Saturday, November 27, 2010

Errata, Taxonomy

For reasons which are too complicated and boring to go into, I was up at 3:30 AM yesterday, and used the opportunity to update links to plant profiles and make some minor changes to old posts. You're not at all obligated to care, but these are them:

  • Aloe maculata is now correctly identified. Posts no longer refer to the synonym A. saponaria.
  • Alworthia 'Black Gem' replaces the earlier, incorrect Aloe 'Black Gem.'
  • Hoya carnosa var. holliana replaces Hoya carnosa 'Holliana.' I'm not sure it's right, but I do at least know that the plant is not Hoya holliana, which is how I had it on the spreadsheet for forever.
  • I am now spelling CalibrAchoa correctly. (It's not CalibrIchoa.) I sort of understand why the ex-boss used to insist on calling them "mini-petunias" even though they're not.
  • Dracaena surculosa replaces the obsolete synonym D. godseffiana.
  • My plant that I thought was either Aglaonema 'Silver Bay' or 'Emerald Bay' was identified in the comments to the Aglaonema profile as A. 'Emerald Bay' by a very confident-sounding Anonymous person, so I changed that.
  • Aloe x 'Dorian Black' makes more sense than A. x 'Doran Black,' so the plant I'd been calling Doran is now being called Dorian, except that it might not be that either. I don't have a positive ID for it, I've never had a positive ID for it, and I don't anticipate having a positive ID for it in the future. But if I have to guess, and kinda I do, then I'm going with 'Dorian Black.' (UPDATE: Actually it's 'Doran' after all. This has since been corrected.)
  • Aloe vera is in fact the current correct name for Aloe barbadensis, I think just to spite me; older posts have been changed accordingly.
  • During the research for the Ficus elastica profile, I ran into a number of sources that made it sound more dangerous to children and pets than the other Ficus species. Consequently, I changed the posts in the houseplant toxicity posts to reflect this: Ficus elastica is now in the Potentially Dangerous category, rather than the Unpleasant category. The other Ficuses remain in Unpleasant until I hear something to change my mind.
  • I finally got around to changing Carludovica 'Jungle Drum' to Asplundia 'Jungle Drum.' Even if the plant is usually sold as Carludovica, I think the plant is much more likely an Asplundia.
  • Somehow, I dropped an "i" from Pilea nummularIIfolia. This is probably because nummularifolia makes a lot more sense, even though it's wrong.
  • Ficus maclellandii replaces Ficus binnendijkii, though I very much preferred saying and typing binnendijkii.
  • The dumb-sounding Anthurium andrAEAnum is apparently correct; I'll be really lucky if I can remember not to spell it andrEAnum, like I've been doing for the last three years.

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

This photo is from some point in late summer.

It isn't that great of a picture -- I'm especially annoyed with the exercise bike behind Sheba, because it's the same color she is and it messes up her outline -- but I post it because it's one of the few photos of Sheba I have where her proportions are relatively clear. Ordinarily, she's either laying down on something, in which case her legs are only partly visible, or she's looking at me because she expects me to do something, in which case her face more or less hides the rest of her body. Occasions like the above, where she's not lying down or staring at me, weird me out, because the perspective is strange to me. There's always a brief moment of shock and surprise that she's suddenly gotten three or four inches shorter. WHAT? HOW DID THIS HAP- . . . Oh, wait.

Not that there's anything wrong with the way she's proportioned: she's a perfectly normal dog-shaped dog. It's just that her actual shape, and my mental understanding of her shape, do not match. I have no idea why this is so; possibly it's related to Fervor (who was considerably taller) having been here first.

If you're curious, the exercise bike is no longer in the back yard. It started out in the basement, but when everything was taken out of the basement following the flood, the bike had to go somewhere, and for some reason it wound up in the yard. I don't know where it is now. I think possibly we sold it. We never used it anyway.

