'll have to be able to roll with erratic watering and not get too tall too quickly, which limits the options.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Graffiti: [redacted]

[Post removed on the grounds that it's dumb of me to involve myself in high school love triangles period, in particular the high school love triangles of kids I don't even know. Apologies to those who left comments.]

Pretty pictures: Ampelopsis brevipedunculata

I know porcelain berry vine is an invasive. I know it's irresponsible to plant it. I'm not advocating planting it. I'm not planting it personally. I don't want one. I know it's probably even borderline irresponsible to admire it publicly.

But come on. These berries are damned pretty. So many colors!

I'd noticed the plant before, but a few days ago was the first time I noticed that it wasn't the same thing as grapevines. Why I ever thought it was a Vitis in the first place, I don't know -- the leaf shapes are hardly similar -- but you know how it is. You pass a plant eight thousand times, notice nothing about it, and then on the eight thousand and first you're all like, hey, what's a grapevine doing with oak-shaped leaves like this?

Anyway. The obvious tip-off that it wasn't a grape? The berries. Teal/turquoise is a rare color outdoors here, and it jumps out at me when I see it.

It makes me very sad that Ampelopsis tends to spread out of control and take over ecosystems and all that. It apparently also attracts Japanese beetles, which isn't endearing either. Although the leaf shape is interesting, it's not that pretty when not fruiting, either. But. Slightly iridescent fruits in white, green, turquoise, blue, brown, and violet -- all at the same time -- is a pretty cool trick.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Exploding Salvia Elegans

At the beginning of the summer, I planted five of my Salvia elegans plants in the back yard, and four of them are doing very nicely. (No flowers yet, but apparently it's early for flowers. So I will be patient.)

The fifth plant, though, has had a patch of trouble lately, beginning with the husband "bumping" it with the lawnmower. I had some trouble understanding this when first told about it: we have a border around it that shouldn't be lawnmower-permeable. It was a heavily-improvised, non-professional border, granted, but it'd be enough to keep a person from going over it with a mower to bump the base of the plant. When questioned further, the husband said that it wasn't so much a bump, per se: a couple branches of the plant caught on the mower or something as he was going by, because it had grown over the border, and they got pulled hard enough to break off.

No big deal really. It's a big plant; you'd think it could lose a couple of branches here and there. It didn't look great, but at this point I could still tell myself well, it's a fast grower, though: maybe it'll fill in a little before it flowers.

But what actually happened was that: a few branches were broken, but didn't show the damage until a day or two later, so those came off. And then we had a few really windy/stormy days, which snapped away a few more, and then after that, one day playing fetch with Sheba in the back yard, an errant tennis ball landed a few inches from the poor plant, and Sheba exploded what was left of the plant while retrieving the ball.

At one time, there were two matching plants on either end of the garden shed. Now, well, see for yourself:

(That's Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Glennis' in the middle.)

Not so matchy anymore.

This was all quite the learning experience for me, since I really had no idea that pineapple sage was so brittle, or that the branches depended so much on one another to serve as windblocks. I mean, we've had bigger storms this summer; this plant had dealt with wind repeatedly before this. It's just that apparently once they reach a certain size, the stems get both really brittle and really good at catching the wind.

And, you know, catching dogs.

And lawnmowers.

It's probably good we don't have a lot of airplanes flying overhead here.

Nothing to be done about it at this point. It's basically toast. I was going to cut it down and turn it into a bunch of cuttings to overwinter for next year, but on Tuesday, I found that all the big Salvias in the yard, including the "bumped" one, also have whitefly (another kind of exploding that pineapple sage can do, it turns out, is producing a thick swarm of whiteflies when poked with a stick), so that's probably not happening. I have one tiny cutting that's rooting in water in the living room, which I took a while ago and looks like it will be the ancestor of next year's plants, because it's the only one I can be reasonably sure is clean.

Still, as long as the plants all burst into glorious bloom when they're supposed to (and they are beginning to bud, so this should happen soon), and we don't have any further "bumping" incidents, and I don't wind up bringing any whitefly inside with me, it'll all be worth it. Right?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


For the record, I'm kind of miffed that nobody's taken me up on the Angelonia 'Jolie' idea from earlier. (One could even, as Hermes noted, plant your Angelonia 'Jolie' in your "Brad Pit.")

