Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

It's so much easier to find interesting photos for Sheba weeks than for Nina weeks. She has so many more places she can go, after all.

No news about either pet, really, though a couple weeks ago, the in-laws were here briefly with their dog. Sheba and the dog-in-law (female, mutt, mostly pit bull with something else that I forget) mostly got along, though there was a lot of playing (?) that sort of turned into something else, or seemed like it might turn into something else. Had the dog-in-law been a new permanent resident, I'm sure they would have worked something out eventually, but I wasn't always sure what was getting communicated between them or how they felt about one another.

We've talked a few times about getting a second dog, though for the moment we're agreed that this wouldn't be a good time. I check the Iowa City Shelter's website regularly anyway, and in one case we even went to the shelter so I could meet one of the dogs, even knowing that adopting a second dog wasn't going to happen. (The dog in question, a pit bull named Nico, has since been adopted.) Why? Don't know. Presently I'm semi-interested in a bulldog-mastiff mix named Devo, who's gone unadopted for quite a while now.

(Devo, of course, should be a whippet. Nobody consults me.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Music Video: DJ Lobsterdust "DeceptiShot" (Le Tigre / Pat Benatar mashup)

I've tried really hard to get into Le Tigre, but I can't. It's just . . . unpleasant. The mashup here works for me, though it's possible that Pat Benatar is doing all the heavy lifting. It's at least an interesting take on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

Random plant event: Ficus elastica branching

The reader would be forgiven for not understanding why this is a big deal, but one of the troubles with Ficus elastica indoors is that they're reluctant to branch, so after you've had one a while, it often looks like a single tall thin stick with a tuft of leaves at the top. Even pruning -- which ordinarily causes plants to branch -- won't necessarily do it: it's common for an indoor-grown Ficus elastica to respond to the removal of a growing tip with . . . the production of a single new growing tip.

So I was pretty pleased to discover a spontaneous branch on my plant:

Granted, this is not going to do much to fill in the base -- as you can see, the plant's lost all the leaves down there -- but I figure it can't hurt, and I didn't have to do anything, so I'm happy.

In general, to get a Ficus elastica (or F. lyrata) to branch, the best way to do it is to let it spend a few months outside. It may also help to cut the stem back and/or move it up to a slightly larger pot first, though that's not strictly necessary. There are four things to keep in mind about letting your plant go outside for a season, though:

  1. The leaves can sunburn, so don't put it into full sun right away; keep it in a shady spot to begin with, and gradually introduce it to more and more light.
  2. When you bring it back in, it will likely drop some leaves as it re-acclimates to the lower light in your home.
  3. It will be much thirstier outside than it was inside.
  4. Check for bugs before you bring the plant in.
This plant didn't go outside, but it has been sitting under a couple shop lights for a couple years, so it gets fairly consistent, if not intense, light. Or possibly I'm just lucky. Either way, I'm happy it's decided to fill in a little.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Other: The Green Cordyline fruticosa

I've recently become disillusioned with Cordyline fruticosa. I have five, at the moment, one of which has been with me for four and a half years now. But -- and it's a big but -- it's no longer the case that Cordyline is an "easy difficult" plant for me, as I said in the profile: I realized this around October or November this year, when I went to check them for watering and found spider mites on one. Again. Just like every other year I've had them. Previously, I've tried spraying the mites off with water, hand-washing the leaves with soap and water, spraying with neem,1 and anything else that's occurred to me, but it never gets rid of the mites: they're always back in a couple weeks. It's time-consuming and frustrating, but I felt obligated to do something, so I kept doing it.

And I would still have been okay letting the Cordylines stay where they were, mingling freely with the other plants, if not for the fact that they'd all started to get burnt tips and margins. The 'Kiwi' went first, in December 2009, and the others followed about six months later. My suspicion is that this was a delayed reaction to the change in water since we moved: in Iowa City, we had soft, slightly acid river water, and now we have hard (sometimes extremely hard), alkaline aquifer water. This is my theory mostly because I've ruled out pretty much all the other possibilities: the change in water is the only major thing that's happened to them.

So what I ultimately wound up doing with them last fall was: I watered the four small ones, sprayed them thoroughly with neem, put them in plastic bags, and stuck them in the basement. If they survive the winter, great: I'll cut them back, let them resprout, and send them outside for the summer. If they die, well, I was basically ready to throw them away already, so.

