Saturday, March 15, 2008

Work-related: Why I Don't Identify My Employer by Name

I don't know if any of my readers even notice, but I routinely feel kind of weird about not identifying where I work by name. Anybody who was really trying to find out could do so in an afternoon, of course: there are only just so many possibilities here, but somehow it's crossing a line to say which one.

Ficus lyrata et al.

In some ways I would actually really like to identify my employer, because I think they're pretty good people, and we have every reason to be proud of the stuff we sell, and it'd be kind of a kick for me personally if my blogging helped increase business in some way (plus maybe there'd be another raise in it for me, who knows). But I haven't actually told my employer that I have a blog. I don't know that she'd mind, but it's potentially kind of a slippery slope, from could you not make the customers sound like idiots1 to could you not use so many swear words if you're going to be mentioning the store by name, and then onward to stop acknowledging that we ever have pest problems in the greenhouses and could you maybe do a post mentioning the sale on perennials this weekend and, maybe, eventually, to it's cool if you're gay, but maybe you don't want to emphasize that so much if you're serious about this counting as advertising for the store. Not that I know she'd say any of that. Some of it sounds like her, some of it not so much. But I just don't want the possibility to arise, and since I don't know where or how to draw that line, I just don't go there to begin with.

Plus if I knew people were watching what I said, people in positions of some authority over me at work, then I'd be self-conscious about what I was saying. Which honestly, these posts take long enough to write as it is: I don't want to have to be combing over them for public relations or trade-secret purposes.

I've been making an effort to think about the trade-secret angle, and don't think I've crossed any lines yet, but it's hard to know exactly what qualifies, because the boss has sort of a broad and vague definition of what might count as proprietary. (As would I, if I were in her shoes.) But in any case, if the competition is reading this in the hopes of learning something useful, I don't expect I've given them any real ammunition: judging by the boss's reaction to things I've said about other places, and conversations with people working at other places, the people running garden centers and nurseries in the area are very interested in what's going on with one another, but it's in a sort of high-schooly, gossipy, oh-so-she's-going-out-with-him-now way: it doesn't mean anybody's going to do anything differently.

I did mention having a blog to WCW at one point early on, when I had first started it, but she didn't seem that interested, and once I thought about it a little I concluded that I didn't necessarily want her to see it anyway. If she finds it on her own, great (and hi, WCW!), but I'd just as soon not know about it, if she does.

Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime' conga line.

I actually worry about all this a little bit anyway, because of stuff like this.2 While I doubt that my employer would go that far, and I think that she and I, in the event, could have a reasonable and productive discussion about things,3 this is also a conversation I would rather not have.

But so the upshot is, my employer might benefit slightly from connection to the blog, and the blog might benefit slightly from connection to my employer, but it's not worth having to negotiate my word choices with someone else, or hold back more than I already do. Which, just leaving the business name out of the posts isn't necessarily going to keep me anonymous, but it's the best compromise I can come up with for now.

Would that the world worked a little differently.


Photo credits: both my own, both from work, both somewhat dated.

1 For what it's worth, even if I call a customer stupid every now and again, I don't actually mean stupid. As I have noted previously ("The Rainbow of Thumbs"), growing plants is a skill, it's not something you're born knowing how to do. So, while a customer may have done the worst possible thing for a particular plant, and the plant may die as a result, I wouldn't mean that the customer him- or herself is a drooling idiot. There's always stuff to be learned, and I do wrong stuff to the plants all the time too, and then learn better after the fact. I'm harsh about customers who admit no fault ("The Mystery of the Returned Ficus," for example), because if you won't concede that maybe you've done something wrong, then you're not just ignorant about how to care for your plant, but you are willfully ignorant, which is something I have long-standing personal issues with, involving a wide variety of people and a wide range of topics, which it's better for everybody if you don't get me started on that. We'll just leave it at: for willful ignorance you get no slack at all, but for involuntary ignorance you get all the slack you need.
2 Granted, in that particular case, it just underscores that CNN, and contemporary American journalism in general, by extension, are in no way concerned with conveying useful and accurate information to the public, which I think is something a lot of us figured out a long time ago, which is why blogs are such a hot medium now anyway. If journalists had been doing their jobs all along, nobody would ever have bothered with public-affairs blogs, and they'd all be hobby blogs like this one or depressing hey-look-at-me blogs written by teenagers about how they just got dumped and school sucks and their parents are stupid. Journalism, actual journalism, is important enough that someone is inevitably going to do it whether CNN and Newsweek and the Washington Post want to or not. I'll start watching cable news and reading newsmagazines again when they start lining up with reality. Except for Fox: it's off the list whether it ever lines up with reality or not. Which it never will.
3 We do, weirdly, seem to think somewhat alike, about a lot of stuff. Or at least we phrase things in similar ways and seem to make similar assumptions. Whether this is necessarily evidence of thinking alike, I don't know, but it sure seems like it sometimes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm sorry: your what burst?