But that's okay. I have others. Like for example, I want the next hot Aloe hybrids to be named 'Dolly' and/or 'Govna.' I'm sort of amazed Aloe 'Dolly,' at least, doesn't already exist. Seriously, people. This needs to happen.

And although it's not a pun particularly, I think 'Knife Pile' would be a nice name for an Agave. "Knife Pile" comes from the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator; it's what you'd get back if you didn't type anything and just hit enter. As names go, I think Agave 'Knife Pile' is both memorable and appropriate.

The name generator, incidentally, has been altered since I first saw it, and now returns "Blaster Commando" for a null entry, which would also make a good Agave name, albeit one that's a little less straightforwardly descriptive.

Pretty pictures: Solidago NOID

It's been Solidago season here for a while, but fortunately it lasts a long time, so this post is still timely.

I have fond memories of Solidago, goldenrod being one of the first plants I remember learning a name for, and particularly one occasion when I came across a small but steep slope (a hill next to a ditch, if I remember correctly) that had goldenrod growing all up and down it. Though I was less impressed with the plant than I was with the number of pollinators, as I recall.

The only thing I don't like about them is that the bright golden yellow color is fleeting, and turns very quickly to a dull crappy brown, which makes everything look that much deader and sadder. And since it's the end of the summer, things already look pretty damned dead and sad. I suppose we can't really hold the Solidago responsible for summer ending, though.

I mean, we could hold them responsible, but it would be unfair. I'm sure they're not happy about it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Unfinished business: Pandanus amaryllifolius

Okay, so -- on Friday, the husband went to one of the Asian groceries in Iowa City and this happened to catch his eye:

So he bought it and brought it home. The label isn't in English, so I don't know what it's claiming to be, exactly, but I infer it's something along the lines of pandan extract.

It's an otherworldly emerald green color, due to lots and lots of food coloring. (I can read the label well enough to recognize tartrazine, or Yellow No. 5, and brilliant blue, a.k.a. Blue No. 1.)

I haven't tasted it yet, largely due to not wanting to have an emerald green tongue, but the smell -- you may recall that smelling the smell was sort of the point all along, through this whole Pandanus amaryllifolius quest (Parts 1, 2, 3) -- more or less splits the difference between (plain white or yellow, or angel food) cake, popcorn, and fresh bread, though cake is slightly dominant. The husband's take on it was caramel corn, which either nails it or gets really close (I don't have a lot of personal experience with caramel corn). I also had a granola bar on Saturday that, when I opened the package and smelled it, was remarkably close too.

So my curiosity is more or less satisfied now, but I'm still going to have to do some actual cooking at some point, or at least (since I don't really cook so much) heat up a leaf and see what happens, to complete the whole pandan investigation.

New Plants

I guess it's that time again already. I don't feel like I've been acquiring new plants that quickly, but apparently so (mainly through trades). And the ones I'm going to talk about are just the more interesting ones: there have been others.

Also, just to explain: if you sent me the plant in question by trade or other private arrangement, I don't identify who you are in the post because I figure you may not want all of my readers knowing that you have them and pestering you for trades. Not that that would probably happen. But just, you know, for the sake of maintaining privacy, I figure it's best to let everybody decide that for themselves. If you find that you want to claim one or more of these as your own contributions to the Subjunctive Botanical Gardens in the comments, feel free.

So okay. Here we go.

Justicia scheidweileri 'Maracas.'

A couple of these plants are so new that I'd never even heard of them before, and Justicia scheidweileri (sometimes Porphyrocoma pohliana) is one of those. I only have this one because I saw one in a photo someone e-mailed me, and asked about it, and the person very generously sent me one without me even asking for it. I still don't exactly know how to take care of it, but I figure I can try default tropical plant care until I know something more specific. They're related to shrimp plants (Justicia and Pachystachys spp.).

