Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

I am pleased to report that I have achieved control over the weather. Within 24 hours of my announcement last Wednesday that I would be shunning winter until it stopped being so cold and dry, we had a nice overnight snowfall that left a couple inches of snow on the ground and covered up all that unsightly dead grass. And then it warmed up by like 10-15 degrees (F; this would be 6-8 degrees C) also, so we're now having high temperatures in the 20s (-2 to -7C) instead of single digits (-13 to -18C), which is considerably more comfortable.

Obviously my first project as the controller of the planet's weather will be to fix that whole global warming thing (you're welcome), but Eastern Iowans should be warned that I'm fond of watching tornadoes, and I won't know how good my aim is until I've practiced a bit. Consequently, early in the spring of 2011 might be a really excellent time to get those walls reinforced, fix the weak spots on the roof, and check the fine print of your homeowner's insurance.


How does Sheba feel about the snow? It's hard to tell. I know it makes it harder to play fetch-the-tennis-ball. She's not good at finding them when they're under snow, though I think that's partly an issue of not knowing they're there to be looked for unless she actually sees them fall in: I tried rolling one around in her dog food before we went out, to see if the smell would make them easier to find, and although she did eventually find the ball once when it went into a snowdrift, it took her a pretty long time, and was pretty obviously a case of her just plowing through the drift at random until it turned up. Plus she kept stopping and looking back at me, as if to say you really want me to keep looking? Is the ball worth that much to you?

Anyway, it's technically Nina's turn for a photo, but I'm doing a Sheba picture again because I really wanted a good snow/Sheba photo last week but had insufficient snow for what I was imagining. Behold and marvel:

And whatever it looks like, that's not, I repeat not a photo of Sheba getting hit in the face with a miniature soccer ball: it's a toy, and it has a loop of nylon or something that comes out of one side. She's carrying it by the loop.

We were going to enroll her in an after-school soccer program, but we don't have the money to buy a minivan right now, which I understand is required, so we're going to wait and see whether she wants to play, first.

Also, it's time for -- *sigh* -- the weekly update about Nina's new place. It was improving when I soaked the sides in vinegar the first two times, but I did it a third time -- for something like three hours, on the theory that if a little vinegar is good, then a lot must be awesome -- and I swear, if anything, it came out of that round looking worse.

There are two main kinds of crud present here, and because it's very hard to photograph something transparent with an auto-focusing camera, the pictures are not going to be great at revealing what's going on. But this is the best I could do after taking many photos.

First there's the fine-grained, cloudy stuff that looks like hard-water stains but doesn't come off with CLR, razor blades, vinegar, or anything else I've tried. It's most visible as a diagonal line in the lower right-hand corner of this picture:

And then there's the stuff that looks like it used to be some sort of horrible mucusy slime. It's coarser and clearer, and feels rough to the touch, but again, CLR, razor blades, etc., don't touch it.

The husband was supposed to pick up a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser last time he was in town, but he forgot (which is fine), so I'm still going to try that eventually (honestly, it was kind of nice to have a week wherein I didn't have to think about the stupid aquarium so much), but otherwise I'm out of ideas. I haven't tried muriatic (= hydrochloric) acid, per reader recommendation, because we don't already have any and I'm a little skeptical about it. (If vinegar, a mild acid, makes the situation worse, then what's a strong acid going to do? Also: would toilet bowl cleaner be essentially the same thing? 'Cause I'm pretty sure we have that already.) But I'm filing it away for consideration if the Magic Eraser thing doesn't work out.

I am quickly losing hope, though. The aquarium might still be a good thing to have around -- even if I can't use it for Nina, I could move the fish, or use it as a high-humidity plant hospital, or something like that -- but honestly, I fell into despair about moving Nina into it when the acetone failed. Granted, I fall into (and out of) despair pretty easily. But still. I didn't think there was anything acetone couldn't dissolve, or at least loosen. Seeing it fail was like finding out Snuffleupagus isn't real.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pretty picture: Prosthechea cochleata

This has also been called Encyclia cochleata, which is what the file name on the photo says and what the tag on the plant at the show said. Encyclia still outnumbers Prosthechea by two to one on Google, but it's a new plant to me, and I figure as long as I'm learning a new name, I may as well make it the right one.