Global warming's not just for scientists anymore! Now you can get involved directly, just by looking at stuff! (Well. Looking at stuff, and then writing it down, and reporting it accurately, with details, to somebody. It's not all fun and games, kids.)

Project BudBurst is looking for volunteers in the United States to collect climate change data. The idea is pretty simple: you note when you see the first buds, first leaves, first flowers, and so on, of a specific list of common plant species, and these results are collected and compiled annually and compared. Participation runs from February to July, and you can do as much or as little as you want: whatever you have time for. Looked at one way, you're providing valuable information to the scientific community; looked at another way, you're getting the chance to go walk around looking closely at plants with a built-in excuse if anybody gives you weird looks. ("Oh, don't mind me. I'm just doing science.") Maybe there are other useful applications. ("Sorry, dear, you'll have to fix dinner tonight. I have science to do.")

The site explains itself a little differently:

Phenology is literally “the science of appearance.” Scientists who study phenology – phenologists -- are interested in the timing of specific biological events (such as flowering, migration, and reproduction) in relation to changes in season and climate. Seasonal and climatic changes are some of the non-living or abiotic components of the environment that impact the living or biotic components. Seasonal changes can include variations in day length, temperature, and rain or snowfall. In short, phenologists attempt to learn more about the abiotic factors that plants and animals respond to.

Examples of springtime phenological events that interest scientists include flowering, leaf unfolding, insect emergence, and bird, fish, and mammal migration. Think about the changes where you live that tell you spring is almost here. In the Washington, D.C. area, cherry blossoms are a sure sign that spring is on its way. In many parts of the country, hearing the songs of the first robins of the season is what you look forward to. California poppies are an indicator of spring to many along the Pacific shores. In the Midwest, the greening up of fields and pastures is a signal that winter is almost over.

Phenological observations have been used for centuries by farmers to maximize crop production, nature-lovers to anticipate optimal wildflower viewing conditions, and by almost all of us to prepare for seasonal allergies. Today, this well established science is also used by scientists to track the effect of global warming and climate change on organisms and to make predictions about the future health of the environment. By tracking changes in the timing of these phenological events, scientists are able to better understand how our environment is changing.

Anyway. That's Project BudBurst. Check it out.

Another Illustration

From page 171 of the young adult classic novel, Mr. Subjunctive and the Recurring Mealybug Infestation (1968):

From the Teachers' Guide to the Mr. Subjunctive Series:

Vocabulary: mealybug, realtor, greenhouse, loft apartment

Suggested activity: print out a copy of the illustration on p. 171 and color it with crayons.

Questions for discussion:
1. Why did the Young Realtors want to kill the cacti in Mr. Subjunctive's greenhouse? How did this make Mr. Subjunctive feel?
2. What are mealybugs? What do they do?

*The picture is, again, from Monkey Fluids. I don't know the original source.

*Loft apartment idea from my husband.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bunnies! Bunnies! It must be bunnies!

Pop quiz! Three problems I kinda have guesses about, but would like confirmation on, are below. Remember to show your work.

