Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Nothing much to talk about today; nobody's run away or eaten anything they shouldn't or been unusually adorable or any of that. Which is fine. Not complaining.

Friday, April 29, 2011

List: Houseplants Which Resemble Piles of Sticks

What? Some of them do.

Agave geminiflora.

Bryophyllum tubiflorum.

Cissus quadrangularis.

Codiaeum variegatum 'Picasso's Paintbrush.'

Euphorbia tirucalli.

Gasteria x pseudonigricans?

Hatiora salicornioides.

Peperomia ferreyrae.

Rhipsalis teres var. heteroclada. (ID is tentative; Rhipsalis species are difficult to tell apart.)

Sansevieria cylindrica.

But which ones are pleasant to grow?

Well, I've grown seven of the ten (haven't tried Agave geminiflora, Bryophyllum tubiflorum, or Codiaeum variegatum 'Picasso's Paintbrush'), and don't have too many complaints about most of them, but if I must choose three to recommend:

Euphorbia tirucalli, whatever faults it may have as a poisonous, somewhat shapeless monster that wants to blind people and burn their skin off, is remarkably easy to grow, even under terrible indoor conditions, and mine has certainly proven its mettle. (I'll have had it ten years in October, which sort of doesn't seem like it could possibly be real. And yet.) And however much it might want to wound and disfigure, if you just leave it alone, that's not going to be a problem.

Hatiora salicornioides is another long acquaintance of mine, with whom I've had mostly positive experiences, and it's even safe to have around. Rhipsalis teres is pretty much exactly the same way, though I haven't known it as long.

It's also hard to find much fault with Sansevieria cylindrica, unless you like plants that will grow from time to time. (S. cylindrica does grow, just very slowly, has been my experience. This partly reflects the care it's received, though.)

The anti-recommend is Codiaeum variegatum 'Picasso's Paintbrush.' I may not have grown it specifically, but I've grown crotons before, and don't consider them worth the spider mites they bring with them.

Not pictured (It's impossible to make a comprehensive list, because there's no way to quantify "resemble," "piles," or "of sticks," but here are some others I considered.):
  • Agave victoriae-reginae. Pretty much any Agave variety with non-floppy leaves, really.
  • Aloe 'Grassy Lassie' in particular, but also a fair number of other Aloes.
  • Araucaria bidwillii
  • Bowiea volubilis (reader suggestion)
  • Brassavola spp. (reader suggestion)
  • Ceropegia stapeliiformis (reader suggestion)
  • Chiloschista lunifera and C. parishii (reader suggestion)
  • Crassula muscosa, a little bit.
  • Cynanchum marnierianum (reader suggestion)
  • Dracaena marginata, at last in silhouette.
  • Euphorbia lactea, particularly large specimens.
  • Euphorbia milii cvv., particularly older plants that have lost their lower leaves.
  • Euphorbia platyclada (reader suggestion)
  • Hoya linearis (reader suggestion)
  • Hoya retusa (reader suggestion)
  • Hylocereus sp.
  • Leuchtenbergia principis, in the same way as Agaves.
  • Pedilanthus tithymaloides, especially older plants that have lost a lot of lower leaves.
  • Rhipsalis spp. are basically made for this list, or maybe vice-versa; some of the more commonly-available ones are R. baccifera and R. ewaldiana.
  • Rhytidocaulon ciliatum (reader suggestion)
  • Sansevieria hargesiana, and several other Sansevierias.
  • Stapelia gigantea, slightly.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thoughts About Tornadoes

1. Disaster Relief

As you may already be aware, the Southern U.S. has been repeatedly raked over by tornadoes in the past three days or so, in the largest, deadliest tornado outbreak in the U.S. since 1974. And we had been having an exceptionally busy April already, with large numbers of tornadoes reported on April 14 (38), April 15 (146), April 16 (139), April 19 (77), April 22 (29), April 25 (44), April 26 (68), and now April 27 (164).

The red dots are the reported tornadoes.

Across the entire U.S., an average April usually sees 150-160 tornadoes total.1

Official numbers will take a while to sort out, but it looks like about 200 people have died from tornadoes so far this April, and obviously a lot of homes and structures (including the roof of the St. Louis Airport) have been damaged or obliterated.

It's not, obviously, on the scale of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami,2 but if you were one of the people who just lost his/r home, it'd still loom pretty big, so if you have the means to do so, I'd encourage readers to donate to, who say:
We are providing direct financial assistance to as many people as we can. This assistance will take the form of cash debit cards in the amount of $100 each. These cards will be provided to individuals and families identified to us by local officials, the local sheriffs, mayors, etc. These local leaders are in the best position to determine local need as well as vet recipients. In Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri and likely other places to come, lives have been thrown into chaos. The ability to spend a few dollars as needed will be crucial. Please make a financial contribution...and make a direct difference.