In Nina news, the husband found an aquarium in Iowa City on Wednesday that was large (I think 33-gallon / 125 L) and relatively cheap ($15 and change), so he bought it. We don't have a lid for it yet, or an appropriately-large light,1 but once we get past those obstacles and get the tank cleaned and planted, Nina will be moving on up.

Which leaves us with decisions about planting.

Ideally, I want to use the terrarium for stuff I can't grow in the rest of the house. I mean, it seems wasteful to obtain and light this very humid controlled environment and then fill it with stuff that grows just fine elsewhere. Plus, I think I'm going to maintain the old terrarium as-is for a while, because the Fittonia and Pellionia are both doing so well already, and because who knows, maybe Nina will need to move suddenly, and it would be handy to have a backup. (Though I'm pulling the Vriesea out either way, because it is unhappy. I think I'm going to replace it with a Begonia.) So we don't necessarily need to include the Fittonia or Pellionia in the plans: they've got their own space going already.

So, I'm looking for suggestions. The bottom of the terrarium is 12" x 30" (30 x 76 cm), so stuff that gets wider than 12 in / 30 cm is undesirable (unless it takes a really long time to get there, or gets wider in a single line only, like Strelitzia). It's also really helpful if the plant in question can survive fluctuating soil moisture levels, because those are going to happen, and somewhat compacted soil, because that too. So Streptocarpus is out (twice), as are most orchids, Anthuriums, and quite a few of your larger bromeliads. Plus there are a few plants I'm just personally opposed to including for whatever reason so don't even mention them (Selaginella,2 Codiaeum,3 Chamaedorea elegans4). But so what small-to-medium or very vertical plants have you always wanted to put in a terrarium?


1 Light intensity decreases as the square of the distance. (I.e., if you have a plant a foot away from a light source, and move it to two feet away, the light intensity it's getting in the new position is only a fourth of what it was before; if you move the plant three feet away from the source, the plant only gets a ninth of the light it was getting before, and so on.) The old aquarium has a single compact fluorescent bulb on it, and is 12 inches tall. The new aquarium is going to be 22 inches tall, so the light will be almost twice as far away from soil level, meaning that the amount of light reaching the soil is going to be only a quarter of what it was. Nina herself can of course just climb a plant to get closer to the light, but the plants have to make do with whatever they get, wherever they are, and any ground-cover-type stuff is likely to have taller plants above it, blocking some of the light, which isn't the case in the current situation. Therefore, I need a new light fixture, with more / larger / brighter bulbs, in order to compensate for the additional height.
2 Mostly on the grounds that I don't want to encourage stores to carry Selaginella, which are really no good for 99+% of the population. Also, though, because even in a terrarium, I have no confidence that I could keep one going successfully: I've seen plenty of dead Selaginella in greenhouses, after all.
3 Mostly because I don't think I could find one in the area that didn't already have spider mites.
4 Mostly because I don't think they're particularly attractive, but there's also the problem of finding a healthy specimen (particularly during the winter, in Iowa) and expecting a messy transition. I've spent time pulling dead fronds off parlor palms before, and I didn't like it; it can't be any better when I'm having to do so at an awkward angle, in a situation where a lizard may run up my arm at any moment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Random plant event: Schlumbergera x buckleyi flower bud

After I wrote the Schlumbergera truncata profile in August, I was offered cuttings of Schlumbergera x buckleyi, the true Christmas-blooming "Christmas cactus," by a reader, and wound up getting way, way, way way way more cuttings than I was expecting, so I divided them up into nine 4-inch (10 cm) pots to root and put them on one of the shelves in the basement, on a timer.

Earlier this week, I noticed that one of them had a flower bud, and since then, I've been very excited, confused, excited, confused, and disappointed, in that order.

It's exciting because these are the first holiday cacti I've had that are the heirloom, passed-down-through-generations, Christmas-blooming type of holiday cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), and those are rarely available in retail so I haven't seen one in forever.

But then it was confusing, because the light is on a timer, and I'm pretty sure I have these plants on a long day, short night schedule. Supposedly they need at least thirteen hours of darkness at night, and the best-case scenario for the timer on these is twelve hours. So it didn't make any sense, this plant deciding to bloom now.