Problem #1 of 3: Pelargonium

At work, we got many, many geranium (Pelargonium spp.) plugs in a couple weeks ago. We potted them up, set them on the tables, and then found them, not too much later, developing weird patterns of spots, sending everybody momentarily into panic mode, and leading to a scene something like this:

(watch fast -- I don't expect Youtube to leave this up long.)

Like this, of course, only in a very loose fashion, obviously.

Anyway. Leaves were collected and sent to Iowa State for pathology testing, but it may take a while before we hear anything, so I'm hoping to scoop Iowa State and get an answer first by harnessing the power of Teh Mighty Internets. So here, then, is what the leaves look like:

(Click on images to embiggen.)

The spots don't appear to be spreading, and don't seem to be on new growth.

The leading theories are, or have been:

1) Virus!
2) Chemical damage, from using pesticides in the greenhouse too soon after a traumatic shipping and repotting experience.
3) Cold temperatures and/or water droplets standing on leaves for too long.
4) Bacterial disease!
5) Bunnies.

We're open to other possibilities, of course. Anybody who's seen this before, please say something in the comments.

Problem #2 of 3: Begonia

We had a bunch of Begonia rex-cultorum all go nuts at once, too. I concede that they hadn't been getting treated all that well, because of the rearrangement of the greenhouse for the annuals and vegetables. We had them in a spot that could have been too hot and dry, though they'd been okay there for a few weeks before this happened. They were getting watered from overhead, but then, they always were. They might have been getting too much water, but it's hard to tell. This particular leaf is the clearest example I could find of the problem, but they all look more or less like this:

What does this look like to you?

Problem #3 of 3: Hedera canariensis

We got in either six or twelve hanging baskets of non-variegated Hedera canariensis in December, and they all did fine for a long time. This is the only plant left, and it's suddenly gotten really weird. In some places, the leaves have turned reddish between the veins --

and in other places, the leaves have gotten crispy edges --

Searches for spider mites were negative. We have other plants of the same species in the greenhouse, quite a few of them, and this is the only one that's doing this. I have a definite guess here, but I'm looking for confirmation.

Comments are set so that you can leave answers anonymously, or under a name of your choosing. I appreciate anybody who's stopped by to read this, whether you have any guesses or not.

Random plant event: Oncidium Saint Dawn Gold flowers

Aaaaand the orchid festival continues. If they'd quit pinching back all the annuals at work, I might be able to cross over into some non-orchids already, but apparently it's more important that the annuals be sellable than that I have good material for the blog. The boss has odd priorities sometimes.

This particular plant has sold already, some time ago, and I regret that I never got a particularly good picture of it while it was around, but then, if I had gotten a good picture, you wouldn't have believed it anyway: the color was screamingly, blindingly, painfully yellow. (This isn't actually that far off on the color, though this picture is maybe a little more orange than reality. Also reality was in better focus.) The individual flowers weren't anything real exciting, but the group of them all together passed exciting and wound up somewhere in the neighborhood of alarming.

Orchids have been selling remarkably well for us this year, which I know because everybody who's been there previously has, well, remarked on it. The consensus seems to be that they're doing better than previously, and looking better too, because last summer, they had all the orchids outside, either in a shady, protected spot or along the south side of the building, and didn't bring them in until temperatures were forecast to be in the mid-to-low 40s (F; 4-8C). Obviously we've also brought in new stuff, too, and I think Saint Dawn Gold was one of the new ones, but the closely-related Onc. Space Race Coco was a holdover from winter or spring, and it did well enough to bloom and sell and get remarked on. Though Space Race Coco didn't do much for me, really.

(You can see pictures of both Saint Dawn Gold and Space Race Coco here. They're the two at the bottom of the page.)