We also have a lot of flooding going on, as the record-setting snowpack in the northern U.S. (ND, SD, MN) is melting at the same time as the tornado-generating storms are dropping heavy rains (mostly AR, TN, MO, KY, IL, IN, OH) --

Total observed precipitation over the last two weeks. That one little white dot in southern Missouri means they've gotten over twenty inches there.

-- which is setting up the town of Cairo, IL (where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet) for a record-setting flood, which will continue south along the length of the Mississippi, breaking records the whole way down.

The severity of the recent storms is thought to be related to unusually warm temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been running about 1 degree (C) above the long-term average for this time of year. A warmer Gulf means more moisture in the air, and more moisture in the air means more moisture that can fall when it meets colder air, and more energy for a storm to work with.

2. Tornado Videos and Tornado Safety

I really like watching video of tornadoes. Seriously, I could do it all day long and not get bored. Here's one from yesterday, an enormous and deadly tornado that went through Tuscaloosa, AL (I prefer it with the sound off, BTW):


And the same tornado from a different angle:

The reader will notice one huge difference between the two, which is that the first guy set the camera down on something that wasn't moving, so you can actually tell what's going on most of the time. Which, if you're going to be outside filming while there's a tornado going on, is really the way you should do it. There's no point going out into an intense storm with a camera if your video is shaking around so much that nobody can tell what you've recorded.

But the other thing that stands out, especially about the first video, is that people are out driving around. People: this is so, so, so, so, so stupid. Tornadoes pick up large, heavy, sometimes pointy objects and fling them long distances away. They change directions unpredictably. They can move faster than you can drive. They overturn cars. And the motherfucking tornado in question was like a mile wide. If there's a mile-wide tornado in the vicinity, and you can see it clearly from your vehicle, YOU ARE IN PERSONAL DANGER. QUIT BEING A MORON, DRIVE TO A STURDY-LOOKING BUILDING, AND GET THE FUCK IN IT.4

I've only been through one tornado personally, which hit Iowa City about five years ago. (13 Apr 2006) Thirty people were injured in that one, but nobody was killed, and nothing in our5 building was damaged. The husband and I experienced it together, in his bathroom, and I think the tornado must have passed more or less directly over our building, because 1) I remember a sudden loss of pressure that hurt my ears, and a huge amount of air suddenly blowing in under the bathroom door (presumably the air was all getting sucked out through the vent in the bathroom ceiling), and 2) when it was over, we went outside and saw this less than a block away:

This picture was taken the next day; it was spookier to see at night, immediately after the tornado happened, but those pictures are harder to find in the public domain. In case you're wondering: yes, there were people in it at the time (Passover-related services), but they were all okay.

Further evidence that the tornado passed directly over us: the official map the city produced a week or two after the tornado hit. We were living more or less right at the tip of the arrow.

Two blocks to the north and one block to the east, a co-worker of mine was waiting out the tornado in her closet when her roof went away. She was still shaken up by it for several days afterward, as one would expect.

I was terrified of tornadoes when I was about 7 or 8 years old, but grew out of it by about 9 (partly because I got intensely interested, and read everything I could get my hands on about them). Each of my three younger siblings in turn also became very scared of tornadoes at about the same age and grew out of it; apparently it's genetic. As far as I know, I'm the only one of us who's ever actually experienced one directly, though, and I may be the only one who thinks they're pretty. (We've never had a conversation about it.)

So it's not like I want people to stop getting video of them. I just want people to stop, you know, being so focused on getting the video that they put themselves in danger. I kinda want to grab the people in the second video above and just . . . shake them, hard, by the shoulders, and tell them never to do that again.


Anyway. Please do contribute to if you happen to have a big pile of money lying around that you're not doing anything with. And if you don't, do you have any tornado-related stories, phobias, video, etc., to share? I'm curious.


Photo credits:
* tornado reports for 27 April and precipitation maps from National Weather Service.
* Destroyed St. Patrick's Church from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), via Wikipedia page for Easter Week 2006 tornado outbreak sequence.
* Iowa City map was a publication of the City of Iowa City, to which I added the arrow.

