Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

I went a little nuts this week propagating stuff, and cut a bunch of the Pellionia out of Nina's place in the process. (A little of the Fittonia, too.) While I was in there, I took out the Vriesea, because although it's adorable when she sleeps in there, the plant has been dying. Tiny, roundish silvery bugs (which I've seen before but have never been able to identify) were crawling around near and under the Vriesea, too; I don't know if the bugs were the cause or a symptom, but it's possible I'm going to have to dump out all the soil and start over. Ordinarily I'd try spraying with neem oil or something, but Nina has to live in there, and I don't have an alternate location for her.

The Vriesea hasn't been replaced; I stuck a cutting of the big pink Fittonia in the corner because I had one left over after potting stuff up, but it's not big enough to substitute for the Vriesea and may well die soon anyway. If it takes, then great; if it doesn't, no big loss. Nina's apparently not a big fan of change. Here she is watching the new arrival out of the corner of her eye:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Music Video: Mighty Mike "Heart-Shaped Desires" (Nirvana / Muse mashup)

I found this one too late to include it in the January mashup-fest, but I really like it. It'd been a long time since I'd heard "Heart-Shaped Box" in any context, and I wasn't familiar with Muse at all. Without all the loud, grinding guitars, "Heart-Shaped Box" turns out to be kind of pretty. Kind of.

Mary Richards and the Incredible Plant Lady

The husband and I watch all our TV on the internet now. The choices are more limited, and we usually can't watch first-run shows on the night they air, but otherwise it's worked out pretty well for us. The only real problem with it is that there aren't that many shows out there that I consider worth watching, and TV executives have done horrible things to scheduling (13-episode seasons, "daily" shows that are only on four days a week and go on vacation all the time, 8-month gaps in the middle of a season, shows getting moved to different days and times) so some nights we wind up without anything to watch, and have to dig a little deeper.

Fortunately, by now, Hulu has a lot of old TV shows in its archives, and I was moved to check out the page for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which currently has the first three seasons of MTM on-line. The very last episode of the show's third season was titled "Mary Richards and the Incredible Plant Lady," and with a title like that, how could I not watch it? (In the U.S., you can watch the episode on Hulu here; outside the U.S. you may or may not be able to see it: I understand shows on Hulu are often/always only available in the U.S., for some reason.)

The plot, for what it's worth, is that Mary's neighbor Rhoda (Valerie Harper) borrows a lot of money from Mary to start a "plant boutique." ($1300! Which in 1973 was apparently enough to buy a new convertible. I guess I sort of remember car prices like that. I watched a lot of "The Price is Right" as a child.) And then she doesn't pay it back when she said she was going to, so Mary worries about how to say something to her. The plants aren't a major part of the show, though there's an early scene involving an African violet, and a longer scene in Rhoda's apartment, which was, yes, covered with plants.

(What's going on here is, Mary had an African violet which was doing poorly, so she gave it to Rhoda to rehabilitate. In this scene, Rhoda's bringing it back to Mary.)

Anyway. The show originally aired on March 3, 1973, which is before I was born, but I think it explains a lot about me anyway. Somehow. Rhoda's apartment has certain obvious similarities to the inside of the house (though the inside of the house isn't painted red, thank goodness).

Also people tend to react to it the same way when they see it for the first time:

The show makes awful puns, too. When Rhoda is explaining her idea to Mary, she comes up with a name for the place --

(The closed captioning reads: "You know, with a name like Rhoda's-dendron. No, huh? That's --")

that sounds just like something I might come up with. And the episode comes damned close to stealing my blog title from me, thirty-four years before I came up with it:

("You know, they're just like people.")

("Little green people.")

And there's even more anthropomorphization:

("Fine. Thank you. I brought you this plant.")

("It's called a prayer plant." "Mm-hmm.")

("But don't worry, it's nondenominational.")