The bagged Cordylines.

None of which is even the point of the post yet.2

The point of the post is that the one exception was the large solid-green plant, which I've had for about three and a half years. It didn't start getting tip and margin burn when all the others did, so I have decided not to bag it for the winter. It probably has mites, but I'm willing to live with that if it'll just hold on to its leaves and not share them with too many other plants.

Old photo of the green Cordyline fruticosa.

So what's different about how the green one was treated, compared to the others?

The green one spent the summer outside last year. I think the explanation for the lack of leaf burn is that it got rainwater all summer long and hasn't been watered very often since I brought it in, so maybe doesn't have minerals built up in the pot to the same degree as the other Cordylines.

Current photo of the green Cordyline fruticosa.

However, I am reminded that being outside for a summer is not entirely without its own set of problems:

That's a baby oak tree growing in the pot there. I suppose I should have known this was a possibility, since I've pulled dozens of maple seedlings out of every container I've had outside since we moved, but somehow it never occurred to me that oaks might be weedy too. I suppose technically one has to blame the squirrels.

In any case. The oak obviously can't stay there in the pot, and we're not in need of another oak tree, but I sort of feel like, you know, it's trying so hard. So I'm wondering: when and how would one go about transplanting it to the yard?


1 Not recommended -- they always dropped a bunch of leaves every time after I neemed them.
2 Though I've wanted to write a post about the giving up and bagging for quite a while, and am pleased that I've gotten to use that picture finally.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Music Video: Partyben "This Tightrope's Made for Walkin'" (Janelle Monae / Nancy Sinatra)

This mashup probably wouldn't be getting consideration if I didn't love "Tightrope" so much. I mean, not that this mashup is poorly done, but it's not a complicated, four- or five-song composition like "No-One Takes Your Freedom" or "I Wanna Bulletproof Dancer" or something. But I'm willing to use whatever excuses I have to in order to listen to Janelle Monae.

Incidentally -- we tried going to Best Buy to get the Janelle Monae CD, and . . . okay, I know that our corporate overlords have decreed that we're all to re-buy all our music on MP3s now, and businesses are phasing out the stocking of actual CDs and stuff, so I can understand not having the CD physically in stock, but -- they didn't even know who she was, or have her anywhere in their computer. I'd thought she was, you know, kind of a big deal?

So on the off chance that you don't know who she is either, watch the "Tightrope" video. It's worth it for the dancing alone.

List: Houseplants Which are Partly or Totally Blue

Well okay. "Blue" is a stretch. Though a few genuinely blue plants are rumored to exist (Micorsorum steerii, an unknown Begonia species), one, they're iridescent, and change color depending on the angle at which they're being viewed, and two, it'd be a stretch to call them houseplants, since the Begonia isn't even in cultivation as far as I know, and the Microsorum is cultivated but not really suitable for the home outside of a terrarium. And maybe not inside a terrarium, either. I don't know anyone who's tried.

But there are still plants out there with some blue to them. Most are succulents, and the blue coloring is the result of a fine, powdery layer of wax covering the leaves and/or stems, which is confusingly called "bloom." The main purpose of bloom is to reflect excess light (especially ultraviolet) and heat away from the plant, which is why it's common on desert plants, but it also, being wax, is water-repellent, so other kinds of plants find uses for it as well (for example: the leaves of some varieties of cabbage; the leaves, stems, and seed pods of poppies; fruits of grapes and certain other fruits).

Because bloom serves a self-shading purpose in a lot of the plants in which it is found, plants grown indoors may not produce as much, and may as a result appear more green than plants of the same type grown outdoors. Bloom also rubs off easily when plants are handled, so if you value the color, try to touch the leaves as little as possible. On the other hand, some plants may change color if they're in very bright light (such as full sun outdoors): many Aloes, for example, will turn red or brown-red in full sun. Others will stay blue or green but will get reddish leaf margins.

