Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pretty pictures: Tillandsia stricta hybrid flowers

I trust that someone will let me know if I'm hitting the air-plant flowers thing too hard. Three posts in less than a month about the same thing -- maybe it gets tedious. In my defense, there's only just so much going on at the moment to talk about. And a lot of what is going on (seeding of Violas at work, for example) is not terribly interesting or visual. So. There's at least one more Tillandsia flower picture coming in the next couple weeks.

I was originally going to leave it at just those two, but then the actual flowers opened in time for me to include them in the post as well, so:

This all, naturally, has me worried that another obsession may be forming. That may not be so bad: I seem to have gotten out of the orchid thing with a reasonable amount of money and sanity intact. But the African violets and bromeliads still have their hooks in. This could turn ugly yet.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fictional botany: Conyza piscis

Hippie buttons (Conyza piscis), originally called georgeweed, is an upright-growing herbaceous biennial native to northwestern Australia. The leaves are digitate, with 7 to 15 needle-shaped leaflets. Leaflets are typically about 0.5 to 0.75 inches long (13-19 mm) and the upper surface is covered with downy grayish hairs. The first-year form is prostrate and inconspicuous; during the second year, the plant becomes a dense shrubby plant which may reach to 18 inches (46 cm) tall.

Flowers appear on racemes in late summer (February or March in the southern hemisphere; August or September in the northern) and are quite showy: the most typical wild form of the flower is approximately 1.5 inches (3.7 cm) in diameter, with 20-50 thin, narrow petals, striped in red and white, and a strong, jasminelike fragrance. There can be as many as 50 flowers per raceme, which frequently bends under the flowers' weight.

If successfully pollinated, the flowers become seed pods, which are woody, disc-shaped dark brown or black capsules about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, enclosed in stiff tan or greenish fibers. There are usually 8-14 seeds per capsule. Few animals can pry apart the fibers and remove the capsules, though a few birds and mammals in the plant's native range are strong enough to do so. Invariably, a few seeds escape as the capsule cracks open, which go on to produce the next crop.

The plant is sometimes deliberately planted as an ornamental, and there are a wide variety of cultivars available, with flowers of violet, red, orange, and yellow; however, crushed or bruised leaves have a strong rotten-fish odor (the botanical name piscis, meaning "fish," refers to this odor), particularly in young plants, which limits its usefulness as a garden plant. The odors of the cultivars 'Tie-Dye' (orange and yellow) and 'Age of Aquarius' (dark pink, unstriped) are said to be less intense and less objectionable; no doubt other reduced-odor cultivars will appear on the market very soon. Conyza does not appear to be invasive outside of its native range.

The origin of the first common name, georgeweed, is unknown. The name "hippie buttons" came into use in the 1960s and is both a reference to the seed pods (and particularly the "hemp-like" fibers covering them) and a reference to the plant's smell.

Conyza is of interest to industry as a possible renewable source for certain chemicals, particularly hexamethylenediamine and 1,4-diaminobenzene, which can be used to produce nylon, kevlar, and other synthetic fibers. These same molecules are also probably responsible its objectionable odor.

-from A Field Guide to Imaginary Plants (Mr. Subjunctive, ed.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pretty picture: Aeschynanthus speciosus flower

Nothing huge here, just a nice, pretty little orange flower. This particular Aeschynanthus has been at work for as long as I have, albeit in somewhat different form (it had originally been much larger and coplanted with a pair of Dieffenbachias). Last winter, we separated the plants and took a huge number of cuttings of this plant, which took forever to root and grow but eventually were turned into about forty or fifty new four-inch plants, and a half-dozen larger hanging baskets. They all still betray their nonstandard origins in certain ways -- being lopsided, for example -- but they're filling in nicely, and the flowers really are pretty in person, especially in large number.

Though it's not actually the case that we have large numbers of flowers. Not yet. Since these are fairly young plants still, we may not get them this year either. But it's nice to see the few blooms we've gotten so far. It has that warm glow of nostalgia that takes me back to . . . a year ago.

Which, in fairness, seems much longer ago than a mere year. Last spring alone was at least eighteen months long, and nothing you say is going to convince me otherwise.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Random plant event: Neoregelia NOID 'Nuance' true flowers

We've had these Neoregelia NOIDs 'Nuance' at work for a while now, and they've been in bloom, or at least about to bloom, for months. They're striking, I guess: the plants are maybe a foot and a half across, with a hot pink center. Nobody's wanted to buy them, though, for some reason. (My guess? I think people are interested, but they assume that since the plants are unusual-looking, they must be difficult to grow.)

The main reason for this post is that it's the best and clearest example I've seen yet for what the actual flowers of a Neoregelia look like (though there's at least one other Neoregelia photo at the 'Fireball' profile).

Both of these photos do get much, much bigger, by the way.

I have no idea what's supposed to pollinate these; it's especially puzzling because the actual flowers can be completely underwater sometimes (these had been: I dumped the water out to take the photo). But I suppose something must. Or must it?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Work-related: 'Skunky'

I have on occasion been accused of being Scroogey, and a holiday-hater, and so on and so forth. I haven't done any serious observing of Christmas since 2002 or 2003, and even that wasn't a lot. But look. December hates me. In 1987, for example, I got a ruptured appendix and spent eight days in the hospital; in 1996, I was getting over having the flu, clinically depressed, and having to deal with a breakup I didn't exactly want to have; in 2006, it was becoming increasingly clear that the place I was working was going to be going out of business shortly. And those are just the high points.

December has tried to kill me again this year. I got sick enough to miss some work (not a lot of work, and not death's-door kind of sick, but still) between the 18th and 20th. The husband and I were in a car accident on the 21st (not a huge deal, nobody injured, both our car and the car that hit us still work, but our vehicle did sustain some damage, and it was also the first non-trivial car accident I've ever been in so yes, I was a little shaken up afterward).

And also on the 21st, before the car accident, I got to work and the special Dracaena deremensis sport, the one that had gotten me so excited and pleased shortly after I started this job, which was eventually identified as being, if not D. d. 'Skunky' then a mutation which was superficially indistinguishable from 'Skunky,' was gone.

I looked high. I looked low. I looked everywhere I could think to look, and then I went outside to look in the truck we use for plant waste (it eventually gets composted, I think, or at least it gets dumped somewhere with all the other plant waste), and . . . well, you can guess where this is going, right?

Our poor little mutant was completely a lost cause: it had been a sub-zero night, and going in the truck meant certain death.

And this actually, no exaggeration, ruined my week, or pretty close. I was enraged, for lack of a better word. Also crushed and heartbroken and bewildered. But mostly enraged. So there was some foaming at the mouth, some ranting, some drinking (later, at home, not at work -- though I so would have), and I believe I was ranting at the husband about the Dracaena when the accident happened, too.

