Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pretty picture: Phalaenopsis Norman's Jade

By now, the reader will have noticed that PATSP has been nothing but orchids for the last six weeks or so, and I feel like I should explain. The plants, led by the Anthurium seedlings, chose November to try to break my heart. It's not yet clear whether they succeeded in breaking it, exactly, but it's at least pretty damaged. And this is on top of the episodic panic attacks and what have you; the plants waited until I was weak to strike. As they do.

November was shitty.

How did they try to break your heart, you may be asking. Well, on top of the scale that I've been trying to get rid of for the last five years or so, which I periodically get really close to eliminating via imidacloprid and then discover that nope, it's still here, and on top of the thrips, which have been uglifying the Anthurium flowers and leaves for nearly as long, and for which the only remotely effective cure is "white oil," which not only makes the whole house smell like rancid vegetable oil for weeks afterward but also causes all the Anthuriums to drop any flowers or buds they might have, and doesn't even eliminate the thrips, I've added two new ongoing and ineradicable1 plagues to the Anthurium seedlings.

The Xanthomonas infection has been spreading through the Anthuriums for most of this year (also likely before this year -- I suspect it came in on the NOID pink/green Anthurium -- but bacteria that spread via water droplets really go nuts when you start spraying all the foliage with water every time you water, in an attempt to blast off the thrips, which didn't even work), and is now uglifying some of the seedlings which had remained more or less pristine through the thrips and scale. There's also, as far as I can tell, nothing I can actually do about it, save for throwing out all the affected seedlings. I'm aware of a treatment that places beneficial, or at least non-harmful, bacteria on the leaves, making it harder for Xanthomonas to establish itself, but as far as I can tell, that's only a preventative measure, and doesn't do anything to cure plants once they've been infected. If there's a way to cure infected plants, I haven't run across it yet, and if I did run across it, odds are good that I wouldn't be able to afford it. So it's possible that the only option I've got is to throw out all the affected plants and hope to outrun the Xanthomonas, which I'd be more optimistic about if that had worked for me with any plant pest or disease ever.

And then in just the last couple months, the mysterious unidentified mites from this post in 2014 have made their way to the Anthuriums downstairs. (They'd been on the upstairs ones, intermittently, for longer, but I hadn't made the connection between the mites and the leaf damage until the last few weeks: I'd been assuming thrips. The ghost mites2 prefer to feed on larger leaf veins, and appear in such numbers that affected leaves wind up looking like they've been hit by especially anal-retentive thrips: dead brown streaks that follow all the large veins, with relatively little damage in the spaces between them. The ghost mites also seem to be perfectly happy hitting older leaves, as opposed to the thrips, which prefer new growth, so really there was no reason to ever think that this was thrips damage, but perhaps I can be forgiven for not being willing to believe that I had another plant pest in the house, given the circumstances.

And it hasn't just been the Anthuriums, of course. Had a scary bunch of defoliation happen on the Neofinetia falcata out of nowhere, which briefly had me convinced that it was in the process of dying. (It has since stabilized, or at least wants me to think it has. No doubt waiting until I'm weak again.) A number of Dracaenas have broken out in spots that remind me of pictures I've seen somewhere. I can't remember if the pictures were of a bacterial leaf spot disease or a fungal leaf spot disease, as if the distinction matters. A very tall Pilosocereus pachycladus fell into my shoulder during watering, which hurt (spines in the shoulder! Lots of them!) and then hurt (the part of the cactus that hit me the hardest hollowed out and turned blue, purple, and finally black -- it's not clear whether the damage is continuing to spread).

I had decided in the spring of 2016 that I was done with the Euphorbia grandicornis. It was a salvaged cutting from a much larger plant that had never done very well for me, due to inadequate light, but I couldn't quite bear to just throw it out, so instead I planted it in one of the Canna beds, figuring that it could live (for a while) if it wanted to, and we'd see how that went. Naturally it loved it outside, even after the Cannas grew over it and I forgot that it was even there. Saw it in the fall and was like, holy crap, that's pretty impressive, maybe it deserves a chance to live in the house after all.