I also tried another stereogram picture, which didn't turn out all that well either, but which might be amusing for those of you who can make stereograms work. The idea is basically like for one of those "Magic Eye" pictures: cross your eyes just enough for the pictures to overlap one another and then wait for your brain to synthesize the images into a single 3-D one.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Samurai in a Dress (Rhapis excelsa)

I got one of these at the end of January, after admiring them at work for a long time. The hold-up was money: Rhapis excelsa grows so slowly that decent-sized specimens are usually pretty pricey, and I had a hard time justifying the expense to myself (they were priced at $30: I do get an employee discount, but still). The good news is, I am weak, and didn't put up much of a fight, so now I have this:

According to this site, a plant the size of mine, in a six-inch pot, is probably about two years old. This may not sound particularly old, but a similarly-sized Syngonium podophyllum might be six months or less. If you could produce four crops of Syngonium or one crop of Rhapis, then it's only worth your time to do the Rhapis if you can get four times as much money for it. And so. Other slow-growing plants, like Aspidistra elatior and Zamioculcas zamiifolia, have similar issues, and also tend to be expensive for their size.

I've never seen anything especially ladylike about Rhapis, despite its common name of "lady palm." I mean, I do code plants as male and female in my head,1 and I was anthropomorphizing plants well before I started doing it for the blog here, but the Rhapis = female idea has never sat that well with me. It sits even less well with me now that I've spent some time with them, because it's the only plant I've ever seen that broke out of a plastic pot. I've seen plants break clay pots, I've seen plants lift themselves out of pots, I've seen plants bend the hell out of plastic pots, but driving right through a pot is a new one. Witness:

So if it looks like a lady to you, that's fine, but to me it's gonna be a guy. A really strong, kinda pissed-off, guy, with weapons.

Male, female, both, or neither,2 this is a plant with a long and kind of cool history. The Japanese call it kannonchiku,3 which translates roughly as "Kannon's bamboo," Kannon being the Japanese version of the name of a Buddhist Bodhisattva.4 The connection between plant and goddess is a location: Okinawa Island, which is both the site of some early kannonchiku cultivation and also home to a temple in honor of Kannon.

Statue of Kannon. Photos by Sean Brown at Lost. Used by permission.

There are literally hundreds of named varieties, each with their own genealogy and history, which appear to be periodically re-ranked into better and worse varieties by people who clearly have too much time on their hands.5 Some so-so pictures of different types can be found at the previous link, or at this one.

In any case, the plant is native to southern China and Taiwan, but isn't found in the wild anymore: the Chinese still have some, but it's all cultivated, and the Japanese seem to be much bigger fans of the plant but theirs is entirely from introduced stock. The move from China to Japan happened around the year 1700, and Rhapis excelsa had been cultivated in China for a short time before that. The plant didn't come to the United States until the early 1900s; according to the super-duper fancy-schmancy growers' guide, the original specimens brought over are still growing at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, though I couldn't find any confirmation of that at the HBG website, and anyway the growers' guide in question (see sidebar) is ten years old, so it could have been true in 1998 but not anymore.

The main interest in Japanese circles looks to be twofold: there's a lot of attention given to plants that are variegated, and also they like dwarf varieties, whether naturally dwarfed or grown as bonsai-type specimens. Having a good-quality, reproducible plant can be worth truly insane amounts of money: the "Eizannishiki" variety pictured at the top of this page has reportedly sold for $25,000. I don't know whether that was $25,000 for a single stem, or $25,000 for a twenty-cane, six-foot-tall plant, but after you pass a certain amount of money, I think it no longer matters. The $25,000 is only a "reportedly" number, but there's apparently good documentation on an "Eizannishiki" offset, a single offset, selling for $10,000 in 1970. If The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is to be believed, that translates as $55,567.01 in 2008 dollars. (If you thought $30 for a 6-inch pot was pricey, I'm guessing it looks more reasonable now.) If you're interested in a variegated Rhapis, the only place I know of to refer you to is Asiatica Nursery, though you should be warned that the very minimum you'd be paying for a single plant (in a 3.5-inch / 9 cm pot), with delivery and everything included, is going to be between about $85 and $100, depending on where you live. If you're in Canada, if I read the site right, there's a minimum order of $500, so it's even worse. But I think anybody would concede that some of those cultivars look pretty damned cool.