Now, I'd always wanted to discover a close personal connection to Mary Tyler Moore, but I'd been hoping that it would be more, um, financial than this. Like that she was really my otherwise-heirless grandma or something. But I suppose having Mary Tyler Moore directing my life choices from before I was born should be enough. Certainly I have no reason to expect better. So, probably, Moore has just replaced Helen Hunt as the patron actress of PATSP.1


Anyway. I do have a serious horticultural point to make, which is: all the plants in the show look so . . . scrawny. Or I guess not all: there's a spider plant in Rhoda's apartment that's pretty good size, and she also has a substantial asparagus fern (though surely it doesn't get enough light where she has it?2). Mary has a big Boston fern in her place. But the African violet that Rhoda was holding in the photo above? That single Aglaonema stem in the middle of Rhoda's apartment? I'm assuming these were supposed to look full and lush and overgrown, so Rhoda would have credibility with the viewer as a Person Who Knows About Plants, and yet -- that's the best they could do? They filmed in California, right?

So I'm wondering how to explain this. Has plant-breeding made that much progress since the 1970s, that our cultivars are bigger, freer-branching, bushier, etc.? I mean, it would make sense that forty years of intense plant breeding and selection would result in really awesome plants, in general, I suppose. Have the industry standards changed for what's considered a "full" plant? (I.e., was it once okay to stick a single Aglaonema cane in a pot and sell it, and now you always have to have at least two, usually three?) Are people just somehow that much better at taking care of plants now? I suppose we do probably have warmer, more energy-efficient houses on average than we did in the 70s. Were there no plant-rental places in Southern California in 1973? I know they have plenty of them now.

Anybody have other theories?

Do you even agree with me that Rhoda's plants look kinda sad, or is it just me? (I realize it's hard to tell from the stills: they seemed crisp enough when I took the screen-captures, but once I'd e-mailed them to myself, downloaded them to my computer, and uploaded them to Blogger, they seemed a lot blurrier. If you watch the actual episode, it's clear enough what most of the plants are.)


1 Oh, yeah, you totally have to have a patron actress. Or actor. Whichever. Possibly PATSP's should be Valerie Harper, considering the episode, but I like Mary. Let's go with Mary. (The explanation for Helen Hunt.)
2 Yep. I'm now concerned about the care being received by long-dead fictional plants. (It was a real plant in 1973, but it didn't live on the set of Rhoda's apartment. Or at least I hope it didn't. So that much of it is fictional. You know what I mean.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

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

It's hard to follow the plant profiles. Even when it's not a great profile, I've put enough effort into it that I usually don't have time to come up with something else. So: transmitted light photos.

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

Peperomia orba. I don't know why this wound up being such a crappy picture; the leaves are thick, but I've gotten better pictures with thicker leaves before. Unlucky, perhaps.

Taraxacum officinale. This one, on the other hand, is unpleasant because it was taken at the end of fall and the leaf in question was old. There may have been mildew on it too.

Senecio macroglossus.

Fragaria x 'Fort Laramie,' autumn. I was reminded last fall how brilliant the colors can be on strawberry plants. One of those things I knew at one time but forgot about.

Callisia repens.

Colocasia esculenta. If you only concentrate on the darker areas around the main veins, this sort of looks like a few very carefully-arranged green feathers.

Caladium 'Cardinal.'

Weigela florida 'Alexandra.' If I'm reading correctly, the on-line consensus is that this is the same as 'Wine and Roses.' Looks pretty, whatever you call it. A little dark for the yard, maybe.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar.' These often turn out nicely, but I rarely think that the photo came out looking like the leaf actually looked in person. This one isn't quite right either (though it's still a nice picture).

Quercus sp., autumn. I have a lot of autumn Quercus photos stockpiled; this isn't the best one by a long shot, but it's still my favorite from this set.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Widower (Persea americana)

One of the fundamental problems long-lived plants have to solve is where to propagate themselves. When is not as much of a problem -- you live a long time; if you don't reproduce this year, well, there's always next -- and both why and how are pretty much decided for you already: it's going to be a seed,1 and you do it or else your whole species is going to go extinct. But where?

If you just let the seeds drop, your next generation is in a decent spot -- you know this because you have managed to live there for however long it's been. However, this also means that your children are going to be competing with you for water and minerals, and you're likely to shade them so much that they won't be able to get any light, and will struggle to get going at first, which will lead some of them to early deaths. Or maybe they'll outcompete you and lead to your early death. Either way, not terribly appealing.