But then I was excited again, because who cares whether it's supposed to or not, the point is that it is, and I get to see it.

And then a couple days later I was making the who-needs-emergency-watering-in-the-basement rounds, and didn't see the flower bud. Which was puzzling, since it had been right there before. After much searching, I found it -- on top of the soil. The plant decided not to bloom after all, possibly because all my questioning made it think better of the idea. So now I'm disappointed.


Two of the three other varieties I have are blooming now: the salmon one went first (and this year was actually salmon-colored: last year it was more of a peach), and 'Caribbean Dancer' is heavily-budded, and a few flowers are almost ready to bloom. So if I can get everybody properly synchronized, I intend to do some cross-pollinating. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. If not, there's always next year. Next year, there'll be more possible combinations, too, because I fully intend to scoop up a bunch of NOID plants from Lowe's once they go on clearance.

The third variety, the pink one with the white stripe down the middle of the petals, is just barely clinging to life right now, following a repotting this summer that the plant apparently didn't want. One segment of stem has survived (there were only about eight to begin with), and maybe it'll make it through the winter, but it's probably done for. I'm looking for replacements.

New Plants, Part II

Continued from Tuesday, here's the second half of the recent batch of new plants.

Haworthia tessellata. (Some people would say H. venosa var. tessellata.) Ace Hardware, Iowa City, $6.40 on sale from $8.

I got one of these a couple summers ago from Lowe's, which turned out to have mealybugs, so it didn't last long here. Didn't expect to see another specimen this soon -- it's possible that I've only seen this species for sale twice in my life -- but since I have, we're going to try it a second time. This photo doesn't show the coolness of the leaf pattern very well, alas, but you can kind of see it if you open the photo up full-size.

Hemigraphis exotica. Earl May, Iowa City, $3.

I'm not especially a fan of this plant, but it was cheap, and I felt like I sort of owed Hemigraphis another shot; like with the Haworthia, the first attempt ended quickly. In that case, the problem wasn't bugs: I didn't have a bright enough spot, so it lost color but limped along anyway, then one week I forgot to water it in a timely fashion and whoops! it's dead. So it gets one more chance to impress me. But only one.

Kalanchoe marmorata. Ace Hardware, Iowa City, $7?

I thought this was another retry -- I had an offset of K. gastonis-bonnieri a while ago that never managed to take, and I thought that's what I was getting here, but I think what I actually got was K. marmorata.

I'm not thrilled about this, and I'm especially not thrilled that I didn't figure out which Kalanchoe it was until I'd already uploaded the photo, 'cause now the file name is wrong, but oh well. Too late now.

Kalanchoes and I have a mixed history, tending towards bad: I have a hard time getting them enough light (tomentosa, bracteata), and the ones I can get enough light on, I tend to overwater (luciae, orgyalis). More recent attempts (millotii, prolifera) have been better, though.

Peperomia obtusifolia 'Gold Coast.' Ace Hardware, Iowa City, $4 on sale from $5.

Sometimes, in the excitement of buying plants, I pick up something I don't need or want, just because it happens to catch my eye at the right moment. This may be one of those plants, but that's okay: at least it's something I like. And I could use it to propagate from, if nothing else.

Pilea peperomioides. Quad Cities Botanical Center, Rock Island, IL, $5.

Did you know that the Quad Cities has a Botanical Center? I didn't. We visited last Friday, and I took a million photos, which will take some time to get sorted out, but there will probably be a post sooner or later about this.

They also sell a few plants, which is where I saw this. I'm a little unsure about the ID: the tag said Pilea peperomioides, but someone had written "Pepperomia" [sic] on the pot in black Sharpie, and Peperomia 'Jayde' is awfully similar-looking. I'm fairly confident that this is the Pilea, though: Peperomia 'Jayde's leaves come to a point at the tip, and are concave at the petiole, neither of which apply to this plant.