Because there's no good way to define "blue" for these purposes, and because plants grown in different conditions may look different, I don't guarantee that you'll agree with my choices here, but I did search for "blue," all 75 pages of results, so I'm trying to cast a wide net. (I also got to look at a ton of purple daylilies and potatoes, which makes me think that hort types have a broad and flexible understanding of the meaning of the word "blue" anyway.) Please note also that I'm excluding plants with blue flowers from consideration: here we're only thinking about leaves and stems. If I can come up with ten houseplants with blue flowers, and that's a big if, then blue-flowering plants will get their own list someday.

Agave x 'Blue Glow.' Leaves are pretty consistently turquoise to blue; marginal spines may be yellow, orange, or red depending on light, and are sometimes all three colors at once.

Aloe brevifolia. In outdoor sun, plants have a tendency to turn different colors: depending on the photo, they may be bronze, purple, or gray. My plant doesn't get much direct sun, and it has been light blue-green pretty much the whole time I've had it.

Browningia hertlingiana. Photos show variable color, but from what I can tell, the color tends to be a pretty solid turquoise/blue.

Echeveria cvv. (some cvv.) The blue cultivars tend to be a fairly pale, washed-out, greenish-blue, often with pink or red leaf tips.

Juniperus sp. Variable color depending on species, photography, and culture, but I think it's close enough to count.

Melocactus azureus. Quite a few pictures that turned up in Google image search looked pretty plain green, no blue at all, but the one in this picture really was as blue as shown. I assume either cultural differences or misidentifications.

Myrtillocactus geometrizans. The picture does a terrible, terrible job of illustrating the color (though it does show how the bloom rubs off with handling), but Myrtillocactus is typically a vivid blue-green.

Phlebodium aureum 'Mandianum.' New fronds in particular tend to be a dull blue-gray. My personal plant is a lot more yellow-green now than it was when I bought it, probably because of inadequate light, but the new fronds still emerge bluish.

Sedum morganianum. Plants kept in insufficient light will be greener. The real color is less saturated than that in the photo.

Selaginella uncinata. The blue color is due to iridescence. I don't know what these do in lower light.

On the do/don't recommends:

I do recommend Agave 'Blue Glow,' which has done fine for me so far under lights in the basement. It's unclear whether it's going to be a particularly good long-term indoor plant, and I'm aware they can get very large, which is a worry, but so far, so good.

Sedum morganianum is a favorite plant of mine: I was worried, after Sedum x rubrotinctum always seemed to be reaching for more light, that I wouldn't be able to grow S. morganianum, but my plant has been in a west window since the move, and it's been one of my better-behaved plants. It does drop leaves every time I water it: they're loosely attached to the stem, and come off easily. After trying for a while to prevent this from happening, I've decided to just accept that it will, and start new plants with the leaves that come off. As a result, we currently live with five pots of Sedum morganianum, and I expect there will be more coming along all the time.

The third recommend is Aloe brevifolia. It's not my most exciting plant, but it's been steady and unproblematic, and I've had it for a very long time (relatively speaking), so it wins out over the various plants in this list that I haven't had for very long or that haven't done much of anything (Browningia, Myrtillocactus, Phlebodium) or the nice-seeming plant I've never had at all (Melocactus).

For the un-recommend, I'm torn between Juniperus and Selaginella. Both are pretty inappropriate for your average indoor houseplant-grower, though for different reasons: Juniperus wants cooler temperatures, especially during the winter, and Selaginella is unforgiving of missed waterings and dry air. I suppose most people who received both at once would kill the Selaginella first, so if I have to choose, then Selaginella is the anti-recommend.