So I pulled it up and brought it inside,

You can probably figure out which is this year's new growth, yes?

and gave it its own pot of fresh soil. Whereupon it immediately shriveled, blackened, and died, proving once and for all that the Euphorbiaceae is the least appreciative plant family. A Gasteria seedling (the last one in this post, the light green one with thin leaves) died on me without warning or explanation. Lost another Polyscias seedling (#10), and now #8 isn't looking so hot.

Even the Schlumbergera seedlings are letting me down a little bit this year. As predicted, I've finally seen some colors outside of the red / orange-red / red-orange / orange / light orange spectrum, which should be good. But A) not nearly as many as I had expected, and B) the non-red/non-orange seedlings have been very similar to plants I already had: the NOID white seedlings have been either white/white or magenta/white, and the NOID magenta seedlings have been magenta/white, white/white, or in the red-to-orange spectrum. The three second-generation seedlings (all from 025A Clownfish) have been orange/white (239A), orange/pink (240A), and red/pink (244A). So I'm not breaking any new ground at all, color-wise.3 Plus, the most recent first blooms have been all chewed-up,

(Seedling 069A, first bloom)

because the thrips have finally eaten enough Schlumbergera petals from the early-blooming seedlings that they've multiplied and prospered. Now the thrips can start attacking the late-blooming buds, meaning the late blooms look like shit as soon as they open.

And this isn't even all; there's one plant-related thing from November/December that is literally still too painful for me to tell you about,4 there's the usual steady stream of Anthurium-seedlings hitting the walls and exploding5 (28 seedlings since mid-November), there are the mostly-disappointing new Anthurium blooms,6 there's the first scale sighting on a Clivia since I've had Clivias. And, mostly, there's the increasingly firm conviction that nothing I do is going to make any of these things go away. There are too many plants, too many hiding places -- the only way forward is to dump a bunch of them, cure the remaining ones, and then build back up again. Or maybe the smart thing would be not to build back up again.

So the reason I haven't been blogging about the plant collection is that the plant collection is horrible, and hurts just to think about, and I've been on the verge of throwing out like 95% of the Anthuriums for something like the last six weeks but haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Throwing them all out is clearly an overreaction, throwing none of them out is obviously an underreaction, throwing some of them out requires hard choices about who lives and who dies and why, plus if I keep a seedling I should have thrown out then I don't even get rid of the problem. So I've been continuing to water and despair, postponing the decision, while everything gets worse. I'm no longer starting new Anthurium seeds already, as of 23 October: the berries just wither and die on the spadices now. This wasn't originally a conscious decision, but once I realized I was doing it, I decided it was just as well, so it's a conscious decision now. Not sure whether I'm going to bother potting up all the seedlings that have already germinated: I'm postponing that decision too.

I'm toying with the idea of going on indefinite hiatus from the blog as of late March, when the last of the 2016 orchid photos is scheduled.7 This is more likely to happen than not, I think, because the plants have been steadily less and less fun over the last five years and there are things I would rather do with my time,8 but I do still want to get the Schlumbergeras named -- hardly urgent, but I've come up with some names I like and want to use them -- and although I'm not sure you need to see all ten, at least half of the Anthurium blooms since the last Anthurium seedling post are interesting in one way or another. So there will probably be some non-orchid posts coming eventually. We'll see how I feel about plants in March. (If you hear me humming "Freedom 90" a lot in February,9 brace yourself.10)

Almost doesn't seem worth bothering with the orchid, but I promised a Phalaenopsis in the title, so here you go.

*deep breath*

"Jade" seems like an exaggeration. I mean, yeah, yellow jade is a thing, as an image search will confirm for you, but it's not the color people think of when they hear "jade." I have a note here that the bloom closest to the tip of the spike was darker yellow than the others, but I can't remember whether that means it was the youngest bloom or the oldest bloom. Which direction do Phalaenopsis buds open, again?

I also noted that I got really tired of light yellow, when I was going through the photos from this year's show. Didn't notice it as a theme when I was taking the photos, though.