You could set your seeds free to float on the wind, or drop them into a body of water, to float around until they hit a suitable spot: this ensures that at least some of them will wind up far enough away from you that they're not going to compete with you. However, most wind-borne seeds will land in places where they can't grow (too salty, too wet, too rocky, too dry, etc.), and water-borne seeds are mainly going to travel in a single direction -- either around the edge of the lake or downstream. Water travel is nice in that you know that there will be water waiting for the seeds when they get wherever they're going, but it's also very limiting, in terms of total land space: sooner or later, you're trying to drop seeds around the same lake shore that your relatives are already circling, or down the same stream that's nothing but root-to-root you up and down the banks already.

Two varieties of Persea americana fruit: the black one is I think a Hass; the green is a "Slimcado," a variety that's supposed to have 1/3 less fat than . . . something. I don't think the sticker actually said what it has 1/3 less fat than.

Finally, you can take advantage of something more mobile than yourself, which is what the avocado (Persea americana) decided to do. The fruits are calorie-rich, so anything that can eat them2 gets a good reward for doing so. They even fall off the tree before they're ripe and then ripen on the ground, which is more convenient if your seed distributor doesn't climb. And the seed is (relatively) huge, hard, and rounded, so it easily survives passage through a large animal's gastrointestinal tract, which as a bonus means that the seed starts its life in a moist, nutrient-rich pile of dung.

If you're an avocado, then, it would seem that you have life all figured out, and you can just lay back and enjoy the rewards of your cleverness while your partner distributes your seeds for you. Right?

Well, you could, if only you hadn't picked this guy to be your seed-carrier:

That's a ground sloth,3 and they went extinct in North and South America about 10,000 years ago, give or take.4 But that's okay, 'cause you've got a back-up:

Photo by Leonard G., from Wikipedia.

Oh, shit.

That's a gomphothere, the New World answer to the elephant,5 which also started to go extinct around 10,000 years ago,6 though the gomphotheres stuck it out quite a while longer -- possibly lasting until as recently as 6000 years ago.

As far as I know, there is no hard evidence to show that either of these animals was definitely the distributor of Persea seeds, but there aren't a lot of candidates: whatever distributed avocados had to be a pretty big animal, because all indications are that they're supposed to be swallowed whole. There are only so many animals big enough to do that at the right spot in the fossil record. It's an educated guess.

Whatever it was, if not the sloths or the gomphotheres, went just as extinct as they did, so the central point remains unchanged. So the widow part of the "person" for this plant is because Persea has lost an animal partner, so to speak. The reason why he's a widower, and not a widow, is because the Nahuatl people of Mexico, who stepped in to take the gomphotheres' and sloths' place,7 chose the name for the plant that wound up sticking: ahuacatl, which means, in the Nahuatl language, "testicle."8

Fruits on a tree outdoors. Photo by B.navez, via Wikipedia.

No two sources agree on exactly where or when human domestication of the avocado first began, but Wikipedia says the first evidence of avocado use dates to 10,000 BC, and organized human domestication began roughly 8000-9000 years ago. There's also some confusion about the geographic origin of the species, with some sources putting the original range from Central America north to the Rio Grande River and south to Peru, and Wikipedia locating it specifically in the state of Puebla, Mexico. I'm not going to go into the history of avocado cultivation or the peculiarities of cross-pollinating avocados or any of that, nor am I going to talk about how wonderful and delicious they are,9 or how nutritious, or how easy to grow outdoors, or any of that, because dammit, this is a houseplant blog and we have to get to the houseplant stuff.

I suspect that most indoor gardeners eventually wind up trying to grow an avocado from seed. Seeds are easy to get, and easy to sprout, so it's sort of a logical thing to try.

Nobody, as a result, tries to sell them as houseplants, though I have my suspicions that a clever enough marketer could probably pull it off: the leaves are a nice, slightly metallic green, and they're not particularly difficult to grow. A new name, maybe a slightly dwarfed habit (either a small-statured variety or a regular variety that's been chemically dwarfed), some kind of made-up legend about them being lucky,10 and I think a grower could have a hit. The only thing that keeps them from being grown more indoors, I think, is that indoor-grown plants tend not to look that great. But mass-production in Florida and proper pruning of the young plants would take care of that problem, too. I really do think there's money in this idea somewhere.

PROPAGATION: The usual way one starts an avocado is, one removes the seed from the center of a supermarket-bought fruit, washes it off in running water (no soap), suspends it pointed-end-up with toothpicks over a glass of water, puts the whole thing in a warm, sunny spot, and waits for it to split open and begin to sprout.