They're apparently mildly invasive when grown outdoors; most of the comments are about their tendency to throw seedlings all over the place.

Synadenium grantii var. rubrum.

The reader will be forgiven if s/he doesn't see why this is a big deal, but I've wanted this plant forever, so I was thrilled to get a big honking cutting by trade. I cut it into four pieces (the above photo is of the topmost piece), stripped the leaves off of the bottom few inches of each piece, planted it into wet soil, and stuck it under some fluorescent lights in the basement, and all four pieces are now sprouting new growing tips. Though one of the four did defoliate first.

As the regular Synadenium grantii is a personal favorite, and has been started and restarted and restarted from a single small cutting three years ago, I fully expect to have lots of these very shortly too.

Philodendron hederaceum NOID cv.

This one jumped out at me when I saw it in the grocery store a few weeks ago; I've seen multiple types of coloration on Philodendron hederaceum, but this is the first one I've seen that was speckled. It's not especially flashy, but it was relatively cheap, and I'd never seen it before, even in photos, so I got it.

There's a tiny bit of uncertainty in my mind about whether or not it's diseased (surely if there were an actual new variety, I'd have seen it somewhere on-line before seeing it in the store, right?), but that's probably just me being paranoid about admiring any variegated plants, since the variegated Ipomoea a couple weeks ago, and the comment storm that ensued.

Cryptbergia x rubra.

Both Wikipedia and GlasshouseWorks say this plant is a cross between Cryptanthus bahianus and Billbergia nutans. I like Cryptanthus, I like Billbergia, I like intergeneric hybrids, so this was a natural to try to trade for.

Aloe 'Grassy Lassie.'

I've also gotten even more Aloes. 'Grassy Lassie' was a trade. I've seen some pictures on-line that make it look really stunning when in flower, not that I expect to see flowers indoors.

Aloe gastrolea Gasteraloe x 'Midnight.'

The remaining three two and a half Aloes all came from a new place (new to me, not new to the area), Reha Greenhouses, in Wellman, IA. They had a lot of interesting plants, tending toward succulents and old, easily-propagated passalong-type plants. A. gastrolea Gasteraloe x 'Midnight' is maybe the least interesting of the three Aloes, but its leaves do have a weird texture, and I don't have anything like it, so it got to come home with me.

Aloe x 'Pink Blush.'

'Pink Blush' is one of the Proven Winners Aloe varieties; they have twenty-two listed on their website at the moment, including also 'Grassy Lassie' and 'Fire Ranch' (which Karen715 has recently blogged about). It was sort of an obvious one to buy -- the picture doesn't show it well, but the leaf edges are pink, and it looks cool in person.

Aloe x 'Silver Ridge.'

'Silver Ridge' is also a Proven Winners plant, and although it's not as flashy as 'Pink Blush,' it's still mighty cool. Both 'Pink Blush' and 'Silver Ridge' have a very weird, sort of disturbing texture to the leaves, which is maybe easiest to see in the 'Silver Ridge' picture. Or if you can't see it there, look at the Proven Winners site. They have close-up photos of everything. (And, he noted with some disgust, no non-close-up photos of anything, or at least not the things I was interested in. Aloe 'Donnie' is still totally going on the want list, though.)

Euphorbia flanaganii var. cristata.

Euphorbia flanaganii var. cristata is the plant with the most interesting acquisition story: I got it from Cactus Jungle, as my prize for winning an identify-this-weird-object contest. Which I wasn't even sure was a real contest, at the time. (Sometimes it's hard to tell if Cactus Blog is being serious or sarcastic. Does anybody else have that problem?) Also I'd done a couple hours of Google image searching before making my guess (All you people with jobs are too busy to spend two hours Googling to win a $10 gift card, so who's the unemployed loser now, yo?), which maybe counts as cheating, but even if it does, I'm not giving the plant back.

I'd wanted one of these for a few months now; I passed some up at Lowe's a few months ago, then changed my mind and decided I wanted one after all. Unfortunately, by the time I got back, they didn't have them anymore. So I'd been trying to get one again. Cactus Jungle didn't just happen to send me a plant I really, really wanted: I sent them a list of like twenty plants, prioritized according to how badly I wanted them, and of the things they were willing to let me have, this was highest on my list. Which was sort of a roundabout way of doing it, but what would you have had me do, accept a plant chosen at random?

