Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Plants Week, Part 2 of 2

A couple days ago, I showed you my latest plants from work; this post is because I also broke down and ordered from Asiatica Nursery recently, so there's that too. In the interests of making this potentially useful to readers, I'm also going to give kind of a review of my experience with Asiatica, because I know there are people out there who haven't ordered from them but window-shop occasionally, and I figure those people would be interested, if nobody else. This is also a bit of a primer on how to mail plants, for anybody who's never done that before and thinks they might want to someday.

First you have to place an order. I ordered five plants; it's pretty easy to navigate the Asiatica site (though a more obvious Search function would be nice), so we won't get into huge detail about that.

I didn't notice when placing the order, but when my plants arrived, I was immediately kind of struck by the fact that they all had a similar pattern: all five of the plants have white or yellow variegation in the leaf center with green along the edges, more or less. On four of the five, the variegation is speckly/blotchy, too. Apparently I have speckly, yellow-and-white-centered moods.

It was expensive. I paid $138, including shipping and all, for the five plants, which makes each of them $26.70 on average. This is a lot of money.1 Worse, these were mostly the cheaper things on offer.

I received e-mails from Asiatica when my order was received, when payment was received, and when the box was shipped, which is pretty good communicatin'. I placed the order on May 23, they got payment May 27, and my stuff arrived on June 4, so it was relatively fast: a lot of that was the time it took for my check to get from here to there (for some reason, they wouldn't take my debit card number; I keep meaning to look into that).

Asiatica is apparently fanatical about packing, which is a good thing. The box I got was three feet long and jammed full of newspaper (one suspects that Asiatica is expensive not because their plants are rare or because they take especially good care of them, but because they have eight million newspaper subscriptions to pay for).

The plants were wrapped as follows: they took a wad of shredded paper and held it on top of the root ball, then attached it firmly in place with a rubber band or two to keep the soil from falling out of the pot. The foliage was then surrounded by pretty dense shredded paper, and the whole thing was rolled up in big sheets of tissue paper, making them all look like gigantic joints:

Then the "joints" were taped closed, placed in the box, taped to the sides of the box, or to each other, and then wads of crumpled newspaper were stuck in the gaps between them. So I'm reasonably impressed with the packing. I myself have, in the past, just rolled plants up in semi-stiff paper (like what Asiatica's done, but without the shredded stuff or rubber bands) and stuck them together in a box and then filled in the box with crumpled newspaper. I'm not sure what they're trying to accomplish with all the shredded stuff, but I figure they have their reasons, and I'm not going to question it.

(Okay, okay, Mr. S., but what about the plants? How were the plants? And which ones did you get? Make with the pictures already. . . .)

All right, fine.

Plant #1: Pedilanthus 'Jurassic Park 2'

The size is impressive, and the variegation is pretty, when you can see it, but three of the five plants had really thick buildup of whatever builds up on nursery plants, that gray crusty shit that you have to wipe off by hand because nothing will remove it, and the Pedilanthus was probably the worst case:

The leaves are surprisingly thick and succulent; I don't know what species were involved in breeding this, but it's not your standard Pedilanthus tithymaloides.2 I expected smaller but bushier; this will make good cuttings, I imagine, but as it is, it's top-heavy and not all that pretty. There's an odd and unexpected resemblance to Zamioculcas zamiifolia; the leaves are all about the same size and weight. Kinda neat.

Plant #2: Aglaonema brevispatha 'Thai Snowflakes'

I'd thought there would be more of it, but the plant itself is fine. Again, there's the issue with the gray crust, but the color is good, the plant is relatively balanced-looking, and it seems like it's in excellent health. The only down side for me is that it doesn't compare especially well to the A. brevispathum 'Hospitum' I'd gotten a few months ago from work: the plant from work was larger and fuller, and about four times cheaper. I should have gone with something else instead. It is slightly nicer than 'Hospitum' insofar as the leaves are a darker color, sort of a green-black, which looks good. Not worth the money, though.

UPDATE: It was especially not worth the money because the plant subsequently died. The same thing happened to my 'Hospitum' from work, though, so I'm not saying it's Asiatica's fault necessarily, but the A. brevispathum/-spatha types are not as easy-care as they're claimed to be. Probably the issue was overwatering, in both cases.

