Friday, November 2, 2007

Exotic Stranger (Asplundia 'Jungle Drum')

(The plant in this post was originally identified as Carludovica 'Jungle Drum,' because that's how they're typically identified, if they're identified at all, so if you've arrived from a link or Google search about Carludovica, you're probably still in the right place. However, I think it's much more likely that the plant in question is actually an Asplundia, and refer to it as such. This doesn't affect the care information one way or the other, of course: if your plant looks like this, then I'll tell you how to keep it alive, whatever the proper name for it might be.)

There are three main ways that new plants come into my life. One is, I read something, or remember something, that makes me think, oh, it would be nice to have a _____. And then I go and buy a _____, and we live happily ever after.

The second way is, I'm around people who are huge fans of some particular kind of plant, say a Clivia, and they're always talking about how fond they are of that plant and then eventually I decide to get one just to see what all the fuss is about. This includes being around people in an on-line sense: if you lurk in the Garden Web Hoya Forum, sooner or later you're going to want a Hoya.

The third way, the one that applies here, is, I'm in the store already, wanting to buy something, and I see something that makes me say, what in the hell is that?

It wasn't love at first sight. It was confusion. I was at Lowe's, on a random plant-buying trip, which was something that happened a lot at the time, and I saw this weird plant that I hadn't seen before:

I thought, hmmm. Well, that's interesting. I wonder what it is. Maybe I'll buy it if it's still here next time, and I know what it is.

Time passed, and I didn't find out what it was. Went back to Lowe's, and it was still there. The thought process: Huh. Nobody bought it. How weird. Maybe everybody knows it's really difficult. Let's see if it's still here the next time I'm in.

And then it was there the next time too. I forget how many of those cycles we went through (it was more than three), but eventually I concluded that we were destined to be together and brought it home, and it's been a surprisingly nice houseplant. What I've found out so far is, it'll yellow if it gets too much light, or heat, or something – the lower leaves on mine went yellow this morning when we had a long hot sunny spell. It is otherwise almost entirely problem-free. A few leaves have dropped, when I let it go too long between waterings. That's about it.

It's sort of too new to the trade for there to be much information available about it. None of my houseplant books, including my super-awesome grower's-guide reference book, even mention Asplundia.

I can't say that I know what will happen, how big it will get or whether it will get easier, or harder, or whatever, and your results may vary anyway.1 But I can tell you with reasonable confidence that it's not that tough to keep one around for six months or so. What difficulty there is, is mostly for propagation (I'm not aware of any way to propagate it; presumably wholesalers produce it from seeds. The internet in general does seem to be pretty certain that it's a hybrid of something or another, so unless they offset, which I haven't seen, seeds might be it.) and light (it may bleach in very high heat and light, but it still needs relatively bright light). None of the rest of it seems to be anything much out of the ordinary. I assume that it can have pest problems (though I haven't had any personally). It does need to have an appropriate amount of water, not too much or too little (I water mine when it's dry about an inch down, though sometimes I forget and let it get drier. Sometimes that causes it to drop an older leaf, though usually it forgives me and doesn't say anything.2). It won't cope with all temperatures equally well (one report of cold damage at around 40ºF / 4ºC), but that's hardly unusual. I assume feeding is average, and it seems likely to need a slightly elevated humidity level, just because I have to assume that with such big honking leaves it's going to transpire a lot. But none of these are insurmountable difficulties.

It's also a pretty quick-growing plant, as far as I can tell. New leaves emerge from the center folded up, and then unfurl, approximately one new leaf every couple months. We're about to go through our first winter together, so no doubt I will learn more about it then. We don’t sell them at my job, and as far as I know they've never been available there – the only place I've seen them so far has been Lowe's, and they never have very many at any given time.3 Consider the file pending, but I have no reason not to recommend this plant to anybody who's interested.

UPDATE 26 Nov 2010: Still no real problems here. I'm not sure what the person in footnote 1 was talking about, but mine's been around for more than three years now, the new leaves are huge, and everything's been fine. So, briefly, here's what I've been doing:

WATER: I let my plant get dry to the point of beginning to wilt, then water thoroughly, let drain, and let it slowly dry again. For a small plant in a 4-6 inch pot, this works out to watering maybe every couple weeks; for a larger plant, it's more like a month. Lowest leaves will yellow and drop if you're overwatering (pretty immediately) or underwatering (with a bit of a delay). There's really no substitute for sticking a finger into the soil to see whether it's still wet or not, but if you can't handle the thought, you can try lifting your plant on a regular basis: one can sort of get a feel over time for how heavy the plant ought to be when wet or dry, and water according to that.

LIGHT: Not fussy. I have had leaves bleach out on me, when the plant was being grown in a west window with supplemental artificial light, so I recommend moderate to bright indirect light. Filtered sun if you have to. Full sun is probably too much.

HUMIDITY: I've had leaves get some tip burn in winter, when the humidity is lowest, but the humidity requirements don't seem to be that unreasonable otherwise. Burnt tips are the most commonly-mentioned issue with this plant, from what I've seen around the internet.

TEMPERATURE: It may be that the bleached leaves I talk about in the LIGHT section were the result of the leaves getting too hot from the sun, not the amount of light in and of itself. I don't know. The indoor temperature here doesn't vary much; I think it's basically always between 60-80F (16-27C). I don't know what happens to the plant outside of that range.

PESTS: I have had mealybugs on my plant once, but it wasn't much of an infestation, it only happened once, and it wasn't hard to get rid of. I would normally assume that a plant that looks like this would have trouble with spider mites, but mine has been fine.