Seeds suspended in water with toothpicks. Photo by KVDP, from Wikipedia.

This method is fairly straightforward, though there are ways to do it wrong. You should change the water regularly, lest the seed start to rot. Opinions differ on exactly how often to change the water: I'm inclined to say at least once a week, though some sources say once every few weeks. More often is better than less often. You should also maintain the water level more or less constant at about halfway up the seed: don't submerge it completely, and don't let all the water evaporate so the seed dries out.

But you don't have to do it like that. You can also start it directly in soil. If it's decent soil and you keep it moist (not waterlogged: moist) for long enough, in a warm, sunny spot, just under the surface of the soil, that's supposed to work just as well. I've started one in soil before, but that sort of doesn't count: the seed had already sprouted while in the fruit. (I don't know why I didn't get a picture. Sorry.)

Either way, as long as the seeds never dry out, germination is usually pretty reliable. If I remember correctly, although the online advice is usually to wait 4-6 weeks before the sprout emerges, the one we started in water was much faster than that. And the second one didn't even wait on us to take it out of the fruit.

LIGHT: Well, the websites all say that you should give your plant as much light as you can, up to and including full sun, but the plant doesn't necessarily have to have that much: my personal plants get some sun for a few weeks in the summer, but only bright indirect light the rest of the year, and they've done fine. They're not gorgeous, and they might grow faster if they were getting more light, but the point is that they're not that particular about how much direct sun they get, so long as the light they're getting is bright.

Plants grown under lights may grow fast enough to run into the lights, which can bleach and burn the developing younger leaves, causing them to fall off. Keep some distance between artificial light and the top of your plant.

The better of my two plants, at about 11 months old.

WATER: The usual on-line advice is to keep them from ever getting really dry, but not so much that they get sopping wet either. My avocados dried out much more slowly than I was expecting when first potted up a year ago, but lately they're needing water every couple weeks. I don't feel like they're particularly fussy about when they get water, so long as I water thoroughly.

One site said that the leaves of plants which are too wet will curl under, while plants that are too dry will drop leaves. I've never seen either behavior on my plants, and it's not like I'm super-consistent with the watering, so I'm not sure I believe any of this. I have seen curled leaves on other people's plants, but I'm not convinced that this means they're too wet. (I guess if you suspect that the plant's too wet already, this might count as confirmation.)

HUMIDITY: The usual advice is to do something to boost the humidity near the plant as much as possible. I can't say my plants have ever complained about the humidity in here, but then, the humidity here is rarely all that low. If air is too dry, you may get tip burn or dropped lower leaves, though tip burn can also be caused by mineral build-up in the soil, and occasional leaf drop on an older plant is normal.

TEMPERATURE: There's a lot of debate on-line about whether or not established avocado trees, outdoors, can take a freeze or not, but I'm hoping that figuring out who's right isn't important if you're growing an avocado as a houseplant.

PESTS: Nothing in particular. I haven't had any spider mite problems on my plants, and spider mites are the pests I'd have if I were going to have pests.11 Persea species are especially susceptible to a particular mite called the persea mite, but unless you live in an area where avocados are grown outdoors, persea mites aren't likely to be a problem on your plant.

The outdoor growers seem most concerned about beetles, caterpillars, and weevils, none of which are likely to be an issue inside either. Fungal diseases are more of a concern (especially if you're misting to keep humidity up, or if you water from overhead in a shower or something, like I do), and scale and mealybugs are always something to watch out for.

GROOMING: The recommendation for pruning young avocado plants is usually to wait until a stem gets about 6 inches (15 cm) long, then cut it back to 3 inches (8 cm), over and over, until the plant has branched out well. I have a hard time doing this to plants, even when I know they need it,12 which is one problem, but the other problem is that the plants aren't always co-operative even when you do cut them back. This one, after getting cut back, grew one humongous leaf and one medium-sized leaf, didn't branch, and then stopped doing anything at all for several months:

My stubborn non-branching plant.

You'll also want to check your plant regularly to see whether it needs to be repotted: Persea doesn't like to be cramped. There seems to be general consensus that you shouldn't repot an avocado in the winter; if you can, wait until spring instead.