Not pictured:
  • Several other Agave species and hybrids are blue to some degree or another; I'm particularly fond of the plant I think might be A. desmettiana.
  • Many, many Aloe species and hybrids, including A. 'Blue Elf,' A. maculata, A. striata, A. vera, and A. 'Walmsley's Blue,' are bluish-green.
  • Bismarckia nobilis is perhaps a little large and demanding to work as an indoor plant, but I've heard of people making the attempt, and it's sort of a silvery-blue in good conditions.
  • Cereus aethiops varies a great deal in photos, but looks like it tends to be somewhere in the blue/green part of the spectrum most of the time.
  • Chamaedorea cataractum, when grown in good conditions, has a metallic blue sheen to some of the fronds, though I expect that fades when grown indoors.
  • Chamaedorea metallica has a sort of dull blue-gray color under some conditions.
  • I'm not sure it makes a great houseplant, but the blue Mediterranean fan palm, Chamaerops humilis var. argentea, shows up as silvery blue in some photos.
  • Crassula arborescens var. undulatifolia (sometimes sold as C. 'Blue Bird') is slightly bluish under strong light, and plain green under lower light.
  • Also maybe not great houseplants: Cycas angulata (silvery-blue) and C. ophiolitica (slightly bluish green). The related cycads Encephalartos arenarius (highly variable, according to the pictures: olive green, blue-green, silvery) and E. horridus (much more uniformly silver-gray, with hints of blue) would also technically qualify.
  • Dasylirion berlandieri and D. wheeleri are both bluish-gray, and I've seen D. wheeleri, at least, sold as a houseplant. No idea how well that works out for people.
  • Echinocactus horizonthalonius is a dull, mostly gray shade of blue under some conditions.
  • I'm not sure I believe in the existence of Epipremnum aureum 'Cebu Blue' or not, and if it does exist, I'm not sure it qualifies as blue except in name. Can't tell much from the photos.
  • A number of Ferocactus spp. are blue or grayish-blue.
  • Haworthia limifolia var. ubomboensis is mostly green, but with a hint of blue or blue-gray, depending on conditions and photography. A few other Haworthia species are also sometimes bluish, though they tend to be green or gray.
  • Kalanchoe eriophylla is, according to, given the common name of "Blue Kalanchoe," though it's more white than anything -- I'm not sure I see it.
  • The younger leaves of Kalanchoe luciae and K. thyrsiflora are covered with a light bluish bloom, though it's temporary and not particularly intense.
  • Kalanchoe marmorata is bluish-green or bluish-gray in good light.
  • Kalanchoe tomentosa varies according to photography and growing conditions, but are sometimes gray-blue or blue-green.
  • I found it a very disappointing houseplant, but Lamprathus blandus has lots of oddly-shaped leaves that can appear as blue, green, gray, or intermediate shades thereof.
  • Leuchtenbergia principis is a bizarre cactus with blue-gray projections which resemble leaves. In strong light, the "leaves" will be edged with reddish-purple.
  • Several cultivated Lithops varieties are blue-green or blue-gray.
  • Microsorum steerii and M. thailandicum are both apparently a striking, deep, iridescent blue/green/black; whether they can be grown indoors is questionable.
  • Several Opuntia species are blue-green, blue-gray, or blue-violet at certain points in the year, though since the most dramatic color is brought about by cold, a plant raised indoors year-round is unlikely to exhibit the full range of color.
  • Some cultivars of Pachyphytum, xPachyveria, and xGraptoveria are blue, gray, or violet to some degree or another.
  • lists a Peperomia 'Blue Whale,' which the photos make look mostly black, but I suppose it could plausibly be blue.
  • Pilosocereus pachycladus is a washed-out bluish-gray.
  • Sedum burrito is very similar to S. morganianum, pictured above, though the leaves are more rounded and are more perpendicular to the stem.
  • Senecio crassissimus has red-edged blue-gray leaves when grown in bright enough light.
  • I've never seen Senecio serpens and S. talinoides attempted indoors, but we did keep an S. talinoides (I think) in the greenhouse over a winter at work, and it grew okay. Possibly you'd have to use supplemental lighting. Both are powdery blue or blue-gray.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Random plant event: Tradescantia zebrina flower

Urg. I don't think I'm actually sick, but I'm still not well, either: I slept nine hours and change on Sunday night / Monday morning and woke up feeling better, but still not normal. This week's torpor is distinguished from last week's in that last week I didn't really want to do anything but there was no compelling physical reason why I couldn't, whereas this week, I would like to do things, but everything hurts, so I can't.

Fortunately, the Tradescantia zebrina (possibly cv. 'Lipstick?') has provided me something to write about. Not something terribly interesting, mind you, but up until yesterday afternoon, I had no idea what I was going to post today, so that there's anything at all is kind of a minor miracle, like finding a croissant that looks kinda like Jake Gyllenhall.