One of the common names is "clamshell orchid," from the appearance of the petal at the "top." It's actually sort of the bottom of the flower, though: P. cochleata flowers are upside down, developmentally speaking. Usually, an orchid flower's labellum, or lip, is an enlarged petal which serves as a landing platform for insects, like the "slipper" of a Paphiopedilum. In P. cochleata, the labellum hangs over the rest of the flower like a hood instead, but it's still the labellum. Hence, upside-down.

Whether or not the labellum looks like a clamshell is a matter of opinion, I guess: I'm not impressed with the resemblance myself, and would prefer "octopus orchid." But they still don't consult me before giving plants common names, so clamshell (or sometimes "cockle-shell") it is.

Supposedly the flowers smell like lemon/citrus; I don't remember there being a smell when I took the picture, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time, either.

A version of this plant is native to Southern Florida: it has three anthers, instead of the usual one, and is self-fertile. It's also, unfortunately, endangered, which is what happens when you're an orchid trying to coexist with the five and a half million people in the greater Miami metropolitan region.


The usual one-anthered version is the National Flower of Belize, but is found throughout Central America, Columbia, Venezuela, and the West Indies, and is consequently in much less danger of extinction.

P. cochleata has also been crossed with another orchid to produce the hybrid Prosyclia Green Hornet: different sites give different parentages for Green Hornet, but I'm inclined to go with P. cochleata x Encyclia trulla. Green Hornet is very similar to P. cochleata, but the flowers are bigger.

Supposedly they're fairly easy, as orchids go. I don't know whether that's true, but if I see one for sale and have the money, I may very well buy one to try. There's some sound-seeming advice about their care here.


1 The opening credits for "CSI: Miami" are set to the song "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who. The song starts off with a long, drawn-out, overenthusiastic YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! that's fairly over the top all on its own, but comes off as being even more over the top when it follows, as it usually does, a scene involving David Caruso, who is usually trying to be dramatic by putting on his sunglasses and pausing a lot, but they don't give him very interesting lines to end scenes on, so the drama tends to fall flat. Adding a YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! after someone says something relatively uninteresting, or something interesting that falls flat, turned into a minor internet meme.
This explanation really wasn't worth the joke, and in fact the joke probably wasn't even funny: I suspect it only seemed funny because I'm in a strange mood at the moment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random plant event: Echeveria coccinea buds of some kind

I'm not quite sure what's going on here.

When I got this plant (as unrooted cuttings), it had some flowers still on it: they were solid red and fairly close to the stems, not on tall stalks like some Echeverias get. So there's the possibility that these are flower buds in progress. It could also just be branching, making these stem buds, not flower buds. It might be a while before I find out, because I'm scared to water it now. It's on a (south-facing) windowsill in the plant room, which gets cold, and I'm afraid that after a couple cold, wet nights it will up and die on me. So I don't water, but the lack of water might be why the plant's not growing, too. You see how complicated it all is.

I'm fairly certain I'll find out what's going on sooner or later, and my money's on flowers. Which would be -- for an Echeveria in my care -- fairly miraculous.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

[Exceptionally] Pretty pictures: transmitted light -- Part XXXVII

Hey, remember last Saturday, when I was complaining about how cold and dry it'd been so far this winter? Well, on Saturday and Sunday, we were having an actual blizzard, officially, with the National Weather Service issuing Blizzard Warnings and making increasingly overwrought pronouncements about the inadvisability of trying to go anywhere: slick roads (there was rain for a few hours before the snow started), strong winds (20-30 mph / 32-48 kph sustained, with gusts to 50 mph / 80 kph), heavy snow coming down and then blowing around creating "near-whiteout conditions" and life-threatening wind chills (to -20F / -29C) and so forth.