You're also not likely to get fruit on a plant grown indoors, though it happens occasionally on older plants, especially if they get to summer outdoors. If you do get fruit, it won't be the same kind of fruit you originally purchased.

FEEDING: Feed with a regular houseplant fertilizer at quarter-strength with every watering, or feed every three months at full-strength. The former method is more hassle for you, but probably better for the plant. Older, established plants may need more fertilizer than younger plants of the same size.

Persea is sensitive to mineral buildup and overfertilization; either can result in burnt leaf tips. (Tip burn is also a sign of low humidity, though.) Flushing the pot with a lot of distilled water or rainwater is one way to deal with this; you could also remove as much soil as possible from the roots and replace it with new soil, though that's more traumatic for the plant.

One of my references, the New World Encyclopedia, had this to say about the avocado:
There is an important interdependency between avocados and people. The plant lacks a seed dispersal technique outside of humans. It is hypothesized that it originally co-evolved with large mammals that are now extinct, such as the giant ground sloth, with these ecological partners vital to seed dispersal. New mechanisms have not evolved, but the effectiveness of human intervention has allowed the plant to prosper. Of course, in exchange for this benefit, the avocado provides a nutritional and desirable fruit for people.

This bugs me, because of course a new dispersal mechanism sure as hell has evolved, and we're it. We don't eat the fruit whole and then pass them in our . . . er, "dung," true, but Persea americana doesn't produce the same kind of fruit it used to, either. It's shuffled its genetics around and come up with a different fruit than what existed in the past, and if you don't believe me check this out:

"Criollo" avocados, the fruit of uncultivated Persea americana. Photo by Nick Saum, Released under the GNU Free Documentation License (CC-BY-SA-3.0). Via Wikipedia.

Sure, we had a more direct and deliberate hand in the reshuffling than the sloths did, breeding them purposely to get the traits we wanted, but it's still evolution. We are part of the environment of the avocado plant, and it's changed to reproduce itself better in this new, slothless environment. Change in successive generations of an organism, over long periods of time, is what evolution is.

This also means, to extend my earlier metaphor, that the once-widowed avocado has remarried, and we're the bride. I hope this works out better for Persea than its previous marriages did.

References in no particular order:13

Photo credits: Mine unless otherwise identified in the text.

1 Unless you're a moss, fern, or liverwort. But ew. Who'd want to be one of them?
2 (EDITED:) There seems to be broad agreement that the whole plant, including the leaves and fruits, is toxic to mammals, fish, and especially birds. A lot of people reportedly feed pieces of the fruit to their pets without any problems, and it probably is safe for cats and dogs in small amounts, but I don't recommend feeding any part of the avocado to any animal, especially especially especially birds, because you can't know how your particular animal will react or how much might cause a problem, and death is definitely a possible outcome.
I didn't see much suggesting that avocado plants or fruit are dangerous to humans as a group, though some individuals have allergies to the fruit. Humans don't appear to be very sensitive to the actual toxin in avocados (called persin, from the genus name Persea), but children would probably be more strongly affected, so do treat the plant like it's poisonous if you have kids around.
One particular variety of avocado, which depending on the source is either a subspecies (P. a. drymifolia) or species (P. drymifolia), is used in cooking in Mexico, where it is said to impart an anise-like flavor to dishes. The leaves of drymifolia are apparently safe in the amounts one would normally use for cooking, but as far as I can determine, only that particular variety is safe and useful. Drymifolia is distinguished from the others by having fruits with thinner skins, and the leaves smell of anise even before being cooked. Plants being grown as houseplants from supermarket avocados are probably not drymifolia (at best they might be a hybrid of it), so I do not recommend trying to cook with the leaves of a plant you've started from seed. (Even if they aren't toxic, the flavor is not likely to be what you're looking for anyway.) Instead, I'd recommend that you track down a source to sell you a whole plant with a confirmed identity. The only such source P. drymifolia I found on-line was Rolling River Nursery, out of Northern California, but their website doesn't seem to be updated very often ("available spring 2007"), and I have no personal dealings with them at all so I don't know if they're a good place to buy stuff or not. Caveat emptor.
3 Specifically, that's "Rusty," a reconstruction of the giant ground sloth Megalonyx jeffersonii. Rusty lives (or "lives," rather) at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, where he is apparently one of the major draws. I mean, they have him on the t-shirts and everything:

In person, he's actually kind of terrifying. You maybe don't get this from the photo, but he's enormous -- maybe 8-9 feet (2.4-2.7 m) tall and at least as long. And there are claws, which didn't show up that well in the above photo, but here he is from another angle:

4 I'm sure it's just a coincidence that human beings are thought to have arrived in the Americas around 14,500 years ago.
5 Technically, the picture above is of a skeleton found in China, but it made the whoops-it's-extinct joke better so I used it. One North American species was Gomphotherium angustidens, which looks pretty darned elephanty with its skin on:

Public domain illustration, from Wikipedia.

As for the relationship between gomphotheres and elephants: the terminology is confusing, and nobody seems terribly inclined to spell the interrelationships out clearly. My understanding is that the order Proboscidea of mammals contains the family Elephantidae (modern elephants), and the extinct families Mammutidae (mastodons), Gomphotheriidae (gomphotheres) and possibly the Stegodontidae (no common name) if you're the kind of person who believes the Stegodontidae should be a separate family. (Not everyone believes this; it's controversial.) So they're . . . fairly related to elephants, and they look quite a bit like elephants, but they aren't technically elephants.
6 Coincidence! (It actually might have been: there was an ice age ending around 10,000 years ago. It really might not have been our fault. I would be really surprised if we hadn't found some way to make the situation worse for the gomphotheres, though, because it's what we do.)
7 The Nahuatl among others, probably; I have a less than comprehensive understanding of how many distinct groups of people have lived in southern Mexico and Central America during the last 15,000 years, or what most of them would have called Persea americana. You don't know either, so don't go judging me.
8 In fact, for quite a while, people assumed that since it resembled a testicle, it had to be good for fertility, and maybe also an aphrodisiac, because people are easily convinced to think about sex and collectively very suggestible. The avocado thus became associated with lewd and promiscuous behavior, to the point where the early commercial growers and marketers had to launch an aggressive PR campaign to convince everyone that it was possible to eat avocados without turning into a huge slut.
9 I actually wouldn't know: to the best of my recollection, I've never eaten an avocado. Which you'd think I'd eat one while I was working on the profile, just to be able to say I'd done it, but no. (The avocados in the house are all bought and consumed by the husband. Who has thus far not turned into a huge slut, just in case you had lingering doubts about that.)
10 Or maybe this would be a good moment in history to bring back the aphrodisiac rumors?
11 I worry that maybe I'm tempting fate by saying so, but I haven't seen a mealybug or scale insect in here in a long time. And it's not like I stopped checking for them.
12 I don't trust them to resprout. I'm getting better about doing it anyway, but it's still difficult for me.
13 (Also I think it's probably an incomplete list. I try to document, but I lose things sometimes. Sorry.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random plant event: Nematanthus 'Tropicana' flower

My original plan for today was to participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day again, but GBBD posts take a lot of time to put together and at this point (early Sunday morning) I'm still hoping that I can get the Persea americana profile together in time to finish by Wednesday. (UPDATE: I did.)

So, instead, we have a long-awaited (by me) Nematanthus 'Tropicana' bloom, which was still only in bud stage for the January GBBD. (Still only one flower, though: the other buds are taking longer.)

This may not be 'Tropicana;' I'm using that name because it's the only cultivar I've seen with striped flowers like this. It didn't have an ID when I bought it.

Happily, it's next to a NOID orange-blooming Nematanthus which has been flowering for a long time, so I've been able to attempt a little cross-pollination, too. May or may not work, but I figure it's worth trying when the opportunity arises.

Lots of gesneriads lately. This was originally accidental, but, one, once I realized I had a thing going, I decided to go along with it, and two, the Tennessee Gesneriad Society has been lurking around here lately (*waves*), so I figured I should post something relevant to their interests.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Iowa Grandmother Speaks in Favor of Gay Marriage


List: Plants for Terrariums

(Happy Valentine's Day, if applicable.)

This is an odd category to build a list around, because "terrariums," actually, is sort of hard to define. I usually assume, when I hear "terrarium," that we're talking about an enclosed glass container, no bigger than a couple feet in any direction, that's being used to grow moisture-loving plants, but of course there are also extremely large terrariums, terrariums that fit inside an incandescent light bulb, open-topped terrariums, desert terrariums, unplanted terrariums which house animals, etc.