(If I could prove somehow that the accident wouldn't have happened if the plant hadn't been thrown away, could I sue somebody?)

You're wondering whodunnit, right? And why?

Yeah. Well. E-mail me. Be sure to read the e-mail address. I don't think this is something that needs to be broadcast to the whole internet. Or, well, I do, but doing so could cause me problems, so I'm not gonna, I guess is more accurate.

I get that it's only a plant, and that life will go on, and all that. But there was a particular attachment to this one. Hell, I took it home with me during the flood this summer, rather than leave it in the greenhouse and risk it being damaged. I went to a lot of trouble for this plant, and I would have paid a lot to have it, had I known the alternative was to kill it in cold blood.

R. I. P.

"Even the lilies of the field, um, make it the hell up as they go along." -Lorrie Moore

A celebration of "Skunky's" life will be held at a date to be announced later. He is survived by his father "Warneckei,' aunts 'Janet Craig' and 'Lemon-Lime,' cousin 'Janet Craig Compacta,' and uncle 'Art.' He was preceded in death by thousands of other genus members. In lieu of dismembered genitalia, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the World Sports and Mutations Foundation, which works to place unusual plants in loving homes where they will be propagated and spread throughout the world.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Music video: Gus Gus "Starlovers"

Yes, it's kinda creepy. But it's supposed to be creepy. Also oddly familiar . . . but enough about my upbringing.

"Ladyshave" is a better song but a less interesting video. If you're interested.

Cowardly Lion (Adenium obesum)

(This is the sixth and final plant profile in the Wizard of Oz series.)

I find Adenium obesum a frustrating plant to have to deal with. It's not so much that they're difficult to keep alive -- as far as I can tell, so long as you don't overwater them, they'll stay alive -- as that they're just absurdly easy to frighten. Which raises the question, how do you know when you've frightened an Adenium? My answer: when it drops all of its leaves. And how often does that happen? Pretty much constantly.

Yeah, this is pretty normal.

I have more experience with them at work than I do at home; the one time I've attempted them at home thus far, the plant defoliated more or less as soon as it got through the door, and I got angry at it and threw it away. This was, I now realize, an overreaction: the plant probably would have come back if I had tried. (On the other hand, I can't say I regret missing the chance to have a leafless stump sitting around the apartment, either.) They've been bigger frustrations at work, though.

We got a batch in in June that were in really magnificent, full bloom. Some had light pink flowers, some had "red" (really more of a dark hot pink) flowers, they were all leafy and healthy and awesome. So WCW and I were like, gosh, these'll sell like hotcakes, let's put them up toward the front so everyone will be able to see them.

It was a good idea in theory, but of course they all lasted about a week and then started throwing leaves and flowers and buds all over the place, necessitating a clean-up and a hasty move to a less accessible part of the greenhouse. We waited for them to get their act together, which took a few months, and then when they started blooming again, we moved them back. Almost immediately, they got spider mites (and probably also overwatered), dropped all their leaves, and went back to the back, out of the main sales area, where they've been since.

So, you know, if Adeniums drove cars, they'd all have this bumper sticker:

Picture created with sign generator at

Outdoors in warmer climates, it's a different story: people keep them outside in pots, and not only do they do fine there, but they bloom continuously (or nearly continuously), and everybody loves them and thinks they're the bestest, most perfect plant ever!1!1!!!1!eleven!11!1 Greenhouses are apparently not acceptable substitutes, though.

As far as sales go, well, they sell pretty briskly when they're in bloom and everything. Of course, then there are questions to be fielded from customers about why their plant defoliated, and what they're supposed to do with it now, and sometimes that gets awkward. I understand, of course, having been there myself, and I try to sound reassuring and let them know that this is not necessarily a big deal, the plant's just gone dormant, and yes, it will resprout again in the spring, and yes, it can still flower, and no, I understand that you wanted more than just a stump, and so forth.

The crashes aren't even inevitable. If you provide your plant with the appropriate, Florida-level amount of heat and light (and maybe also humidity), you can keep yours going all year long, so long as you don't do anything to startle it in the process. But, you know -- try explaining to a customer that they can have their flowers year-round only if they invest in a bunch of lights and heaters and extra equipment. They lose interest quickly.

On the other hand, I didn't realize until I started researching for this post that these are also crazy popular. I mean, we're talking, Hoya- and Saintpaulia-level popular. People loooooove Adeniums. Clearly not everybody minds having a part-time plant.

This means, of course, that since I've already tipped my hand about not liking them much (it was #5 on the worst houseplants list), and since there's a lot of conflicting information about them out there (it's not like with the Saintpaulia profile, where there was a lot of information but it basically all said the same thing: everybody thinks they know the best way to grow Adeniums, and nobody does it the same way as anybody else), anything I say is going to be disagreed with by a ton of people, a situation to which I am quietly resigned. You can find other perspectives at mrbrownthumb or Water Roots.

For me personally, I find them disappointing. Some of this, I'm pretty sure, is that I was somewhat misled about what to expect from mine, but even had I known about the dormancy thing, dormancy's not supposed to begin in August. And pests (spider mites in particular) are a problem regardless. So no, I don't recommend this plant, particularly not if you're looking for something permanent, for a spot indoors. I'll give you the best information I've got anyway, and you shouldn't necessarily take my experiences to mean that you can't or shouldn't make an attempt if this is a plant you really want to grow. Everybody else says it's easy, actually. It's just that, you know, it's not necessarily going to be all pretty flowers and shiny green leaves.

I won't argue that this isn't a pretty flower. It's an awesome flower.

Adenium as a genus is from East and South Africa, plus a little bit of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the name itself comes from the Arabic name for the plant, Oddaejn, which means Aden, with Aden being the old name for Yemen. Common names range from the cynically salesmanlike ("desert rose," "mock azalea") to the obscure ("Sabi star") to the ridiculous ("impala lily," "kudu lily"). It is of course not related to roses, azaleas, or lilies (to say nothing of impalas or kudus), and is actually in the Apocynaceae, the family of Nerium oleander, Plumeria spp., Pachypodium spp., Mandevilla spp., etc., which family I discussed at boring length in the Pachypodium profile, q.v.

Specialists disagree about how many species are in the genus: one (kinda extreme) school of thought is that obesum is the only species, and the variability of the plants around the continent (and they are highly variable, differing in size, flower color, and general trunk shape) merely points to the existence of a lot of subspecies. The opposing view is that different populations are different enough to count as separate species, and the taxonomists in this camp have assigned a variety of other names to these plants (Adenium arabicum, boehmianum, multiflorum, obesum, oleifolium, socotranum, somalense, and swazicum).1 Depending on who you know, you might be able to get hold of a plant by one of these names, but it may or may not be an actual species. Care should be at least mostly the same, regardless, as these are all from similar climates.