But: not only did most of the actual snowfall happen at night when I wasn't awake to watch it, but we hardly got any snow at all, maybe two inches (5 cm) at most. (They had been predicting 3-4 in / 8-10 cm.) And, now it's that much colder, so I didn't get a warm-up or a snowfall, thanks a lot, Mr. Blizzard.

So I'm shunning winter until it decides to straighten up and be more reasonable. At least for today, it's summer on PATSP. We've got sunflowers, crotons, cannas, corn, all kinds of summery stuff.

(The previous transmitted light posts can be found here.)

Helianthus annuus. Not much of a photo, but the leaves aren't the photogenic part of the plant.

Platycerium sp., perhaps P. bifurcatum. Mine isn't doing so hot lately: possibly this is not a good indoor plant. Or maybe it's a great indoor plant and I'm just growing it badly.

Phytolacca americana. I was really impressed with pokeweed last summer this summer right now, in the summer, summer being the season it is presently. Weedy, sure, but also impressively ornamental -- I saw at least one eight-foot (2.7 m) specimen that was either deliberately grown or deliberately not cut-down, and it looked good. Hot-pink stems, multi-colored berries, birds like it: we could do worse, for weeds, is all I'm saying.

Ledebouria socialis. Yeah, this one's just kinda ugly.

Zea mays. There's something kind of Op Art about Zea mays photos: all those parallel lines that aren't parallel. I like it.

Synadenium grantii. Yes, you've seen this plant's leaves before, but so what? I like it.

Codiaeum variegatum NOID (most likely 'Petra'). This reminds me of photos of the Sun's surface: all yellow and orange with a few dark spots.

Ficus elastica 'Tineke,' or similar cv. I'm not sure what to say about this one either.

Ctenanthe lubbersiana. I passed up buying this plant at Lowe's this summer, repeatedly, because 1) it was very large and I didn't have room for it and 2) I wasn't sure I could keep it happy even if I found a way to make room for it. Lowe's is still the only place I've ever seen one, and I wonder occasionally whether I made the right call.

Canna 'Tropicanna.' Holy crap. It's a little over the top, I'll grant you, but this is my favorite. None of the others are even close.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random plant event: Euphorbia milii flowering

In May 2009, I bought a Euphorbia milii. I was never all that crazy about them, but I like Euphorbias in general, and Plowing Through Life (who was still Water Roots at the time) spoke highly of them, so I figured it was only sensible to give them a try. I picked out one with lots of salmon-colored flowers on it, brought it home, and watched as it dropped all the flowers.

And then, for another seventeen or eighteen months, basically nothing happened. The plant got taller. It grew some new leaves, it dropped some old leaves, but it wouldn't rebloom. Did it need fertilizer? I fed it, then fed it again. Nothing. Did it need more light? Well, too bad, because I didn't have a brighter spot for it, and anyway it was in a pretty bright spot already. Was it, perhaps, rootbound? Pulled it out of the pot to check and found that, if anything, its pot was too big, that either some of the roots had died or it had been over-potted from the start.

So this, though only a single flower, and not even a particularly interesting flower at that, is a huge deal:

What changed? One of the plants in a spot with really good light got big and had to move, freeing up some space, so the Euphorbia milii has had maybe two or three months of some sun, plus supplemental artificial light. Apparently the problem was light all along, even though it was in what I thought was a pretty bright west window. Live and learn.

Monday, December 13, 2010


If you don't get it immediately: Selenicereus is pronounced Seh-LEEN-ih-SER-ee-us. "Dion" is pronounced "DEE-on."

If it still doesn't make sense, do a Google search for "near, far, wherever you are."

If it still doesn't make sense after that, well, it wasn't a very good joke anyway, so don't worry about it.

Question for the Hive Mind: Reader NOID

A reader has, once again, managed to stump me on a plant ID question. This particular plant:

  • was originally purchased via an ad in Town and Country
  • has been around for several years
  • blooms "all the time."

My only guess is that maybe the plant is in the Malvaceae -- that pistil (?) sticking out of the flower looks a lot like certain Abutilon and Hibiscus varieties I've seen. Though the leaves completely don't match.