1 It may be worth noting that the number of tornado reports received by the NWS is usually an overcount by about 15%, according to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground. But even taking that into account, we have had a huge number of tornadoes in April: just on those eight days I listed, assuming a 15% overcount, there have still been 600 tornadoes -- nearly 400% more than usual. And there were tornadoes on other days, besides those eight.
2 I felt kind of bad, by the way, for not blogging about Japan when all that happened, but I sort of didn't feel like there was anything I could contribute: I had (and still have) trouble grasping the scale of it, I knew everybody already knew about it, so there wasn't any point in trying to increase public awareness, and I didn't have an interesting or unique perspective on it. So I elected not to say anything, rather than say something dull or obvious.
3 Just to make a little observation, for those of you who didn't listen to me and watched with the sound on anyway: if Jesus really wanted to help the people of Tuscaloosa, he could maybe have just made the tornado go back up into the cloud and stop destroying shit. I think it's pretty obvious from the video that Jesus is not interested in helping the Tuscaloosans.
Also, I predict that this is somehow going to be the gays' fault, because natural disasters are always the gays' fault. In fact, I'd bet money that a respectable public figure who ought to know better will have blamed the gays before the end of the day today.
(UPDATE, 11:42 PM CDT: Well, it looks like I would have lost that bet. I did find a number of people on Twitter who were sort of tongue-in-cheek saying that God was punishing the South for being anti-gay, but they didn't mean it, they're not public figures, and I find that only slightly less distasteful than when people say natural disasters are the fault of gay people.
Full disclosure: I considered such a remark myself, when writing this post, but took it out. So it's not like the thought process is unfamiliar to me; it's just, you know, in really poor taste to actually go ahead and say these things anyway. Not that that's ever stopped Pat Robertson et al.)
(SECOND UPDATE, 30 April: If I'd only said three days, I would have nailed it.)
4 You probably know the drill already, but in case you don't: go to an interior room on the lowest level of the building, away from windows, preferably either under something sturdy (like a staircase) or something cushiony (mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets). Avoid spots that are below heavy objects on the floor above (for example: refrigerators, pianos, waterbeds). DON'T stop to open windows: this was recommended in the past, but the people who study this sort of thing have determined that it doesn't help.
If you must drive, the usual recommendation is to drive at a right angle to the tornado's path, though that presupposes that you can tell where the tornado is headed and that the tornado will move in a straight line, neither of which is a particularly good assumption. Overpasses or bridges do NOT provide protection from tornadoes, and are probably worse places to be than lying in a ditch in the open, so don't stop and hide under overpasses or bridges.
See this page for other tornado safety tips.
5 The husband and I were, at the time, renting two separate apartments in the same building.

Pretty picture: Pescatorea lehmannii

Another picture from the orchid show back in March. I really liked this one, partly because it was a species I'd never heard of before -- a genus I'd never heard of before, even! -- and partly because of the weird furry lip. I went looking around to see if I could locate any interesting trivia about this plant, but as far as Wikipedia and are concerned, it doesn't exist. Which actually makes me like it even more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Random plant event: Ledebouria socialis flower bud

This happened from time to time at work, and I've seen other people blogging about it, but none of my Ledebourias have ever bloomed, so this is exciting.

Also, for some reason, Ledebouria socialis has been way more popular than I expected on the sell/trade stuff. That's not to say that a lot of people are interested (only two so far), but two is a lot more than I was expecting, and it's also half of my stock. (Agave victoriae-reginae is also 50% sold-out already, but that makes sense to me.) Maybe the profile was wrong, and they're not passed around from person to person on the sort of scale I imagined?

This particular plant is one of the ones I was going to sell (it's been under lights in the basement, which is probably also why it's blooming); if it's still here when the flowers open, I'll do a follow-up post. I've never gotten a good close-up picture of the flowers yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pretty pictures: Passiflora cvv.

Yesterday was pleasantly frantic -- lots of time spent e-mailing about the sell/trade plants -- so I didn't have a lot of time to write this.

(The husband asked, "You just posted a 10,000 word post yesterday; you can't take a day off?" "Sure," I said, "I could, but the big post only applies to people in the U.S.: what are the Canadians supposed to read? I have to think of the Canadians!")

So we've got a couple Passiflora flowers, photographed at the ex-job about five weeks ago.

Unidentified Passiflora sp.

Passiflora citrina.

The P. citrina flower was surprisingly small (maybe a couple inches or 5 cm; about as long as my thumb), but apparently that's how they're supposed to be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Selling and Trading

I am officially ready to start arranging plant trades and/or sales with anybody who is interested in doing so. I had kind of hoped to have more and better options by this point -- some propagations didn't work out like I'd wanted, and some groups of plants have aged badly -- but there are still a lot of okay options. The list of what I have, and the fine print about how I expect trading and selling to be conducted, can be found just under the header picture, under the link "Sell/Trade List," or you can click here.

I am, of course, abjectly sorry for the length of the sell/trade list. It's awkward. Inconvenient. Unwieldy. I did the best I could.