Adenium obesum is grown both for the flowers and for the sculptural,2 thickened trunk. The trunk is an adaptation for storing water during the prolonged dry season (or, in some cases, the habitat is just dry all the time, and there's not really a wet season and dry season, in which case it's for storing water whenever there's water to store). The roots are also thick: they disturb me in kind of the same way that Buddha's-hand citrons disturb me. (See a picture at

The flowers are the main draw, though, and may appear at pretty much any time of the year, as far as I can determine: I don't think there's been any point between June and December when we haven't had at least one flower going at work (though the smaller, 4-inch plants are far less likely to flower, in my experience), and they are supposed to be perpetual bloomers when grown in warm climates. Indoors, of course, they're not going to bloom during dormancy.

So how are you supposed to take care of one, then?

Adenium defoliation in three . . . two . . . one . . .

LIGHT: Indoors, you want full sun. Period. In fact, outdoors, you want full sun, too, probably, though people do manage to grow them in outdoor shade. If you don't have full sun indoors, don't bother. Seriously.

WATERING: The general rule of thumb indoors seems to be to treat these like a regular tropical plant in the summer, like a funny-shaped smooth rock in winter, and ramp up watering in the spring and bring it back down in the fall. Some people who grow Adeniums don't water at all between October and April, and this works, I'm told, just fine.

They also need very lean soil, with very little capacity to retain water. This is not so much important during the summer (although they can be overwatered to death in the heat of the summer, it doesn't seem to be common), but in the spring and fall, it's a big deal. (In winter, you're safest not watering at all, though it's unlikely that anything bad will happen if you water once or twice. The catch is that if you water, the plant is going to try to come out of dormancy, so don't wake it up until the conditions are right to grow it, or else it'll just wake up, look around, grow a couple leaves, and then panic and drop them.)

It's also probably a good idea to use a clay pot, instead of plastic (clay dries out faster), and if you're offered the option, a deeper pot is better than a shallow one: the roots go down further, and get larger, than you'd think. Younger plants usually need fairly frequent repotting, and have been known to break old pots if they didn't get a new one quickly enough. As a general rule, repotting is a spring-only deal: repotting in fall or winter is likely to end badly, and repotting in summer might be okay, but it didn't work out so well with the one I bought, so I hate to recommend it.

HUMIDITY: Mostly irrelevant to the plant, though higher humidity may help keep the spider mites at bay.3 Dryer air might be preferable during the winter -- the less moisture, the less risk of rot, is my logic -- but if you're like most people, dry air isn't something you'll have to work at, and it's not necessarily helpful. Don't sweat the humidity, is the gist.

TEMPERATURE: Heat is not a problem at all. They actually seem to really like heat, and can handle temperatures at least into the 100s F (38-43C) with no problem. Cold is another story. Different websites give really different information, but it appears to me that about 50F (10C) is as low as you can go and be completely safe. Plants will sometimes survive light, brief freezes but will probably lose branches in the process (and frost-damaged branches can provide an opening for rot, so surviving the freeze itself doesn't guarantee that the plant will make it). If your plant has been accidentally frozen, there's a decent chance that something might be salvageable, depending on how cold, how wet, and for how long.4

PESTS: So far, the only pests I've witnessed have been spider mites, which unfortunately can develop into huge, writhing balls of mites so quickly that it's not uncommon to hear a sonic boom, as the growing sphere of mites begins to expand faster than the speed of sound.

That may have been slightly overstated. But only slightly.

They are also attractive to the oleander caterpillar, which as you can guess from the name is a caterpillar that mostly feeds on Nerium oleander.5 Caterpillars are really only worth worrying about if you leave your plant outside for part of the year, though, and they're killed by cold weather so they're not normally found north of Florida anyway. Mealybugs are also a concern, according to a commenter at the page on this plant (scroll down to the comment by "CropDoc"). The same commenter advises against using insecticides on Adenium (Why? He doesn't say.), and recommends alcohol, applied by cotton swab, which sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon.6 Then of course there's rot. And scale (for which the treatment should be the same as for mealybugs). And whiteflies.

This is the "red" Adenium mentioned above. Nice, but I like the pink-edged white one better.

PROPAGATION: I'm not sure where one would buy seeds, but Adenium obesum can apparently be grown from seed fairly easily, and seed-grown plants will develop the bulbous trunk from the beginning. Sometimes, plants will spontaneously produce seed pods as well, which are 8-12 inches long when mature and may contain 50-60 seeds. These are apparently very easy to sprout: most will germinate within a week. One can also take stem cuttings, which are apparently not that difficult either, though cuttings have to be allowed to dry and callus before planting and do not immediately develop bulbous trunks (I think they still do eventually, but I was unable to confirm this.). See mrbrownthumb for more detailed instructions on how to propagate Adenium obesum from cuttings.

It's common for the more interesting cultivars to be propagated by grafting cuttings onto the caudexes (caudices?) of more common varieties, because plants do not necessarily come true from seed. This is not likely to have any effect on the casual grower, though I can maybe envision a situation where a plant that was cut back could resprout new stems from the base, which would have the flower color of the stock plant, instead of the desired cultivar. Not terribly likely, though.

It's worth pausing to note that, like most (all?) of the plants in the Apocynaceae, Adenium obesum is poisonous in an especially hardcore and not-to-be-fucked-with way (hunters have used arrows coated with Adenium sap;7 if it can take down an antelope, it can knock you dead too). So be careful if you're going to try to take cuttings. One person at Garden Web reported that a friend of theirs worked in a nursery and sometimes had to handle large quantities of bareroot Adeniums, and that "he gets a metallic taste then nauseous just from touch[ing] so many, he now [wears] gloves when handling." So if you start to get a metallic taste in your mouth and feel nauseous, you should stop messing with the plant and go wash your hands, at the very least. Or you could just wear gloves to start with.

Pretty much speaks for itself.

GROOMING / SPECIAL CARE: Well, you'll need a broom.

The most special special-care issue with Adenium is learning how to manage the annual cycle: when to start easing back on the watering, when to start watering again, and so forth. This is difficult stuff, though the penalty for getting it wrong is not that bad, and basically amounts to -- you guessed it -- defoliation. Getting it really wrong results in rot, which is more of a problem, obviously, but also less likely.

During the research, I ran into some people asking if there was a way to promote caudex growth. The advice they were given (in this Garden Web thread) was to plant the plant a little bit higher with every repotting (only about an inch), so that over time the roots are gradually raised out of the soil. Judging by the spectacular picture at that link, this is a good way to get an impressively twisted plant.

Plants are said not to get significantly taller after a few years of growth: if you want a tall plant, you have to get it tall while it's young. After that, they mostly just get wider.8 Species other than obesum can get to be tall, though (ten feet is not unheard of).