So how about it? Even if you don't know a precise species or variety, confirming a family or genus would still be helpful in tracking it down.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Quad City Botanical Center, Part 3 of What Turns Out to be 3

This last post (Part 1; Part 2) on the Quad City Botanical Center (QCBC) doesn't really have a lot of organization to it, unlike the other two. I'm just trying to cover the plants I think you'd want to know about that I hadn't already covered, basically.

The plant I found most interesting was one I hadn't heard of before:

Dichorisandra thyrsifolia.

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora is in the Commelinaceae, the family of such easy indoor plants as Tradescantia pallida and Callisia fragrans, and yet I'd never heard of it. That's probably because it's a little big for a houseplant:

and there could be cultural issues I'm not aware of besides. I mean, I would be surprised if it were particularly hard to grow indoors -- I can't think of anything else in the Commelinaceae that is -- but maybe.

Glasshouse Works does sell them, and claims they're easy to grow. Perhaps someday I'll try. The flowers are pretty impressive:

The camera continues to have difficulty reproducing certain blues: the flowers are more of a rich, dark blue-violet than the medium blue they show as in the photo.

I also saw a plant at the QCBC that I'd previously only encountered in a specialty website that sold plants for terrariums (I no longer remember which one):

Kaempferia pulchra.

I initially thought it was yet another Calathea, but a nearby sign identified it as Kaempferia pulchra, which is in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). I've never seen anyone growing it as a houseplant, so I can only assume that it's exceptionally demanding. Or maybe it's exceptionally slow to propagate, making it not worth the effort. Something: there must be something wrong with it. But, hey, pretty.

I was also impressed with the "red tower ginger," Costus barbatus, though it looked like the blooming was over a while ago:

Still, though, it was a nice big plant, which is impressive enough all on its own.

Costus barbatus.

The QCBC is very, very light on succulents, unfortunately. The only plant that was new to me was Euphorbia viguieri, which looks sort of like someone threw E. milii (thorns, flowers) and E. leuconeura (tuft of leaves at the top, longish, spoon-shaped leaves, narrow base that gets wider with height) together in a blender and split the difference between the two. It's not a very good picture, but that's okay, because it's not a very pretty plant:

Euphorbia viguieri.

Glasshouse Works sells those too.

There's one NOID that I'm particularly interested in: it was near the Carica papaya, and resembles it, but the leaflets are a lot narrower and more completely divided.

It's not impossible that it's just a Carica at a different stage of development, but I couldn't find any Carica leaves that looked like this in a Google image search. I also considered Schefflera, but couldn't find any of those that were particularly pointy except S. elegantissima (still better known as Dizygotheca elegantisisma), and these leaves should be much darker in color than S. elegantissima. (Cannabis sp. would be a possibility too, if not for the fact that, you know, it's not legal. Also I don't think Cannabis has leaflet margins that are that fancy.)

I know, it's one of those cases where looking more intently for an ID sign at the QCBC might have saved me a lot of trouble. But still. Any ideas?

UPDATE: Grower Jim identifies it in the comments as Jatropha multifida.

And while I'm asking: I'm pretty sure I've seen a bromeliad inflorescence like this recently on another blog (Garden Adventures? The Rainforest Garden?), but when I tried to find it again, I couldn't. I didn't remember seeing anything like it before, when I saw it at the QCBC, so wherever I saw it must have been fairly recent. The plant itself didn't look like anything special: I would have thought it a Guzmania if I'd seen it without flowers.

UPDATE: Both Grower Jim and Rainforest Gardener agree that it's probably an Aechmea, even without seeing one another's comments.

Finally, a NOID orchid in bloom. The QCBC didn't have very many orchids at all, and this was the only one I saw that was blooming, but the color impressed me.

I'm leaving a lot of photos unposted, of course, but they may show up at some point later on. Or I might go back later and take new, better pictures. I think you get the general idea of the place regardless. Considering that it's only an hour away and I'm in a small rural Iowa town, I think it's a remarkable place.

Even if they won't let you buy the plants.