I found photos of a couple named clones of Norman's Jade ('Green Angel' and 'Montclair Canary'), the first of which seemed sort of green, but alas, both were on a site that sells orchids, and the pages have been taken down since I found them, presumably because they're no longer selling those particular clones.

I suppose in the abstract, this is a nice color,11 but it doesn't do much for me as a Phalaenopsis.

Phalaenopsis Norman's Jade = Phalaenopsis Prospector's Dream x Phalaenopsis Norman's Mist (Ref.)


1 (?)
2 (My own term; I still don't know what they are. I'm positive they're not cyclamen mites or spider mites, though. Or at least not the normal species of cyclamen/spider mites: they're not rounded and shiny enough to be cyclamen mites, and they're the wrong color, and not mobile enough, to be spider mites. They also don't produce webbing like spider mites. Therefore: ghost mites. Until I come up with an ID.)
3 It is beginning to seem plausible that the cross that started this whole thing, the 'Caribbean Dancer' x NOID peach, was the only cross I could have made that would have resulted in anything new or interesting, and it's just dumb luck that it happened to be the cross I started with.
4 Q: well Jesus, Mr. S., if you're not going to tell us what it is then why even bring it up?
A: I don't know. I'm sorry.
5 Dramatization (you have to imagine that the cars are seedlings):
6 As well as two that weren't disappointing at all. Or, well, one that wasn't disappointing at all -- 0802 Dana International, my first dark(ish) purple -- and one that looks likely to be my first green seedling, provided that the bud doesn't drop (1268 Lil' Miss Hot Mess). It'll be a while before 1268 is officially not disappointing.
7 Why not immediately? Well, I made notes on the orchid posts when I uploaded the pictures, so I don't have to work as hard to come up with something to say about them. Schlumbergera- or Anthurium-seedling posts require more work. Posts about other plants are even more work than that.
8 Like what? I dunno. Maybe I'll dye my hair. Maybe we'll move somewhere. Etc.
More seriously, I'm working out a lot. Like, a lot. It helps with the panic.
9 (♫ Take back your pictured pollen grains / Take back your yellowed, dead dumb canes / I just hope you understand / Sometimes the plants do not make the man ♩♪)
10 Also, RIP George Michael. :^(
11 I mean, if you get abstract enough, any color is as nice as any other. They're just varying proportions of photons, of different energies, hitting your retina and being interpreted as color by your brain. Seems silly to say this combination of photons is beautiful but that combination of photons is disgusting. But we say that. All the time.


Virginia Burton said...

Yikes! I'm so sorry about everything. I'm glad you've found that working out helps and I hope that the increasing daylight will help with the depression (although, I realize the extra light is pretty hard to detect until late January/early February. Any chance that you and Will could get away to some place sunny (and not family-related)? Sometimes just being in motion is helpful.

I sent you a really bad email photo of Stoked and Candor blooming. It was the first time Candor bloomed. I've heard people complain that Christmas cacti don't bloom at Christmas, but those two did.

We'll all miss you if you take a hiatus, but you certainly deserve a break after all the entertainment and education you've provided.

Ivynettle said...

I'm so sorry this is happening to you. I already feel like my plants are too much, and I don't have nearly this many, and "only" mealybugs.

I'll miss your posts if you go on hiatus, but of course you should do whatever you need to do to be okay.

Sending you some virtual hugs, if you want them.

mr_subjunctive said...

Virginia Burton:

Well, the problem with actually going somewhere is that I can't actually be away for very long, because I'm never more than about 42 hours away from the next round of watering (usually more like 18). Which limits the options.

As far as daylight hours go, I'm not convinced that I have a seasonal affective disorder at all, but if I do, the evidence is more in favor of summer SAD than winter SAD -- I've been keeping a daily journal for almost 30 years, rating each day on a 0-4 good-bad scale, and my worst month in that period of time is May; my best months are February, March, and November. The husband would like to go someplace sunny, though he's said his SAD isn't quite as bad as it used to be, what with all the plant lights on timers.

And yeah, I saw the e-mail, and meant to respond; I intended to look at past e-mails to determine which one(s) had bloomed for you previously, 'cause I remembered that at least one had, but hadn't had a chance to check yet.