FEEDING: The usual recommendation is to feed with a balanced but weak (20-20-20 at quarter-strength, e.g.) fertilizer with every, or at least most, waterings when the plant is actively growing. Some people prefer a couple full-strength feedings during the growing season.

When possible, it's probably best to try to obtain plants grown near your home, rather than going to a box store that's had them shipped in from across the country. There are two reasons for this. One, shipping is fairly traumatic for the plants. The plants we got in at work dropped all their flowers and a good chunk of their leaves all at once not so much because of the move itself, but because of how the move was done: in that particular case, I think the plants were watered, wrapped in brown paper sleeves, loaded into cardboard boxes, and then stuck on a truck for three days. You'd be scared too. (It's a wonder they didn't rot.9)

Two, the interests of the grower and the interests of the consumer do not necessarily overlap. Just before I started writing this post, I e-mailed Cactus Blog to ask just what the hell it is that Adeniums want, and why they're such a pain. Peter was kind enough to e-mail back, and his advice was incorporated into the above care instructions, mixed with various bits and pieces I've gathered from elsewhere on the web. But there was one thing I didn't see addressed anywhere else. Peter:
. . . the key problem with most adeniums you'd get in are that they're pushed in greenhouses to bloom, and they grow what we take 5 years in 1 year or so. So they're not healthy to begin with.

My least favorite of the three cultivars we've had at work. The others make this one look kinda washed-out and tired.

You'd expect stressed-out plants that are pumped full of steroids10 and made to grow faster than they naturally would to sell about as well as plants that are grown in a slower, sturdier fashion, and obviously they're going to take much less time and work to produce, so you'll get them cheaper, too.11 The catch is that such plants may also have a much tougher time adapting once they get to your house, and so you might wind up losing more plants, having to work harder to keep them alive, getting weird-shaped growth as they adapt, or etc. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again with a plant from a different establishment. Or the same establishment at a different time, possibly.

I don't know that I'll be retrying. I try to avoid plants that are exceptionally mite-prone (though there are some grandfathered exceptions, the main one being Cordyline fruticosa), and plants that I have had bad prior experiences with, both of which apply here. And I'm also leery of anything that's semi-deciduous (I even worry a little about Ficus benjamina and F. religiosa.). So the odds don't look good. But I've changed my mind about plenty of plants before, and I imagine these will be especially tempting when they start blooming again, whenever that is. We'll see.


References: species/subspecies designations from University of Wisconsin. Origin of name from Poison-arrow Euphorbia species ID from African Ethnobotany.

Photo credits: Cowardly lion via; plant photos are my own.

1 Please don't feel obligated to care, but: Tropicos, which I had somehow neglected as a resource until reminded of its existence by, lists arabicum, arboreum, boehmianum, cotaneum, honghel, lugardii, multiflorum, namaquanum, obesum, oleifolium, socotranum, somalense, speciosum, swarzicum, swazicum (possibly a typo of swarzicum, or vice-versa?), and tricholepis, plus several subspecies of obesum, some of which overlap with the species listed, e.g. Adenium socotranum and Adenium obesum var. socotranum.
2 "Sculptural" in the Henry Moore sort of sense.
3 There's some confusion on this point, as I've seen it said that humid air can actually make mite problems on Adenium worse. Might have been a typo, though. This isn't beyond the realm of plausibility, but it's not the usual way of things: generally, mites like hotter, dryer air.
4 In fact, if you want to see a flame war erupt over the proper winter temperature for Adeniums (and who among us doesn't?), check out this Garden Web thread. It's pretty incredible. It's also, in the end, fairly unilluminating, and ends without any obvious victor, so the question remains unanswered. In general, I find that when people who have obviously grown the plant in question disagree about its care like this, it usually means that either method is acceptable, and the debaters have just had different experiences for some reason or another. Only rarely is somebody just plain wrong.
5 Not particularly surprising, as Nerium oleander is a close relative of Adenium obesum. For more on the oleander caterpillar, interested readers should check out Wicked Gardener.
6 (Sarcasm.)
7 Interestingly, or maybe not interestingly: the hunters who do this don't use the Adenium sap by itself, but mix it with the sap of a Euphorbia, and sometimes many other ingredients. The Euphorbia in question is one I'm not familiar with (E. subsala), and appears to be more a thickening agent and adhesive, as opposed to being an active ingredient.
8 (Like people!)
9 They shouldn't be sending us specimens of rot-prone plants right after watering them, of course. My guess is that plants in Florida heat either have to be watered so often, or get rained on so much, that any plants the grower picked would be at least somewhat wet at any moment. This is not good, and it's caused us problems before, but there's likely nothing that can be done, really, and I can't say we lose a lot of plants to it: it just makes me anxious.
10 Metaphorically speaking: it'd actually be fertilizer and maybe the occasional hormone, not steroids. I don't think giving plants anabolic steroids does anything for them, and it certainly wouldn't make them grow bigger/faster/musclier.
In one sense, though, Adeniums are probably already pumped full of steroids: I couldn't track down a structure or even a definitive name for the toxin(s) in the plant, but they were often compared to digoxin, the toxin in Digitalis (foxglove), which does contain the particular arrangement of carbon atoms called the steroid nucleus: three six-membered rings and one five-membered one, arranged just so (ignore the numbers):

This particular arrangement shows up all over the place in nature, with other atoms attached to it, in everything from cholesterol to testosterone to yams to poison-arrow frog venom. So technically, Adeniums're already full of steroids, just not the ones you were probably thinking of.
11 As I am occasionally reminded at work, plants cost us money even if they're just sitting there, not doing anything: they have to be heated, fed and watered, none of which are free, and then also people have to be paid to watch them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

LOLAraceae / Hiatus announcement

Text may be more legible if picture is opened in a new window. Also it's easier to see that the Anthurium in the back has its eyes closed.

I wish my readers a festive and enjoyable holiday of their choosing (including but not limited to: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Gurnenthar's Ascendance,1 Festivus, Boxing Day Eve, Cephalopodmas, Monkey) unless they prefer not to enjoy or observe holidays, in which case I wish them a mundane but not-unpleasant day of no particular significance whatsoever. I'm in the latter (non-observing) camp, and will most likely be working for an hour or two in the morning (the plants still need water, even if people are celebrating something).

This is going to be the last post for a few days, as I'm going on my winter hiatus. As with previous hiatuses, I'm not actually going anywhere, probably, but I do occasionally need to take a few days off of blogging.

New, regular posts will resume on December 26. In the meantime, enjoy your elves (not a typo).


1 If you get this joke without looking it up, give yourself 5000 points.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Unfinished business re: Syngonium podophyllum

In the profile post for Syngonium podophyllum, I raised the question of whether variegated Syngoniums would retain their coloration once they began to vine or developed larger, lobed leaves, and then irresponsibly ignored the question because I had no idea how to answer it.