Plant #3: Dieffenbachia 'Pacific Rim'

The most disappointing of the bunch, though this was entirely self-inflicted. As promised, the plant was a splotchy, variegated Dieff with white-edged leaves, and this time the leaves were even pretty crust-free, so it was just my expectations causing problems. (That, and that I already have a lot of Dieffenbachias I like, so the bar's set pretty high for what I consider cool.) The picture on the website (which isn't there anymore; I guess they're out of them?) was prettier; I think also the leaves were probably larger. Or the plant in the picture didn't have such a severe lean to it. I dunno. Nothing wrong with the plant except for not being what I'd built it up to be in my head.

Plant #4: Chlorophytum sp. 'Charlotte'

I'm a little worried about this one, though it looks beautiful: my concern is that it's going to be as subject to tip burn as all the other Chlorophytums I've ever met, a suspicion which is semi-confirmed by the fact that the oldest leaves on my plant have had their tips cut off. Whoever did it did it well, but even so. Still, it seems like it's in good shape, and it'll be interesting to watch -- I look forward to finding out whether it's going to offset or set seed or what (I'm hoping it will propagate itself somehow). The newest foliage (left side of photo) has a yellow-green center, which ages to white (right side), the opposite of how these things usually go, which is interesting all by itself.

Plant #5: Dracaena 'Indonesian Tracker'

Definitely the prize of the bunch, assuming that I can keep it alive. Crusty, alas, but enormous (considering), and the pattern of variegation is genuinely new and very pretty. One of the bigger surprises of the package was the discovery that instead of having regularly-spaced leaves all the way up the stems, 'Indonesian Tracker' has a whorl of leaves, followed by a gap, and then another whorl, all the way up the stem. This makes me suspect a hybrid, possibly of Dracaena surculosa3 with one of the regular strappy-leaf Dracaenas. I like when plants are weirder than expected, so I like this one.

The plant is badly potbound at the moment; Asiatica is pretty open about the idea that they kind of expect you're going to want to up-pot everything when it arrives. It saves on shipping to send small, tight pots, too, (less soil = less weight = cheaper shipping) which is sort of a bonus. The Dracaena is the only one of these that I figure I really have to move up, but I haven't checked the others closely.

So, overall: yes, I would totally order from Asiatica again, and probably will. I got the plants I asked for, I got them relatively quickly, they were intact and healthy on arrival, and there was good communication throughout the process. No complaints about the service. My only real issue is with the expense, which seems excessive even if I was willing to pay it, and the gray crusty stuff: I feel kinda petty for complaining about the gray crust, but at the same time, you know, there wasn't gray crusty stuff all over the plants in the pictures I was looking at when deciding what to order. I can appreciate that they probably have more profitable things to do with their time than sit around hand-cleaning the plants before they mail them off, and it's not like they're the only ones doing it: real Big Macs don't look like the Big Macs in the McDonald's commercials, either. It's just, I dunno. I pay a lot for the plants, and then when I get them here they're not even really presentable, some of them, because they have to be cleaned and moved up a pot size first. It's okay, but for that kind of money I hope for something that looks more like the pictures.

Also I'm a little upset with myself for not noticing how similar the Dieffenbachia and Aglaonema were to things I have already, which is totally not Asiatica's fault. Had I known, I would have gotten other stuff, though. My advice: if you're looking at something on-line and thinking about buying it, and it's similar to something you already have, take the time to make sure it's different enough (or similar enough, if you're wanting more of the same) before you click it into your shopping cart.

So now you know.


Photo credits: all my own.

1 I was stimulating the economy, was my excuse. Or at least the part of the economy in Pennsylvania that deals in rare tropical plants: probably not one of the bigger economic engines in the world, but hey, small economies need stimulation too.
2 (Fortunately, I also have some standard Pedilanthus tithymaloides, as regular readers know.)
3 (Sometimes listed as D. godseffiana.)


Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Well, I'm definitely a fan of Asiatica, and certainly appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with them. But their prices are too much for me, so I don't think I'll be receiving anything from them any time soon, even though it's sooooo tempting to give in to temptation. Window shopping doesn't cost anything, so I'd better stick with that...for now. Thanks for the detailed information about what it's like dealing with them - just in case...

Unknown said...

As for the gray crust: It's just hard water stains. If you live in an area with hard water, there's no getting around this unless you collect rainwater and use that instead (commercial softeners make the water too salty, as I learned the hard way). If you live in an area with naturally soft water, it will slowly dissolve the crust if you spray the foliage when you water.