Anyway. So that was all very nice, and the box was well-packed and the plant was undamaged and pest-free as far as I can tell, so that was all a pleasant surprise.

Finally, Kalanchoe prolifera:

Kalanchoe prolifera stump. Yes, I know what it looks like. You do too, obviously, so let's not accuse anybody of having smutty minds. It was an accident of photography, and that's all it was.

Kalanchoe prolifera is another plant I'd never even heard of, prior to receiving it by trade. My trader sent a big section of stem, saying that basically any part of the plant (stem cuttings, isolated leaves, pieces of stem) could produce a new plant, which makes me wish I'd cut it up more first. The stump started to sprout more or less right away, from each of the nodes, but it's since changed its mind about most of those; the stump has been dying back slowly from the top, and only one node now has any growth on it.

I don't know what happens next, nor do I know whether the plant will be even remotely attractive if it does thrive.

I also don't know why there's a Kalanchoe prolifera but not a Kalanchoe prochoicera. (Are plant names really the place for taxonomists to be taking sides on abortion?)1

The pictures of K. prolifera that are out there make it look plausibly decorative, if enormous, with big, pinnate, succulent leaves. (E.g.: it's about 4/5 of the way down the page.) We'll see how it goes.


1 I know they're not. I'm being funny.
Not, you know, very funny. But still. Making the effort.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dracaena thalioides, R. I. P. Eventually

On June 8, 2009, I bought a Dracaena thalioides from my ex-job. (Posted about it here.) At the time, I was pretty excited about this, because this was the first time I'd had the chance to get one, and they're one of those plants like Pandanus veitchii that I only knew from books. Not even as many books.

And it's not an un-handsome plant. Not flashy, granted, but I've seen worse. Plus it's a Dracaena, so I was figuring that probably it'd be pretty trouble-free. It seemed like a solid investment.

Could not have been more wrong.

When I first got it, it looked like this:

Notice how green and full and lush-looking.

And then it almost immediately turned yellow, which I assumed was a nutritional problem of some kind, so at one point or another I tried everything I could think of: fertilizer with and without trace nutrients, fertilizer containing nothing but trace nutrients, epsom salts, acidifying the soil, changing the soil, etc. And nothing worked.

At the same time, it also developed a raging spider mite infestation that was, now that I think back, probably the actual reason for the yellowing -- once a plant's leaves turn yellow from spider mite damage, they're that way forever -- but I also tried everything I could think of to get rid of the mites too (neem oil, spraying soapy water on the plant and then sticking it in the shower, soapy neem, hand-wiping every individual leaf top and bottom with soapy water, spraying all the leaves top and bottom in the shower, every time I watered, etc.), and they Would. Not. Go. Away.

Plus I think the D. thalioides was serving as a spider mite reservoir for everything else in the area (mostly Dracaena reflexa 'Riki,' though I also saw them more than once on Anthurium andraeanum, which is unusual for Anthurium), which meant spreading around even more neem, more soapy water, etc.

So last week I finally gave up on the damn thing and threw it in the back yard to freeze and die. (Which hasn't happened yet: so far it's just lying on its side. The freezing will come later.) By that point, it looked like this:

Though really, it's looked like this for almost a year. I just haven't had the heart to give up on it until now.

There are sites on-line that apparently do sell D. thalioides, mostly European, and they appear to be available as landscape plants in Florida, or at least parts of Florida. And, strangely, Water Roots appears to have had one in Canada at one time, according to a photo; I don't know how that worked out for her. (Are you reading this? How's the plant now?) How anybody manages to get this to work without the spider mite populations getting so heavy that they bend the stems over, I have no idea, but D. thalioides is one plant I will not be trying again indoors.