I can now report a partial answer to the question:

It's not lobed and climbing, but this unknown 'Allusion'-type cultivar has retained its coloration (albeit in a much less interesting way than it started with) when it began vining. We also have a 'White Butterfly' at work that has begun to vine, and it's maintaining some white color in the leaves as it does so, though again, this is a lot less interesting than the original pattern, from the juvenile leaves.

So maybe it could work out, depending on the variety you start with.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Question for the Hive Mind: Peperomia NOID

I lead a fairly dull life. Any time not claimed by work or watering the plants at home goes to the blog, pretty much, and I only occasionally get the chance to do anything else. Sometimes this wears me down a bit, and I feel an urgent need to get out of Iowa City and go somewhere else. Usually this means going to a garden center in another city and buying more plants, which is counterproductive, obviously.

Last Wednesday was one of those days: I just couldn't stand the thought of looking at the Adenium obesum profile any more (it's since been finished), and I didn't want to water all day, and I was desperate to get out of town. So the husband and I went to Batavia, IA, a town of about 500 people roughly eighty miles to the southwest, to investigate reports of a greenhouse.

And there was one, and that's how I wound up with this Peperomia.

I know this isn't the best picture, so let me describe it too:

It's got red stems (at least where they've gotten good light), and some of the red continues up into the midvein on the underside of the leaves. The leaves are plain, smooth-edged ovals. The midvein, and a vein on either side of the midvein, are slightly sunken and very obvious. Leaves are very shiny. The habit seems to be semi-trailing, though they're upright for a while.

When I looked on, I found a lot of Peperomia pictures, but none of them seemed like a terribly good match for my plant. It doesn't help that some of the options don't have pictures attached. P. humilis has leaves that come to a sharper point at the end, and the internodes seem shorter on my plant than humilis. P. scandens has the same problems, plus it lacks the red stems.

Of course this assumes that is a reliable source, which it's not entirely. Other pictures of P. scandens from on-line show heart-shaped (cordate) leaves, and other pictures of P. humilis show much smaller leaves than on my plant. Glasshouse Works shows a picture of a P. buntingii that looks like a good match in one picture and completely wrong in the other. Ditto for P. glabella.

So I throw myself on the mercy of the reader. I can definitely rule out clusiifolia, obtusifolia, caperata and pereskiifolia, because I already have all of those and I know what they look like and this isn't them. But beyond that, I not only don't know, I'm not sure who to ask, or what to be looking for. Are there any Peperomia specialists in the house?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pretty picture: Eucharis grandiflora flowers

This one we owe to WCW, who insisted that we try to get Amazon lilies, even though the supplier tried to talk me out of it when I asked. The issue was that they weren't in bloom when I was asking, and the supplier didn't want to send me a bunch of plants that weren't in bloom, only to have me turn around and complain that they weren't in bloom. Or something like that. I was never quite clear on why she was trying to keep me from buying them: she just kept telling me that they weren't in bloom.

But WCW persisted, and said they weren't hard to get into bloom, nor were they hard to keep before and after blooming, and if we didn't get them then we were all fools and she washed her hands of us. So eventually, the supplier was convinced to send them along, and damned if they weren't (eventually) everything WCW had said they would be.

The leaves are actually plenty nice on their own: dark, shiny, slightly textured, 8-12 inches long. The flowers, however, are the show, and they do not disappoint. Bright white, large, and with a pleasant but faint scent that I haven't yet been able to detect long enough to match words to. I don't know how long the flowers last; they only just started a couple weeks ago. So far, one plant has budded and then sold immediately, one plant has budded and bloomed but just barely (pictured), and one plant has produced two flowers and one or two more buds so far, and has been in a place of honor up at the front counter, where so far all the customers have been able to resist impulse-purchasing it. (It's not even all that terribly expensive, considering how uncommon they are here, the size of the plant, and how cool the flower is.) I'm beginning to think that the front counter is not a good place to put the impressive stuff.

Anyway. I've been very impressed. WCW was right. I've been tempted, though lately what's been following me home is stuff like Cryptanthus (unplanned purchases are a hazard of writing the plant profiles), Tolmeia, Schlumbergera, Ficus, Pilea and Peperomia. We'll see if I get to Eucharis eventually or not.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pretty pictures: Kalanchoe blossfeldiana 'Klabat' and NOID

I'm not a particularly big fan of this plant, though I can't explain quite why: I can't see anything terribly wrong with it, and I don't have any bad associations with it as far as I can remember. Though I don't like trying to clean them up once they're mostly bloomed-out. Those little dead flowers get everywhere.

K. blossfeldiana 'Klabat.'

Perhaps it's just a matter of taste. They're certainly colorful enough. Maybe I'd like them if I tried them. I don't know.

In any case, these two pictures make nice bookends for one another: nothing like yellow with an orange center to complement orange with a yellow center.

K. blossfeldiana NOID.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What RuPaul has been up to:

Not particularly good likenesses, but I think we can all see where s/he's going with this.

Via Joe.My.God., who got it from Towleroad, who got it from NewNowNext, who (apparently) got it from promotional material for Logo's upcoming (?) new show, RuPaul's Drag Race, because NewNowNext is affiliated with Logo in some difficult-to-parse way.

This is blog-relevant because I was publicly wondering what RuPaul had been doing lately in the plant profile for Dizygotheca elegantissima. Hence the title.

Random plant event: Strobilanthes dyerianus flowers

With some of the stuff we have in the greenhouse, I'm never sure whether I should be pinching off the flowers or letting them go. Strobilanthes dyerianus (Persian shield) is an especially tough call, because it seems like there must be some kind of trick to getting foliage instead of flowers, and I cannot figure out what that trick is. Maybe less light? Anybody know?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pretty picture: Tillandsia capitata 'Peach' flower

Click for a considerably larger, but still more or less in focus, version.

I wouldn't have bothered with this one if it had just been green and purple, or even orange and purple, but the green-orange-purple combination was interesting enough that I figured I had to get a picture.

I was this close to buying this one, but I restrained myself. Not sure whether I expect you to be proud of me or disappointed in me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Work-related: A 'Dancer' too Far?

In yesterday's post, I told you I bought a Schlumbergera 'Caribbean Dancer' from work. Today, I was talking to someone about it, and was reading the tags in the plants, to see whether we had a different one that I'd liked previously ('Orange Beach,' if I remember correctly). Apparently 'Caribbean Dancer' is part of a series, which are all also named '[Something] Dancer,' and I guess I'm okay with that, but I think they maybe crossed a line:

I mean seriously. If we had to go to the stripper place, they might at least have made it a Tina Turner homage and called it 'Private Dancer.' But no.

When I showed Younger Co-Worker, her response (after the laughing) was to tell me to take the tag out of the pot. I was like, Are you kidding? Some people would buy that plant just for the name alone: no way I'm taking it out.