Nadya W-G said...

I'm really sorry about the plants+plant bugs being jackasses towards you this holiday season. :-( As far as Anthuriums go, is cutting -everything- down to the root and dousing it all with pesticides an option? Or is there enough non-Anthuriums around that that would just prolong the pain?

mr_subjunctive said...

Nadya W-G:

It'd prolong the thrips for sure. (The thrips have hit the Leuchtenbergias, a plant I would have assumed immune. They don't seem to do especially well on the Leuchtenbergias, but it's amazing that they're there at all. And obviously there are thrips reservoirs in the plant room that keep them going while the Schlumbergeras aren't in bloom, but I don't have any idea what they might be.)

Not sure about the Xanthomonas or ghost mites, since they're both relatively new problems (though I could see the process of cutting plants back maybe spreading the Xanthomonas -- lots of exposed tissue for any bacteria that happened to be floating around to infect). The scale is sporadic enough lately that I'm not sure how that would wind up -- I don't think the Anthuriums are the only plants that have scale nearby, but I'm not sure what other plants are harboring them. So . . . probably prolong, but it's hard to tell.

Also to be considered: this is a mostly self-inflicted problem, in that if I only had, say, 15 plants, it'd be no big deal to get rid of the thrips, scale, or ghost mites. (The Xanthomonas is a separate, and more difficult, problem.) Or if the collection were a little less monocultural -- Anthuriums are 39% of all the plants in the house right now, with Schlumbergera adding another 30.5%, and they're mostly organized in big blocks that are entirely Anthurium or Schlumbergera, making it easier to water and keep track of them, but also making it easier for diseases and pests to sweep through them quickly. Making the target smaller by getting rid of a lot of the closely-related plants, and mingling susceptible with non-susceptible plants to slow spread, seems like the only approach I have left. But if I had just not expanded past my ability to handle in the first place, I wouldn't be going through any of this.

Growing large numbers of houseplants is very different from (growing small numbers of houseplants) x (a lot of times), in ways I never anticipated. I may or may not manage to talk about this in a blog post someday.

Robin from SoCal said...

Good Grief Mr. S, I needed a dose of smelling salts just to get through the first paragraphs of your blog. Glad I continued reading, as I might have found a wee bit of a silver lining of sorts for you. I'm a librarian and I saw your statement "but alas, both were on a site that sells orchids, and the pages have been taken down since I found them, presumably because they're no longer selling those particular clones." as a challenge to track down the elusive pictures. As long as we have the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine, things on public websites won't be lost. If I guessed what orchid catalog you looked at, then I think I found your pictures: Montclair Canary:
Green Angel Jade (possibly)

If I'm wrong, then I can keep plugging away. Besides reading your blog, I've been whiling away the last day of the year watching Groucho Marx "You Bet Your Life" episodes on YouTube because I needed some chuckles.

I hope that things brighten up for the plants that you work so hard to care for. My heart goes out to you.

Take care,


Pat the Plant said...

My New Year's resolution is positivity. So, I am glad to hear you are working on getting your muscles back.

I don't want to hear any more of this reductionism from footnote 11. We are human and of course our perceptions have great value to us, trying to emulate non-subjectivity is a fine way to lose one's grip on things. By Sturgeon's Law 90% of everything is shit, but the other 10% of our human things are so wonderful it makes up for it - for me. Even in 2016, we had that 10%.

"Life is just a party and parties aren't meant to last." I say that as someone the same age as George Michael and four years younger than Prince. I am intending to stay slumped in a corner at this party until someone throws me out.

Happy New Year! Out with the old, in with the new!

mr_subjunctive said...

Robin from SoCal:

The Montclair Canary page is, I'm pretty sure, the one I saw before. I don't think the other one is the clone I saw, because the notes said 'Green Angel' was in fact kind of greenish, or at least green enough that I was interested in seeing one in person. I poked around a little bit at the Internet Archive and couldn't find that page, so possibly they weren't selling that particular clone for very long and the page didn't get archived?

Pat the Plant:

Well, in fairness, footnote 11 started out being a reductio ad absurdum. Not sure where it wound up, exactly.