I suspect the trigger here for flowers was that I added fertilizer a couple weeks ago. I mean, I don't know for sure that I did add fertilizer a couple weeks ago, but it sounds like the sort of thing I might do, and the plant sure as hell isn't blooming because it's been bright and sunny here, so that's pretty much the only explanation that's even possible.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Music Video: Mighty Mike "Imagine a Jump" (John Lennon / Van Halen mashup)

My first reaction on hearing this one was to be mildly offended. I got over it, but it's a really odd emotion for a mashup to evoke.

Question for the Hive Mind: Cactus IDs

I'm either sick or underslept to the point of feeling sick on Sunday evening as I write this, so I don't have it in me to write very much. I've had these photos for a long time, and have been meaning to go to or somewhere and try to come up with IDs so I could use them for List posts, but I never did. If you have a guess on any of them, leave it in the comments. Or keep it to yourself. Whatever.

I, meanwhile, am going to go to bed early and hope that I'm just tired. It doesn't feel like tired -- every joint and muscle is achy, I have a headache, my face feels hot, my eyes and mouth are dry -- but this has happened before, once or twice a year for several years, and if I'm sick, it's the kind of sick that twelve straight hours of sleep usually cures.

There will be a mashup this afternoon; I wrote that post already.

Cactus NOID no. 5.

Cactus NOID no. 6. (Cephalocereus sp.?) Espostoa lanata?

Cactus NOID no. 7; Ferocactus sp.

Cactus NOID no. 8.

Cactus NOID no. 9. (Gymnocalycium?) Echinopsis sp.

Cactus NOID no. 10.

Cactus NOID no. 11. (Mammillaria sp.?) Echinocereus sp.

Cactus NOID no. 12 (tagged Ferocactus sp.).

Cactus NOID no. 13. (Melocactus sp.?)

Cactus NOID no. 14; Mammillaria sp.

Cactus NOID no. 15, with fruit; Mammillaria sp.

Cactus NOID no. 16; Mammillaria sp.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Music Video: DJ Earworm "No-One Takes Your Freedom" (Aretha Franklin / George Michael / Scissor Sisters / Paul McCartney mashup)

This has been one of my favorite mashups for a very long time, almost since the day I was first aware of the existence of mashups. DJ Earworm has become someone who takes hundreds of tiny snippets of songs and fits them together into a brand-new song, but his earlier stuff was more like this, taking large chunks of songs and playing them over top of one another. I don't have strong feelings either way which is better, though I suspect the mosaic-mural approach he's doing now is more time-consuming. Either way, this is still an amazing job of finding a set of four songs that work well together musically and thematically, and turning them into something entirely new, and I've listened to it some uncountably huge number of times over the past three years or so.

Pretty picture: Phragmipedium besseae D'Alessandro

A notable historical fact about Phragmipediums (abbreviated "Phrag" by those in the trade, or people who would just prefer not to type out Phragmipedium, which is most everybody) is that one species, P. besseae, has only been known since 1981, when it was found in Peru by Elizabeth Locke Besse. It's unusual among Phrags for its flower color, which is a strong orange to salmon, and there are a few yellow or cream-colored specimens out there too. Naturally, once word got out about the existence of the new species, orchid collectors immediately descended on the site and took everything they could get their hands on. The trade of wild-collected plants is now banned, but it all happened fast enough that some populations were wiped out completely, either by overcollection or by habitat destruction.

This is all pretty obviously not a good thing for the local ecosystem (P. besseae is found along the eastern slope of the Andes in Peru, Columbia and Ecuador, so it's probably technically several ecosystems, not just one), but it's more ambiguous for P. besseae specifically. One could argue that it was doomed by development sooner or later, and the collectors saved the species from extinction. I mean, I probably wouldn't argue that, but now that P. besseae is part of the orchid trade and being used in hybridization, it's indisputably a hell of a lot less likely to go extinct than it was when nobody knew about it.

Of course the best option would have been for collectors to get specimens for breeding without taking so many that they wiped out the species in the wild, but that would have depended on everybody being restrained, rational, and co-operative. Which is unlikely.

In site-related news, I have a couple other orchid pictures from elsewhere that may or may not show up in the next month and a half, but this is the last of the Wallace's Orchid Show photos from 2010. I remind readers that the 2011 show is March 12 and 13 at the Wallace's Garden Center in Bettendorf, IA, and I'll be there on the 12th (or at least that's the plan at the moment), should anybody want to try to meet up there. E-mail if you're interested.