PROPAGATION: I don't think this is possible indoors. It might not be possible outdoors, either.

GROOMING: Pretty minimal. This plant does need you to keep track of when it's been repotted: growth slows, and foliage yellows, if it's rootbound. I wind up repotting mine about once a year. The leaves need to be dusted from time to time (I do this by putting my plant in the shower). Occasionally old leaves will die even if you're doing everything right; it shouldn't happen very often, but don't freak out about a single leaf if the plant seems otherwise healthy.

FEEDING: I use a 20-20-20 Osmocote when I repot, and irregularly when I happen to think of it. You should be more consistent than I am, but it doesn't seem to hurt anything to forget feeding occasionally. Overfeeding may contribute to burnt-tip problems, so when you do feed, either use a time-release fertilizer like I do, or feed weakly but regularly. Heavy doses of fertilizer all at once, at long intervals, are to be avoided as much as possible.


Photo credit: me.

1A quick google search turned up one report from someone who said that Asplundias always die immediately on him/r. This doesn't seem to be typical, though.
2It's possible that it's storing up resentment against me, and that this will all come out all at once in a single, horrible, ashtray-throwing kind of fight. I have tendencies that way myself, so I'd understand.
3(What they do have doesn't always sell – I saw one a couple weeks ago in their distressed rack for cheap, and it had been around for a while. I would have considered buying it, but they still wanted a lot of money for it – like $4.99, maybe? – and it was in a pot with no drainage, so of course it was sopping wet. I didn't see a future there. I assume that there are probably good economic reasons why plants at Lowe's are always either bone dry or so wet they make sloshing noises when you pick them up, but the whole thing strikes me as weird, even so. It seems like it would take so little effort on someone's part to treat them well.)


Anonymous said...

I had the exact same experience - our Lowe's had ONE, about 6 months ago, and I wanted it because the foliage reminded me of a coconut palm. But it was sloshing. Mine had a tag, I went home and searched on the web, decided that I would pass because sloshing wasn't recommended. (I was surprised it was so wet, because our Lowe's is usually quite good about plant care, but it had no drainage holes, and I'm sure they had never seen one before either.) It was there my next few visits, looking a bit sadder each time, and still sloshing. I kind of wish I'd rescued it, but now it's gone. Haven't seen one there since, either.

mr_subjunctive said...

Well yeah. And I would have rescued the one here, even though I wasn't sure it had much of a shot at surviving, if they were more reasonable about the price, but asking me to spend $5 for a plant that's probably going to die anyway . . . nuh-uh. $2 and we might have been talking.

Anonymous said...

I picked one of these up in my local greenhouse a few months ago. I had never seen one there before and it intrigued me. I find it slow growing, but it has never yellowed nor dropped leaves. I found one leaf with some brown on the edge though. Being a sort of palm, I recently put it on a pebble tray to give it a boost. So far, I would recommend this plant.
I'm on the lookout for a bird's nest, but their not in our stores yet.

Anonymous said...

oops, they're not in the stores yet. Sorry

Tiia said...

Hi! It seems (after a short search with Google) that your writing is the-best about 'Jungle Drum' I've found, so far.. I bought one of these here in Finland from a big, norwegian inhouse plant -resailer Plantagen, and there is almost nothing written in finnish about this plant, so I'll just have to survive on my own with this "rare" plant.

The only reason I bought it is also kind of a ridiculous reason, I've been to Panamá and this nicely reminds me about it! The price was 3,50€ in 50% sale, so its about 4,3 in USD, but I have a feeling that inhouse plants are altogether bit more expensive here in northern Europe.

Thanks anyways for your words, they made me feel more secure about my plannings how to take care of my Jungle Drum..!

Anonymous said...

This cyclanthaceae belongs probably to the genus
ASPLUNDIA (and not carludovica).In Guadeloupe it grows on the forest floor.

Amber said...

I bought a Carludovica Peruvian Fan about a month ago & have noticed that the tips are going brown. Not sure about the water reqs so Googled it & found this site. When I see that this problem is caused by "too much or too little water" I get a little frustrated-which is it then? Don't sit on the fence!
P.S. I paid $15AUD for mine, in a sale- plants aren't that cheap here.

mr_subjunctive said...

Unfortunately, a lot of plants react similarly to getting too much or too little water. Brown tips, though, probably mean one of three things:

1) It's gotten too dry, repeatedly.
2) The air is too dry.
3) It's getting too much fertilizer, and/or is too wet.

Those, at least, would be the most likely suspects for most plants that were doing this: Carludovica (or whatever it is) is new enough to the trade that I can't give you a definite answer; I don't have enough experience with them. My own plant has had brown tips before too, and if memory serves it was mostly during the fall and winter (making #2 the likely explanation).

Siculari said...

It is indeed Carludovica. The reason that guy - in the other website you refer to - was confused, was due to there are 2 types of Carludovica, and they look quite different, but the same species. I will rate this plant difficult to grow. It requires a lot of watering and very sensitive to dry air. You need to put water with pebbles around it to survive. Even my gardenia is still alive and this plant is dead.

Steve A said...

I found your blog via the 11/14/10 NY TImes article. I am a retired plant store owner and interiorscaper so I have a copy of Graf's Exotica. I'd never heard of Carludovica so I looked it up. Carludovica palmata aka "Panama Hat plant' is in the book, needing warm temps and average moisture. The photo shows a similar look but with deeply cut leaves of a "friendly green" color. Could yours be a juvenile so the leaves haven't yet started to segment?