I was excited to see it; ever since Ivynettle mentioned it in the comments for this post last August, I'd been trying to keep an eye out, but I wasn't expecting to find one.

Syngonium podophyllum gold whatever. Earl May, Iowa City, $3.

Syngonium podophyllum pink-spotted whatever. Ace Hardware, Iowa City, $4 on sale from $5.

Both of the Syngoniums were varieties I'd seen and wanted before, but I've only been able to find them in four-inch (10 cm) pots for $8. Even for a pretty Syngonium, that's too much.

I don't know the name of either variety; they weren't tagged. The first one I've seen before, called 'Gold'-something, but I no longer remember. The second one might be 'Confetti,' though I think I've seen multiple cultivars with pink spots like that.

Tradescantia (?) NOID. Reha's Greenhouses, Wellman, $5.

Last, a NOID. I suspect it's a Tradescantia, but Callisia or Cyanotis hasn't been ruled out. It strongly resembles Tradescantia pallida, but it has elements of several things: the leaf shape and fuzziness is like Tradescantia sillamontana, the undersides of the leaves are purple even in lower light like T. spathacea, and when it's gotten enough light to be properly colored-up, it resembles a short, stubby T. pallida, though the color isn't quite as deep.

Reha's was unable to tell me anything more than, they don't believe it's the same species as T. pallida, and it needs very bright light in order to color up properly.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Trametes versicolor (probably)

I like Thanksgiving as a holiday, at least in concept and execution. Less enthused about the origin, but I have no problem with setting aside a day to eat pie and be momentarily relieved that things aren't worse. Why not?

I'm a little tempted to take the day off from blogging, on the grounds that few people in the U.S. will be making the blog rounds today, but then I think: what aboot the Canadians? (The rest of the world too, obviously. But thinking about the Canadians is the only thinking that earns me an "aboot" joke.) So here we are.

Fortunately, I have a borderline-appropriate photo for the occasion:

This is turkey-tail fungus, Trametes versicolor. Or at least it's a turkey-tail fungus: there are several, from the genera Trametes and Stereum. I'm not sure which one this is. T. versicolor looks to be the most common, though, and I didn't see anything on-line that makes me think I should rule out T. versicolor, so that's what I'm going with. If it's wrong, then it's wrong.

Whatever it may look like, fungi are not plants. In fact, this fungus has more in common with you, genetically, than it does with the stump on which it's growing. (It's not a huge overlap either way, but still.) It doesn't have much to do with turkeys, either, but supposedly the bands of color resemble the similar bands of color on the tails of male wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo; see a photo here).

They're also much bigger than they look: most of the mass of the fungus is inside the stump.

Trametes versicolor is technically edible (i.e., it's not poisonous), but it's too tough to be palatable unless very young. It is eaten by some squirrels, turtles, beetles, slugs, and fungus gnats. It has also been used to make green, blue, or brown dyes for wool, is able to absorb and detoxify some (some!) pollutants, and contains a protein which shows some (some!) effectiveness against certain cancers.

As with most potentially beneficial natural products, unscrupulous marketers have seized on these properties to try to sell you stuff. I found one ad for turkey tail fungus as a bodybuilding supplement, for example. The claim is that it supports the immune system, but I was unable to find anybody saying so who, one, wasn't trying to make money selling it, and two, had any actual evidence. Most of the studies I could find that indicated an immune system effect involved cancer patients, whose immune systems may well not be that typical to begin with. Plus you'll notice that "supporting" the immune system doesn't actually tell you anything about what it does, or how. Buyer beware.

But it's a pretty cool fungus anyway.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Random plant event: Kalanchoe millotii flower bud

This is the third oddball flower bud I've seen in the last couple weeks. First the Schefflera, then the Hoya, now this. And two out of the three are even my own personal plants.

I don't expect this to be particularly interesting; Google only came up with one picture of the flowers when I searched for the plant, and they were small, plain (though abundant) white things. But it's still neat that the plant's doing anything: this was an unrooted cutting as of early August. (Two of them, actually. Both are budding.)