So if you want to get technical about it, there's no plant that couldn't be grown in some kind of terrarium if one is sufficiently flexible about the definition, so the list of "plants for terrariums" equals every plant that exists. Which is an easy answer, but not particularly satisfying.

So what I'm assuming with this list is that we're talking about: an enclosed glass container, no bigger than a couple feet in any direction, that's being used to grow moisture-loving plants. Which means that we're looking for plants that like humidity and moist soil, which grow slowly, and don't need full sun. (Full sun is fine, except that it also comes with quite a bit of heat, and since there's nowhere for heat to escape in an enclosed terrarium, sooner or later an enclosed terrarium in full sun will cook itself to death.)

Which is still a pretty long list, it turns out.

Calathea makoyana. Some Calatheas can get to be large (to at least two feet / 61 cm in diameter) quickly, especially in a terrarium, and large Calathea leaves can block most of the light from reaching plants underneath them, but it's a lot easier to grow a Calathea under glass than it is to grow one on a windowsill.

Cryptanthus NOID. Some varieties can get to be pretty large, but most of the ones I've seen top out at about six inches across (15 cm), and they don't spread like some of the choices on this list will.

Episcia 'Coco.' Happy Episcias will produce plantlets on runners, which should root when they contact the soil (you may need to pin them down gently first, so they're firmly in contact), so they do spread a little, but they stay short.

Fittonia albibenis cvv. are fast-growing, spreading plants. The small-leaved varieties stay very short, while the varieties with larger leaves reach about six inches (15 cm) tall and then bend over under their own weight. The stems root when they touch soil, so over time they'll expand.

Hemigraphis exotica. Can get to be twelve inches (30 cm) tall in good conditions, though usually they're shorter than that.

Hemionitis arifolia. Also to about 12 in / 30 cm tall and about as wide. Mature plants will produce plantlets where the petiole joins the leaf; I'm not sure if they'll bend over and root on their own, or if they have to be helped, but either way, allow a lot of space.

Pellionia pulchra. Fast-growing, aggressive trailing plant in a terrarium. Stays short, but the stems need to be cut back periodically.

Peperomia argyreia. Another somewhat mounding plant that needs about 12 in / 30 cm in height and diameter.

Saintpaulia 'Harmony's Red Star.' I don't know about this variety specifically, but there are many, many Saintpaulia varieties, including miniatures (under 6 in / 15 cm in diameter). (Most get to be larger.) All grow well in terrarium culture, and stay relatively short. Spent flowers do need to be removed regularly, so this may not be the plant for you if you want to plant your terrarium in a narrow-necked bottle.

Soleirolia soleirolii, chartreuse cv. This is another low, mat-forming ground cover. Plants stay short but will spread fairly quickly if not cut back.

Recommends and anti-recommends are more or less pointless here, because what's going to work for you depends on the size of terrarium in question and what you want it to do. If you're interested in planting a terrarium, find out how big the plants you're thinking about including will get before you plant them. You should also try to find out how fast they'll grow: some people like having to get in and prune back the plants every so often, and some people don't.

A few of these plants will also need a more specialized growing medium than ordinary bagged potting mix. Most orchids would like the conditions in a terrarium just fine, but need to be planted in bark instead of potting mix, so I left them off the list.