The plant itself wasn't fully in bloom yet, but from the look of the buds, it's a fairly basic magenta color. Officially it's red, and I found one picture that looked more red than magenta. Not bad, but nothing special. Except for the name.

The plant in question: Schlumbergera 'Exotic Dancer.'

There's a list of the other dancers here. I think they're missing out by not including "Private," "Break," and possibly "Tiny," but maybe that's just me.

Then again, maybe that's just the kind of people they are: this page includes a plant called Schlumbergera 'Sodom and Gomorra.' I don't know what a plant with that name ought to look like, but I bet you anything it's disappointing.

UPDATE: See also the Schlumbergera truncata cvv. profile.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pretty pictures: Schlumbergera 'Caribbean Dancer'

Hell yeah, I bought it. I was not aware that this sort of thing, with the two different colors on the same flower, was even possible.

UPDATE: See also the Schlumbergera truncata cvv. profile.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Scarecrow (Cryptanthus cvv.)

(This is part 5 of the Wizard of Oz plant profiles.)

In the movie, the Scarecrow doesn't get much respect. Had he not spoken, Dorothy would have walked right by him. He can't intimidate the crows at all. He gets set on fire once, and he's apparently brainless to boot. Not a curriculum vitae that inspires confidence.

Similarly, Cryptanthus spp. aren't high-profile in the houseplant world. We sell a few, occasionally, but customers walk by them all the time. This isn't particularly surprising: it's difficult to find a suitable display area for small plants. (Dionaea muscipula, venus fly-traps, pose similar issues for retail, but they're actually worse, because they have fairly specific cultural needs as well, so we're limited as to where we can put them before we ever consider whether the customers can see them.) When we do have a good spot for them, they tend to sell well, though they're never going to be a bread-and-butter1 plant.

One gets the impression, though, that Cryptanthus don't necessarily want a lot of people knowing where they are: they kind of work at being inconspicuous.2, 3 The varieties people grow as houseplants are terrestrial4 and small, forming low rosettes on the ground a few inches across. (Though there are larger varieties, and I've seen plants maybe a foot in diameter for sale around here before -- at Wal-Mart, if I recall correctly -- so just because it's a Cryptanthus doesn't mean it's going to be tiny. The smaller ones, in my experience, do seem to be more available than the larger ones -- I really have no idea whether it's because they're easier to produce, easier to ship, more in demand, or hardier, but it's surely got to be at least one of those things.) Gray, green, brown, black, and white are common leaf colors, and some of those can be very interesting (especially the brown, which is a really unusual color for a living plant), though the better sellers tend to be red, coral, or pink.

Different sources give different numbers of species: this page from the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies (FCBS) lists thirty-nine full species in the genus Cryptanthus, and 404 named crosses or sports or whatever; I'm inclined to go with their numbers because they seem kind of obsessively (in the good way) interested in precise identifications. On the other hand, "Dr. David Benzing, bromeliad expert extraordinaire, recognizes 42 species."5 So who knows. I confirmed some suspicions about what plants I had on the FCBS site, though I failed to identify everything I didn't know already. (They probably do have pictures of the remaining unknowns: on the other hand, life is too short to spend it looking at Cryptanthus pictures.)

As best as I can determine, all Cryptanthus species are native to Brazil, though the specific habitats in question are fairly diverse (dry and shady, on top of rocks, salty wet coastal spots), and the internet is divided about whether they're primarily from southern Brazil or eastern Brazil.

I can't say all Cryptanthus varieties are suitable for growing indoors, since I haven't met but a fraction of them, but any that you're likely to find offered for sale should be. They should also be safe for people with children and pets: to be best of my knowledge, they are not toxic (bromeliads aren't, in general: in fact, I don't think I could name a toxic bromeliad if my life depended on it6). They do try to be scary: every Cryptanthus I've seen so far had small, pointed serrations long the leaf edges, but they're too soft and small to do any actual damage, unlike certain other bromeliads I could name; I don't know what the Cryptanthusesuses7 think they're deterring.

This is also, I think, the only houseplant I've ever lit on fire.

It was accidental, if that helps.

(Er, semi-accidental, that is: I meant to light something on fire, just not the plant.8)

Provided that you don't light them on fire, and maybe even if you do, Cryptanthus are pretty easy houseplants. I've never had any of mine really do anything objectionable (perhaps because they fear immolation if they do?): no pests, no rot, no massive shedding of leaves. I find them pretty much indestructible, though they have a reputation for being semi-difficult, and I realized as I was writing this that I've been doing a lot of stuff "wrong" with mine, and they're still fine. There have been a few failures to propagate, but aside from that, you know. So I don't have a lot of confidence in my rating, above, as it applies to other people. Your mileage may vary:

LIGHT: Cryptanthus spp. usually require some direct sun, though not necessarily a whole day's worth. One of the ones I have now is in a west window and has done well there for a while, though it is turning white instead of pink at the moment, because we've been having a dark winter so far; another is near a very bright artificial light (one marketed for Seasonal Affective Disorder9 which has been bright enough to fool cacti and crotons), and it's maintained color and done well in that spot. Less light won't necessarily kill your plant, but it may make it change colors: white instead of pink, or green instead of brown, and new growth may be weak. Too much light can burn them, but this is not likely to happen to any plant kept indoors so I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. I mean, really, acetone fires are probably a bigger danger.

WATERING: In my experience, Cryptanthus are not especially picky about when they get watered. I personally let mine get nearly but not completely dry between waterings, which winds up being approximately once a month for the one in a 4-inch pot and once every two weeks for the one in a 3-inch pot.10 That said, most of the websites I ran across recommend even moistness, with no drying out (some of them insisted on this, even), and the plants at work tend to be more on the wet side than on the dry side, so I'm not sure what to recommend here. I suppose I'll go with the experts, and start watering mine more often, but you may be able to get away with growing yours drier if you find you really have to for some reason. They do have certain water-conserving adaptations, see below.

TEMPERATURE: Not really that big of an issue: most varieties will tolerate any temperature found in the home (anything between 32-100F / 0-38C), though they're happiest in the 60-85F (16-29C) range, like most people. Plants kept in warmer conditions will need water much more often, just so you know.

HUMIDITY: Does need to be high for the plant to do well and grow continuously, though it doesn't seem to be completely unreasonable about it either. I guess. We don't do anything special here, but as I've noted previously, the apartment's humidity situation is not normal (we generally run between 40-60 percent at all times; the windows are fogged up all winter long), so if you have a normal home, especially if you live in a climate with particularly dry winters, a terrarium might not be a bad idea. Or at least a humidifier or pebble tray or something.

PESTS: I've never seen any pests on a Cryptanthus, nor did I run across anybody else warning about anything terribly specific. Mealybugs and scale are really the only pests I could imagine posing much of a problem. Plants that are kept too wet for long periods can rot out, and rot is a fairly routine problem with trying to root offsets, see PROPAGATION.