If last year is any indication, we're heading into the busy indoor flowering season about now. Lots of weird blooms here last December and January. Makes me feel bad for the poor people who only garden outdoors.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Plants, Part I

Almost all of these were walkaways previously, so you'll have seen several of them before. The reason I'm buying plants I'd earlier rejected is, I recently wound up with some money that had weird strings attached: one of the strings was that I spend it all on houseplants. (I'm not making this up. November has been a hell of a strange month. Mostly good. A little bad.) So, you know, twist my arm.

This is the first half; I'll post the second half Friday.

Anyway. In alphabetical order by genus, because we've got a perfectly good alphabet and nobody else is using it:

Aeschynanthus longicaulis, or Aeschynanthus 'Black Pagoda.' Ace Hardware, Iowa City, $5.

I won't know for sure what this is until it blooms; if it has a green flower, it's A. longicaulis, and if it has an orange flower, it's A. 'Black Pagoda.' I'm guessing 'Black Pagoda' is more likely -- it doesn't seem likely that a hardware store in Iowa would be selling species Aeschynanthus for $5 -- but nothing's ruled out until there are flowers.

I bought it because it's ornamental on its own, plus Aeschynanthus is one of the few gesneriads that I feel understands me, so there's a resonable chance it might survive long enough to flower or propagate or something.

Agave americana variegata. Reha's Greenhouses, Wellman, $5.

And the Agave americana collection is more or less complete. I now have a plain gray-blue one, one with white leaf centers, and one with yellow leaf margins. No doubt there are other varieties, but I feel like three's probably adequate. If this goes at all well, they'll soon outgrow the house and/or stab me in the eyeball, but we're not going to think about that right now.

Bought mainly to complete the set; I was a little wary of Reha's because this time I saw mealybugs on lots of stuff, but I checked this one over several times and it seemed all right, plus I neemed it when it got home. I'll still have to watch it, but I think it'll be okay.

Aglaonema 'Sparkling Sarah.' Ex-job, Iowa City, $30.

I'd remembered the name as something having to do with "Susan," but it turns out to be 'Sparkling Sarah.' I would have gotten it the first time I saw it, if I'd had the money at the time, so I didn't have to think long about this one. Wish the picture'd turned out better, though.

Aloe dorotheae 'Sunset.' Reha's Greenhouses, Wellman, $5.

I'd thought my Aloe phase was over, but they keep making more of them, so I've gotten a bunch.

In bright light, this will turn red, and they had a few that were still red in the store, but I got this one instead, because it had four offsets. I figure I can make red happen if I really want red, but four good-sized plants for $5 is a good deal.

Aloe NOID? Wallace's, Bettendorf, $4.

Wallace's was a little disappointing, this trip: we're not so close to the Quad Cities that we can go all the time, and I'd kind of hoped they'd have more stuff. I mean, nothing wrong with what they had, but I didn't see anything that made me think ohmygod I have to have that. (Also disappointing: Christmas music already. Et tu, Wallace's?) Still, this Aloe got my attention, mostly by being a really pretty shade of green, and I wound up buying it. (Anybody have any idea on an ID?)

Aloe x 'Fire Ranch.' Reha's Greenhouses, Wellman, $5.

I'd passed this up earlier in the summer, without even realizing it -- it looked pretty plain in the store. But then I saw a picture of Karen715's plant on Life Among the Leaves, and I decided I liked it well enough to hunt for. Turns out Reha's had it all along.

Mine doesn't look much like Karen's (smaller, greener), but I'm relatively certain it's the same plant: there was a tag, at least.

Cyclamen persicum. Wallace's, Bettendorf, $5.

I explained why the Cyclamen yesterday.

This photo both amuses and disturbs me: the two flowers up high, combined with the edge of the pot's curve, form a happy face. Once I saw it, I could no longer un-see it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pretty pictures: Cyclamen persicum cvv.

