Friday, November 2, 2007

Work-related: The Points show some red

More or less the same shot (angle, etc.) as the earlier post's picture, a little over a week later:

Not a huge difference, but a difference nevertheless.

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.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Schlub (Tradescantia pallida)

Schlub. n. (slang) A stupid, clumsy, or unattractive person. From Yiddish.

Poor Tradescantia pallida. It gets no respect from anybody. It's the Rodney Dangerfield of plants. Not long ago, I was talking with the guy who's in charge of the nursery lot at work, who stopped to make the comment that the plant pictured here didn't look half bad. Had he stopped there, we would have been fine, but then he went on to say that he felt bad about even selling them to any customers, that they looked nice for maybe a week or two and then immediately started to look like crap.

And this isn't the first time I've heard this sentiment from people. Check it out: A Water When Dry post on the subject. There's also this from Mr. Brown Thumb, though it's not that negative, actually, now that I look at it again. There are also some very negative comments (mostly about it being invasive, which I'll get to) at this post at , And there's this too, which calls T. pallida the "greatest short-term threat to [John Edwards'] estate's landscaping," and blames it for . . . well, but you'll just have to go read it.

This is actually one of my favorite species of indoor plant, for a very specific reason: it was one of very very few things that kept growing for me during the winter last year. And not just growing, but wildly, out of control, non-stop, enthusiastic, rampant growth. I suppose not everybody would consider this desirable, but when everything else (or just about) has stopped, and you still want to do some indoor plant-tending, it's nice to have a plant that will accommodate you.

Also. It doesn't have to look like crap, not necessarily. I swear. Though you have to meet it halfway. Like with Pilea cadierei, it sometimes needs to be cut back and re-rooted, though that's easily done (which is also like Pilea cadierei). It loses leaves slowly from the base of the stem as it grows,1 which means that eventually, if you let it go long enough, you'll have a pretty sparse-looking plant. But cuttings are easy to take, and easy to root, and the remaining stems will re-sprout most of the time, so it's not all that much trouble, really. Cut off the longer, scragglier ends from time to time and stick them back in the pot and you're done. And if you don't like where it's headed, you can cut the whole plant back to the soil and have essentially a brand-new plant within 4 to 6 weeks. Or, really, two brand-new plants, since the stuff you cut back can be rooted and planted up as well.

Other minor problems: the stems are brittle, and break off easily. Also the plant is invasive in warmer climates,2 so if you choose to grow it outside in the south, make sure that you plan for its eventual spread, by keeping it confined to containers or by routinely cutting it back and carefully disposing of the cuttings. Indoors, neither of these are huge problems, though rarely hanging baskets get bumped and pieces fall off.

What's good about it? Well, aside from the previously-mentioned rampant growth, it's also a very nice color, when grown in good light (full sun). Less light will keep it alive, but it will be more green and less purple. Which you might prefer anyway – it depends on one's taste. The plant in the photo below has gone a bit green from low light.

It's also very nearly pest-free (though like with Yucca guatemalensis, it can still serve as a highway for traveling bugs, so you don't want to place it where it's going to be touching a lot of other plants), and is incredibly easy to propagate. (Cuttings will begin to root in water or soil within a week, and are generally ready to pot up in about two weeks.)

Add the ease of propagation to the speed of growth, and you have a plant that can, literally, quadruple its mass in a year. Seriously. I have no idea how many cuttings have left my apartment, but I know that at the very least, I've made six four-inch pots like the one pictured above, one six-inch pot, a three-foot-long planter, and at least three sets of cuttings that went out in Garden Web trades, plus I've thrown away quite a lot too, all from a hanging basket I bought around December 2006. The situation is even worse at work: the plant grows a lot faster than the demand to buy it does, and so we wind up throwing away a lot of cuttings.

It also flowers easily. The individual flowers are pink with a yellow-orange center, and only last for a day, but generally the same spot will put out a new flower every day for a week or so. Nobody grows them for the flowers, but the flowers are nevertheless nice. Generally flowers only appear on a stem after the stem has decided to branch, though the plant is self-branching, so that's just a matter of waiting long enough.

Extreme cold is fatal (though those I've had in the planter outside are still doing fine, and we've had at least one night with a low around 27ºF / -3ºC. I've heard they're hardy down to 20ºF / -7ºC; this is the year I find out, I guess.). Very little else can knock this plant out: it may be a schlub, but it's tough. Respect it.


Photo credits: all me.
1This happens faster if you're keeping the plant too dry, but it will happen sooner or later regardless of how well you're treating it. 2(I like it partly because I asssociate it with the time I lived in the Rio Grande Valley, near McAllena -- it grew outdoors there all over the place. It's native to Mexico, so this wasn't much of a jump, but in other parts of the country, it's regarded as a bit of a bully, and can be tough to remove from a yard once it's established. What's desirable indoors -- quick, rampant growth and easy propagation -- gets a lot less desirable outdoors.)

Unfinished business re: Agave victoriae-reginae

Tray of Agave victoriae-reginae at work

In my earlier post about Agave victoriae-reginae, I mentioned that the one I actually have at home is 1) kind of a blue-green color and 2) has almost imperceptible backward-angled spines along the leaf edges.

Now that I have a usable camera,1 we can back up and I can offer some retroactive proof for what I was talking about.

About the blue-green color:

The backward-pointing spines (you may have to open the picture up to full-size to see anything; the clearest image is in the upper left quadrant of the picture):

So. I'm glad we got all that out of the way. There'll be some make-up posting about the Spathiphyllums eventually, too.


Photo credits: all me.

1But holy crap does it ever run through batteries quickly. Granted that I've been taking a lot of pictures, but even so, I've only had the damn thing nine days, and I've already used up 26 AA batteries, by my estimation. This is ridiculous. And, since the camera was a floor demo model initially, I didn't get the AC adapter cord that would have let me take pictures without batteries (because the guys at Sears didn't know where it was, or at least that was my impression). It's still cheaper than film would have been, all told, but holy crap.