GROOMING: Very nearly zero. Your results may vary, but it's a pretty rare occasion when mine so much as lose a leaf.

FEEDING: One of mine got by for a year or better without fertilizer before I finally gave it a little bit. I don't think that it's a particularly urgent need, though. (Willing to be corrected on this point if anybody knows differently.) Bromeliads in general are poisoned by copper and boron, so avoid fertilizers containing these if you do intend to fertilize. Unlike most bromeliads, Cryptanthus do not absorb significant nutrients through their leaves, so foliar feeding is not going to be useful. The abovelinked site recommends a slow-release fertilizer in the soil, along with occasional very light fertilizer delivered in the water. I did eventually give mine a slow-release form, at less than the recommended strength, and that's done okay for us so far.

PROPGATION: A Cryptanthus will flower the same way a lot of bromeliads do, with a bunch of bracts to begin with, and then true flowers popping up out of the bracts for a period after that. The true flowers aren't especially interesting - they remind me of Tradescantia flowers more than anything: three petals, white - and last only for a day at a time (also like Tradescantia). I don't know what happens next if a flower has been pollinated. I mean, seeds, I assume, but I've never seen the process, so I can't tell you. But even if the plant has not been pollinated, this is usually the signal for the plant to begin producing pups.

In the varieties I've seen so far, the pups usually pop out near the top of the plant, from just inside the spots where leaves join to the main stem:

But some plants will also produce pups from beneath the soil, as well, just to hedge their bets, I suppose:

The thing I find fascinating about the pups is, they're only very loosely attached to the plants, and this attachment gets looser as the pup develops. So once a pup is a good size (the usual recommendation is 1/4 the size of the parent plant), rock it back and forth gently, and it will detach. I expect that pups not deliberately detached by a human would probably still eventually push themselves off the parent plant: in nature, they roll a short distance away and then root.

This is the part that gets tricky for indoor growers, because a plant that's buried too low, or kept too wet, will rot rather than rooting, and even if you get it all right, rooting takes a long time. There's no secret perfect way to do this as far as I know, but so far, the most effective way I've seen is what WCW did with some during this last summer and fall: she put sphagnum moss in a clay saucer and stuck the offsets in the moss. We watered the moss occasionally, the Cryptanthus formed roots in a few months, and then we moved them to regular soil. I've also tried sticking them directly into soil, which has worked better at work (so far) than it does at home, where it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I've tried vermiculite at work, too, but too recently to report on how well that worked.

It seems like a lot of work, to me, to go to all the trouble of producing a pup and rolling it off the mother plant without any assurances that it's even going to land right-side up, but I suppose we don't expect serious planning from the Scarecrow.

And now, because the "brainless" Scarecrow was actually the smartest one of the group (according to the book -- not so much the movie), here are a couple odd little Science! tidbits that were new to me, as reported by

1) They conserve water by taking up carbon dioxide primarily at night, the reverse of most plants.11 Most plants take in their carbon dioxide during the day because it makes sense to take up the raw materials at the time you're going to be using them, but some or all species of a lot of houseplants, including the genera Cryptanthus, Crassula (jade plants, among others), Ananas (pineapple), Euphorbia, Hoya, Zamioculcas, Agave, Aloe, Gasteria, Sansevieria, and Yucca, take up carbon dioxide at night, combine it with a compound in the cells called pyruvate, which a couple of steps later turns it into the four-carbon acid, malic acid.12 The malic acid hangs around until morning, when the plant splits it back into carbon dioxide (which is then used in photosynthesis like any other plant would do) and pyruvate. (Oh come on, this isn't that bad; you can follow this.) The pyruvate is then free to store another round of carbon dioxide the next night. This process is called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, in a rare moment of scientific lucidity, because it was first discovered in the Crassulaceae, it involves acids, and it's a type of metabolism. Usually it's abbreviated CAM.

But, you may be saying, why, Mr. S? Why would a plant bother to do this? It's not like there's no carbon dioxide to pick out of the air during the day, is there?

Well no. But -- do you notice anything special about the plants that do this? Anything, in particular, about the leaves of plants that do this?

CAM is yet another adaptation for plants that live in hot or dry (or both) environments, to minimize water loss. Most of the plants in the above list have thickened leaves, small leaves, or no leaves, most of them have a waxy coating to reduce the amount of water they lose to evaporation, and they use CAM to keep from losing water through their pores when they're trying to collect carbon dioxide. Instead, they take up carbon dioxide at night, when it's cooler and the relative humidity is higher. If it's very dry, they might still lose water that way, but when water is hard to get, anything you can do to conserve it and use it more efficiently is a good thing.

Cool though all this is (Oh my god! You learned a tiny amount of biochemistry! Pyruvate! Wheeeee!), I'm left a little puzzled. It's fine if water conservation through CAM is part of the Cryptanthus experience, but -- what for? They don't have especially thick leaves (at least not as compared to a Hoya or a Crassula: I suppose they do have thicker leaves than most bromeliads), and if you listen to people, they apparently demand humid air and moist soil. So what's the point of requiring lots of moisture around and resorting to CAM to conserve water? Why conserve it if it has to be all around you anyway? Why demand large quantities of something around you if you don't even use it all that fast?


Very well then.

2) The other item of interest is about chromosomes. While people have created a lot of hybrid Cryptanthus varieties, the genus as a whole is also, like some other plants (notably Syngonium podophyllum and Hedera helix), prone to throw out new sports all on its own, every once in a while, and there's an interesting possible reason for this, assuming that the above link, and Wikipedia, are trustworthy, which . . . well, I know. But I'm going to tell you anyway.

Most bromeliads, as I mentioned in the Vriesea splendens profile, have 25 pairs of chromosomes, or else numbers very close to 25 or a multiple of 25 (24, 25, 26, 50, 100, etc.). All Cryptanthus, though, have only 17 or 18 pairs, at least the ones anybody's counted so far. This is a little weird, but they still seem to more or less function, and it's not necessarily the case that they're actually missing anything much: on evolutionary timescales, it's not unheard of for chromosomes to link together or break apart in a stable way, so chromosome number can go up and down. If you think of chromosomes as books, this is like somebody taking Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter (the two original chromosomes) and printing a version that has them both bound together: all the same words are there, but instead of one large book and one small book, you now have one single very large book that changes stories in the middle. (The same analogy holds for increases in chromosome number: imagine a printer declaring that Moby-Dick was too long to bind in a single book, so they split it in two and publish it as two volumes instead.) Such big changes to chromosome structure are generally dead-ends, because it only gets passed on if you can find and mate with another organism that's rearranged their library in the same way, or at least a similar way, but that's a long story and this profile is plenty long already.