2016 was actually not a terrible year for me personally; per the journal numbers, it was almost perfectly balanced between good and bad. Though it feels like I got way less than 10% good news from the plants.

Diana at Garden on the Edge said...

So sorry things have gotten so challenging with your plants. I have mealyworms in my office and have thought about getting rid of all the plants there (I don't think they've spread) but there are a few I don't want to get rid of....

I'll miss you if you take a break but maybe if you cut back on the number of plants (heresy, I know) you'll start finding more joy in them again.

May 2017 be a better year for you personally.

mr_subjunctive said...

Diana at Garden on the Edge:

Is imidacloprid not an option?[1] It has helped with the scale, even if it didn't manage to completely eliminate it, and if you have a smallish number of plants in the office (~<20), it might work well enough to try. Unless you've tried it already, in which case never mind.

maybe if you cut back on the number of plants . . . you'll start finding more joy in them again.

Anything's possible, I suppose.


[1] I mean, I understand that imidacloprid isn't good and that maybe we don't want to encourage companies to continue producing and selling it. But it does kinda work.

Paul said...

Sorry to hear of your woes, but I can relate to the time a large number of houseplants can consume. I've been very neglectful of my charges this past 6 months or so and my plants show it. A downsizing might indeed help you on all the levels mentioned.

Cutting back the anthurium foliage (and even that of other affected plants) was a thought that occurred to me as well. Have you tried the Bayer (or is it Safer?) "3 in 1"? It is a systemic -- and therefore is applied via one's regular watering -- containing a fungicide, insecticide or miticide (can't recall which), and fertilizer, I believe. If you were to water with it, then a couple/few days later defoliate either in part or extreme, perhaps it would do the trick? You would be removing much of the currently affected vegetation while possibly providing any new growths with some protection. And since you would be removing foliage, you should be able to wait awhile before doing a subsequent watering/application as the plants would be undergoing less transpiration until refoliation was achieved. Don't know if this would necessarily do the trick, but just tossing the idea out there for consideration.

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, the time isn't really a problem. I mean, it would be if I were just jumping in from a point of having no plants to having 1500-whatever, but my life's more or less organized around the plants: I always know it's coming, and it doesn't change a lot from season to season, so it's always budgeted. (What else would I even do with that time?)

I'm familiar with 3 in 1, though I don't remember specifically what's in it either. My guess is that it's a non-starter because I don't have enough money to buy however much of it would be necessary to treat all the plants. Also spraying anything watery on the Anthuriums runs the risk of spreading the Xanthomonas. But I suppose both of those things are less applicable post-purge, so we'll see how everything looks then, maybe. (There's also a third factor: sometimes Anthuriums that get cut back don't resprout, or resprout so weakly that they never manage to find their footing again. So it could be a longer, slower way of throwing them all in the trash. That may be excessively pessimistic of me, though.)

Probably shouldn't be writing comments now; I'm in a mood. I just finished culling the 6-inch Anthuriums; 26 out of 67 plants (39%) survived the first round. (And I was probably being overly lenient, in ways I will regret later.) I mean, I'm not a danger to myself or others: it's not that kind of mood. But it feels shitty all the same.

Paul said...

I hear ya.

With regards to the 3 in 1, haven't priced it in a while so I don't recall how much the concentrate I purchased several years ago cost. It has lasted me a long time BUT my plant collection is far smaller than yours. I will mention, however, on the topic of "spraying something watery on the Anthuriums" that the stuff I have , at least, does not recommend applying as a foliar spray (though as it is meant mainly for outdoor use plants would indeed be likely to get it on their leaves as one would most likely apply it via a hose). My thought was that if you have a pump sprayer with the wand attachment, you could bypass the leaf canopy -- thereby keeping that area dry -- and spray the solution directly on the media. Would be more time consuming that way, unfortunately.

Since, from what you said, they don't always refoliate well or at all, perhaps trying this on those plants you care less about losing? (Which would be wise anyway when trying something new treatmentwise.). Of course, this does have the downside of needing to reorganize the plants to isolate the treatment group....