Today we have some old photos from the ex-job (yes, even a year and a half later, I still have unused pictures from there) of Cyclamen persicum.

The species has been on my mind a lot lately: they're beginning to appear in the stores now, and I had this post planned out a while ago and had been pondering them because of that, but there's something else, too. Garden Rant's Elizabeth Licata did a post on 13 Nov. about the article in the Times for which I was interviewed, in which she seemed to be taking issue with the plants discussed on the grounds that many of them weren't particularly good plants for beginners. This despite acknowledging that I'd already said that I wasn't asked for good plants for beginners. (I'd been asked for plants that were easy, useful, strange, exceptionally pretty, or otherwise interesting in some way.1 Although I saw my part of the article before it ran, I was not shown the intro where the author framed the article as being about plants that were easy to care for, or else I would have said something. I suspect post-interview editorial meddling/shaping.)

So that felt a little unfair. But then also, Licata suggested her own set of easy-care plants for the Garden Rant post, some of which I agree with (Philodendron hederaceum, Schlumbergera truncata) and some of which I don't (Saintpaulia, Sansevieria trifasciata, Epipremnum aureum2). And among the Licata "easy" plants is Cyclamen persicum.

Really? Could it be? I've long been intimidated by Cyclamen, because they have fairly specific requirements (cool temperatures, bright light, summer dormancy, moist soil), and in my book the more specific and inflexible the requirements, the less easy a plant is.3 I mean, an "easy" plant you should be able to treat however and have it still work okay most of the time. So this is puzzling, and I am skeptical, but I bought one on Friday anyway. We'll see. If it works out, then hooray (I've always thought they were pretty), and if it doesn't, I'll be going after Elizabeth Licata with a (metaphorical) hatchet. Should be a good time either way.

Pictures of the new Cyclamen, as well as the other recent purchases, tomorrow.


1 I assume the same is true for the other people; I don't know how else Asplenium spp. could find itself in an article about "hard to kill" houseplants.
2 Sansevieria trifasciata scores as an easy plant on the PATSP scale of plant difficulty, as does Epipremnum aureum, but neither one do particularly well for me. Saintpaulia and I are getting along now, at the moment, though we've had a turbulent past, and I wouldn't recommend one to someone new to houseplants. Sansevieria and Epipremnum I might, because even if they're not easy for me, they're easy for most people.
3 Cyclamen persicum rates a 7.1 (pretty damn difficult) on the PATSP scale, at least according to what people say you're supposed to do with them. Once I've had actual personal experience, that may change.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Random plant event: Hoya polyneura flower buds

At least, I assume that's what's going on here.

I wasn't particularly concerned with whether this plant would bloom: I knew it was a Hoya, and therefore it had the potential to do so, but I'd been pretty happy with it as a foliage plant, so I didn't really care whether it gave me flowers or not. So this is a pleasant surprise.

The plant's been hanging about a foot below a fluorescent light (you know the big light boxes doctors use for looking at x-rays? It's one of those, via the University of Iowa Surplus store.), in my office, near enough to a window that it might be getting a little natural light too, when we have some. Compared to the rest of the house, my office tends to be warmer and drier, especially since it got cold enough out that the heat is running pretty consistently. Having the heat on is the only thing I can think of that would have changed for the plant. (Weirdly, one site says that they need cool night temperatures to set buds: possibly this might have happened during the transition from summer to winter, when we stopped running the air conditioning or heat at night, but that would have been quite a while before I saw any buds.)

And now, suddenly, there are flower buds. I counted four. A few of the other stems have what look like leaf buds in the same spot: I'm not sure I grok the growth habit here.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this develops, or whether it develops. So far, in the two or three weeks since I first noticed this, nothing visible has changed, though that doesn't mean nothing's happening. Google image search tells me that the flowers are fairly standard-looking Hoya flowers, white or pink with a pink, red, or brownish . . . is "corolla" the term? Smell is reputed to be weak but pleasant; that's as far as the descriptions I've seen go. I will, of course, follow up if/when anything interesting happens.