Happily, the other four plants I bought at the same time (the Big Damn Screw Pine, Senecio macroglossus, Furcraea foetida 'Medio-Picta,' and Zingiber malaysianum) are all doing much better. The Zingiber has done so well for me that it's become one of my favorite plants, in fact. And I already knew I loved Pandanus. So just the one dud from that batch, which is not so bad.

But seriously. Worst Dracaena ever. Do not buy a Dracaena thalioides. Unless Water Roots tells you you may. And you have a really clean establishment to buy from, that offers a money-back guarantee.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Solution for PATSP Crossword #3

Question for the Hive Mind: Freaky NOID Succulent

I got an e-mail last Tuesday from a reader who requested help identifying this plant:

And I had no idea. He said that it was identified for him as a Madagascar palm, which normally means Pachypodium, but neither he nor I have been able to find any Pachypodium that looks like this.

The big, broad leaves made me think maybe Plumeria, but as far as I could find, all Plumerias have large, five-petaled flowers, so that's out.

Also, he says it has milky sap, not clear like for most of the Apocynaceae (Adenium, Pachypodium, Plumeria, Nerium, Mandevilla, etc.). And the leaves being red is not normal for the Apocynaceae either.

My theory as of last Thursday is Monadenium spectabilis (sometimes spectabile), though that doesn't fit the facts perfectly either. But:

Monadenium have been reassigned to the genus Euphorbia by some taxonomists, which would go along with the plant having milky sap.

According to, Monadeniums tend to be green, but turn red in bright light. Which works.

Wikipedia had one photo of a Monadenium (M. spectabilis, as it happened) that had brownish fuzzy-looking things along the stem, like the mystery plant, though in the picture the fuzzy things were on distinct little bumps along the stem, instead of being in smooth lines like on the mystery plant. But that could maybe be cultural or photographic differences. And Pachypodiums don't do anything at all like that, so.

Monadenium and Pachypodium can be close enough that at least one person in the Google Image Search results has a Pachypodium labeled as a Monadenium. Not a lot of a stretch to think that the mislabeling could go both ways, which would explain why it was originally identified as a Madagascar palm. (The search results for "monadenium," by the way, also include a couple photos from PATSP, of a plant I believed to be a Monadenium. It eventually turned out to be Euphorbia drupifera.)

I found one photo of M. spectabilis on that had a narrow base that turned woody at the bottom, like the mystery plant.

The broad, flat leaves aren't much of a problem, though I didn't see any Monadeniums with leaves as big as the mystery plant's, so there's still some uncertainty.

The flowers remain unexplained by the M. spectabilis theory as well: all the Monadenium photos I found looked very different from those on the mystery plant, and the M. spectablilis flowers specifically were all on long, reddish stalks, not poking directly out of the plant's stem. The pictures show flowers that don't really resemble anything in the Euphorbiaceae I can think of. Which is a huge problem.

Also one picture of M. spectabilis (the photo linked above) showed spines on the midrib on the underside of the leaves, but the midribs of the mystery plant are smooth, according to the photos.

So, that's as far as I was able to get with it.

UPDATE: The e-mailer has turned up another possibility, Euphorbia neohumbertii, which has similar stems and a similar overall shape, though the leaf scars on the mystery plant are smaller than in most of the E. neohumbertii photos I found. Also I couldn't find any indication that E. neohumbertii ever gets red leaves, and its flowers are similar, but not quite the right color and form: the mystery plant has a whole mess of white stuff coming out of the dull-red flower or bract or whatever it is, and E. neohumbertii typically has bright-red or red-orange flowers with only a couple yellow things (pistils?) sticking out.

Another strike against E. neohumbertii is that it has actual spines, in addition to the fuzzy-looking brown stuff. And sometimes its fuzzy brown stuff is actually fuzzy gray stuff. On the plus side, it actually is native to Madagascar, which Monadenium spectabilis is not. (Tanzania, if you must know.)

We do appear to be zeroing in on an ID, though. It's somewhere in the Euphorbiaceae.

SECOND UPDATE: The plant appears to be Euphorbia leuconeura, or "Madagascar Jewel," as identified by Pat in the comments. Pat gets 5000 PATSP points, which are so far not actually redeemable for anything. But maybe someday.