Not pictured:
  • Adiantum capillus-veneris (maidenhair fern)
  • Aeschynanthus spp. (lipstick plants, goldfish plants)
  • Asplenium antiquum (birds-nest fern)
  • Asplenium 'Austral Gem'
  • Asplenium nidus (birds-nest fern)
  • Begonia rex-cultorum cvv. and small rhizomatous Begonias. I personally wouldn't try to grow a rex begonia outside of a terrarium.
  • Blechnum brasiliense (tree fern) and other tree ferns
  • Most Calathea spp. are suitable, at least when younger
  • Chamaedorea elegans (parlor palm)
  • Codiaeum variegatum cvv.
  • Columnea cvv.
  • Cryptbergia cvv.
  • Cyanotis kewensis (teddy bear vine)
  • Cyrtomium falcatum (holly fern)
  • Davallia spp. (rabbit's-foot fern)
  • Didymochlaena truncatula (mahogany fern)
  • Dionaea muscipula (venus flytrap), though they have fairly specific temperature and water-quality needs which won't necessarily mesh with other plant species
  • Epipremnum aureum (pothos)
  • Ficus pumila (creeping fig)
  • Some of the smaller Guzmania cvv.
  • Hypoestes phyllostachya (polka-dot plant)
  • Ludisia discolor (jewel orchid) and the other jewel orchids like Macodes and Goodyera spp.
  • Maranta leuconeura cvv. (prayer plant)
  • Nematanthus cvv. (guppy plant)
  • Some of the smaller Neoregelia cvv.
  • Nephrolepis exaltata cvv. (Boston fern)
  • Pellaea rotundifolia (button fern)
  • Peperomia caperata
  • Peperomia clusiifolia
  • Peperomia glabella
  • Peperomia griseo-argentea
  • Peperomia obtusifolia cvv. (baby rubber plant)
  • Peperomia orba
  • Peperomia verschaffeltii
  • Some self-heading Philodendron hybrids, especially 'Autumn,' 'Moonlight,' and 'Prince of Orange'
  • Philodendron brandtianum
  • Philodendron hederaceum cvv. (heart-leaf philodendron)
  • Pilea cadierei (aluminum plant)
  • Pilea depressa (baby toes)
  • Pilea involucrata cvv. (friendship plant)
  • Pilea microphylla
  • Pilea mollis 'Moon Valley'
  • Pilea nummularifolia
  • Pilea peperomioides? (Chinese money plant, missionary plant)
  • Plectranthus oertendahlii?
  • Podocarpus macrophyllus (Buddhist pine)
  • Polypodium formosanum
  • Polypodium grandiceps (elkhorn fern)
  • Polyscias fruticosa cvv. (ming aralia, parsley aralia)
  • Pteris cretica cvv. (table fern, Cretan brake)
  • Saxifraga stolonifera (strawberry begonia)
  • It seems to me like Schlumbergera cvv. (Christmas cactus, holiday cactus) ought to work, though I can't say I've seen it attempted much.
  • Scindapsus pictus (silver pothos)
  • Scyphularia pycnocarpa (possum tail fern)
  • Selaginella spp. (spikemoss)
  • Miniature Sinningia cvv. (gloxinia)
  • Smaller Spathiphyllum cvv. (peace lily)
  • Streptocapus saxorum (streptocarpella)
  • Streptocarpus cvv. (cape primrose)
  • Stromanthe spp.
  • Syngonium podophyllum (arrowhead vine)
  • Syngonium wendlandii
  • Tillandsia cyanea and other Tillandsia spp. (pink quill, air plants)
  • Tolmiea menziesii (piggyback plant)
  • Tradescantia spathacea? (moses in the cradle, oyster plant)
  • Vanilla planifolia? (vanilla orchid)
  • Small Vriesea cvv.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Random plant event: Aeschynanthus NOID

I bought this NOID Aeschynanthus in early November 2010, because I liked the foliage. I didn't know what species or variety it was, and didn't expect to know anytime soon, either, because from what I read on-line, it looked like I couldn't know until I'd seen flowers. Green flowers meant the species A. longicaulus, and orange flowers meant the hybrid cultivar A. 'Black Pagoda.'

I figured I'd have a long wait, but a few days ago I saw this:

The picture makes it look more yellow-orange than it actually is: most of the tube is olive-green, and the last third (beginning at the bend) is basically brown. It's not remotely a pretty flower, in or out of the photo, but it is definitely different. And more importantly, I now know for sure what I have. It's an Aeschynanthus longicaulis.

And there will be more flowers soon, apparently.

So I decided that I want more Aeschynanthususes.

When I was updating the want list to reflect my desire for more Aeschynanthususes, I did some image googling to see what other varieties out there I need to have, and that's how I discovered A. marmoratus -- which looks exactly like A. longicaulis.

Well, crap, I thought. I'll never be able to figure out which species I have, now.

But, fortunately, I remembered The Plant List, and went over there to check, and it turns out that A. marmoratus is an obsolete synonym for A. longicaulis, so everything's cool and taxonomic certainty was restored. Though I did have to lie down for a little while afterward, to calm down.