Not that it's not possible that Cryptanthus might actually have lost information, too. I ran across a scientific paper about the Cryptanthus chromosome number problem, that noted that yes, there were theories about why they're different from all the other bromeliads, but of course you have to be a paid subscriber to actually read the damn paper, so I don't know what the theory is. But really, there are only three basic possibilities: either the information contained in seven or eight pairs of chromosomes got lost along the way, and is no longer in the Cryptanthus genome (the library no longer has a copy of The Red Badge of Courage), or it got moved somewhere else, most likely by two chromosomes linking up to form a new, much longer one (the Moby-Dick-Scarlet Letter nineteenth-century SuperSaver volume), or both. This sort of thing happens all the time (on evolutionary timescales). But either way:

The secret to Cryptanthus variability is thought to be B chromosomes. Not X chromosomes, not Y chromosomes, not even Z or W chromosomes, but B chromosomes.13

You could think of the B as standing for "bonus." B chromosomes aren't required for the organism that has them to live, and if you have them, it's not terribly important how many of them you have. In fact, most Bs don't even code for anything and are never read, and sometimes one part of an organism might have them and another part of the same organism doesn't. They're also not necessarily transmitted to descendants, though when they are, the descendant usually winds up with more copies than the parent had, which is quirky. What B chromosomes can do is get in the way, though, which can make the plants that have them malfunction in ways affecting their fertility or appearance, which would lead to sports. Other organisms can be really variable without necessarily having B chromosomes, so I'm not certain that the B chromosomes are the whole ball game here. But it's at least a likely partial answer.

But so there you have it. Voila: Cryptanthus.

I suck at endings.


Photo credits: Scarecrow photo via; the remainder are my own.

1 "Bread-and-butter" is the work idiom of choice for the plants that pay the bills, as opposed to the plants that make mr_subjunctive, WCW, and the other plant geeks happy. Dracaena marginata, Codiaeum variegatum, Philodendron hederaceum and the self headersa like 'Autumn' and 'Moonlight' -- these are bread-and-butter. Stuff like Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa and Neoregelia are what make WCW and me happy, and you can tell the difference by the way we have failed to sell any of them to anybody but WCW and me. There is, fortunately, a little bit of overlap between the categories. There are also a few plants that are neither, but we don't talk about them. Shhh.
      a ("Phil O'Dendron and the Self-Headers" would make a GREAT band name, by the way.)
2 Which means they're probably going to be upset with me for drawing attention to them.
3 This is reflected in the botanical name, which almost every search result for Cryptanthus will tell you means "hidden flower."
4 The entire genus is terrestrial, as far as I can tell, though there's a species or two that grow on rocks rather than in soil, which depending on your perspective may or may not count as terrestrial.
5 Someday, I hope to be an "expert extraordinaire" at something. Also a supervillain, as I believe I've mentioned previously. Not sure which title should go first on the business card, though. "Expert extraordinaire, supervillain" seems to scan better, rhythmically. EXpert exTRAORdinaire SUPervillAIN. What is that? Trochaic? Ananpestic? (See kids? You never know when you're going to need this stuff in real life.)
6 Of course, if my life depended on it, I probably couldn't name a non-toxic one either: sometimes I can think quickly under stress, and sometimes I cannot. It's hard to imagine a situation where my life would depend on naming a toxic bromeliad, anyway. I'm only very infrequently held captive by plant-obsessed supervillains/-heroes, and so far, when I have been, they've been more interested in finding out why their Spathiphyllum is going black than in learning about obscure bromeliads. (A: overwatering. Nine times out of ten.)
7 I'm not sure what the plural of Cryptanthus should be.
8 The story, mildly altered from a version I told at Garden Web some time ago:
I was kind of a pyro at the time, with access to acetone (= cheap nail polish remover; the expensive kind is usually ethyl acetate) as the result of being a chemistry undergrad. (Acetone will dissolve almost anything, and is relatively cheap and nontoxic, so we used it to clean glassware and stuff. Plus it dries quickly, because it has a lowish boiling point.) This had previously been used to, for example, light flat tennis balls on fire and throw them out of my (4th-floor) dorm window, set brief but impressively large fires on the (ceramic-tiled) hallways, dissolve styrofoam, and so forth. I'm not saying any of this was a good idea, please note, but it seemed like one when I was however old I was (19? 20?).
The dorm rooms had a sink in a corner, with a mirror above them. (I'm trying to recall whether it was just a mirror or a whole medicine cabinet, and drawing a blank. Probably a medicine cabinet.) For some reason, I had the plant sitting on the sink -- possibly I'd just watered it, possibly I'd run out of room for plants elsewhere in the room.
If I'm remembering correctly, the idea was to spray acetone on the mirror, and then light it on fire, so the fire would be reflected and look bigger and brighter and so forth, but I didn't take flammable vapor and dripping into account, so I kind of lit the whole sink area on fire, including the plant, for a few seconds. I do not recall whether the fire looked bigger/brighter, because I realized midway through that I'd set my plant on fire and was distracted by that.
Hence, accidentally lighting plants on fire. The incident scared me enough that I believe it was the end of the acetone period, though I was still a pyro for a year or so after, though that was as close as I ever got to damaging anything of any actual value. The pyro thing stopped at about the time I came out of the closet: draw whatever conclusions seem appropriate.
Just to underline: this was not actually a good idea. Your results may vary. Do not attempt.
9 Which I do not have: the husband has at times thought that he did, which is why we have the light. It's possible that he still has SAD, but one of the side effects of having plants covering every available surface is that there also has to be a lot of light, so I don't recall him mentioning this last winter. I, if anything, have the other SAD: the one where you get depressed / irritable / apathetic in summer, though I figure that's got to be a heat thing, more than a light thing.
10 Interval periods given for comparison purposes only. I do not actually water my plants on a fixed schedule. Do not water your own plants on a fixed schedule: not only is it usually bad for the plant, it's sinful.
11 If you're one of those people who are worried about your plants suffocating you to death at night, when they absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide, and you don't trust me when I tell you that this is not something you should be worried about, you might consider buying some of the plants from this list, since they can take up the carbon dioxide from the other plants at night and in theory everything should balance out, then. Or you could just believe me, based on how you've not suffocated in your sleep every night of your life so far. Your call.
12 From malus, Latin for apple. You'd recognize it if you tasted it, as it's one of the main components of sour edibles like green apples, SweeTarts, grapes, Jolly Ranchers, etc. For this reason, supposedly the leaves of plants that do this taste sour in the morning (when malic acid storage is at maximum) and sweet (or at least less sour) in the afternoon (when most of the malic acid has been metabolized). I'm skeptical about this myself, but I'm not going to start eating the houseplants twice a day to check.
13 (Someday, we're going to run out of alphabet, and then the biologists are going to be fucked. . . .)