Rhapis excelsa is not the only species in the genus Rhapis, though it's the most commonly cultivated one: the most serious competitor is R. humilis, which is similar-looking but has narrower leaves, is taller at maturity, and is more sun-tolerant.6 There are a handful of other species in cultivation, but they all have the same general appearance to them, and differ mostly in height and culture.

Which, speaking of culture: these are supposed to be very easy palms to grow. Obviously I'm still getting to know my personal plant, but the ones at work have been more or less agreeable, and the gist on-line is that they're pretty unproblematic, as palms go. We do lose one every once in a while, for reasons which aren't all that clear to me (I suspect glitches in the watering), but on certain counts, they're the best plants ever.

These aren't particularly subject to disease or insect attack. Scale happens occasionally, I'm told, and some sites say to watch for spider mites, but they're more resistant to mites than most plants. They're also unbelievably forgiving about temperatures and light levels: they can take light freezes,7 and as they are naturally understory plants, dim light is usually not a problem. They are said to prefer cooler indoor temperatures than most houseplants, though growth will slow to a stop if they're below about 50 or 60ºF (10-16ºC) for long periods. Rhapis excelsa prefers higher humidity if they can get it, but adapt fine to low humidity. There seems to be consensus that they're not heavy feeders. Watering is best done when they soil has gotten almost completely dry: if you go too long, the leaves will become darker and dry-looking, and will also droop. So they're pretty low-maintenance.

Because of their slow growth, there are a few problems Rhapis growers may encounter in the long term, though:

Soil choice is a bigger consideration than usual, because they're likely to be in the same soil for longer periods. Given enough time, the various components of soil will break down, and when this happens, the smaller soil particles can settle around roots more tightly, constricting and suffocating them. Rhapis palms are also more susceptible than most to fluoride, which cuts options down a little further.

The growers' guide recommends pine bark, sand, leached (washed) perlite, and sphagnum peat; I don't know that I agree with the sphagnum, but the other components are okay. Fired coarse clay particles, like Turface or "soils" for aquatic plants, are a good addition as well, since they promote drainage without retaining a lot of water themselves. A soil mix for Rhapis should drain pretty rapidly and freely: you do want it to hold some water, but it's imperative that it be able to dry out too. Perlite, which is usually a good amendment for soils, does naturally contain some fluoride, so if you're going to use it in a Rhapis mix, you probably should wash it first. I haven't repotted mine, and don't expect to soon, so I don't know how much of a pain that's likely to be.

Fluoride toxicity manifests as brown leaf tips: fluoridated water, unwashed perlite, and high-phosphorus fertilizers (because the more common sources of phosphorus used in fertilizers also contain enough fluoride to be a problem) are all potential fluoride sources. Tips will also burn if the plant gets very dry or hot, or if salts in general (not just fluoride) build up in the soil. Flushing with rainwater, reverse osmosis water, or distilled water should help.

Another common issue with lady palms is chlorosis, a yellowing of the foliage between veins, especially on the newest leaves. Chlorotic plants are reacting to lack of iron, but there are many possible reasons why iron might not be available: if soil has broken down and compacted around the roots, the resulting lack of air can cause chlorosis, or root rot which then leads to chlorosis. Overwatering may also reduce available air enough to lead to chlorosis, especially in large plants. Another possible cause is high soil pH. All of these conditions could, in theory, be dealt with by replacing the soil (topdressing wouldn't be enough: it'd have to be a complete soil change), but adding chelated iron to the soil might also correct the problem, depending on what it is, and might be easier than a complete soil change.

Plants will also turn yellow if grown in full sun, though this isn't the same thing as chlorosis, and iron won't help.

Propagation of Rhapis indoors is pretty much through divisions only: the stalks can be separated from one another, preferably in the spring, by cutting through the rhizomes and then potting up the divisions individually. Plants are slow to produce new suckers, though,8 so this isn't practical for large-scale production. For that, you have to grow them from seed, which I couldn't find a lot of information about. The growers' guide says germination of fresh seed occurs in 50-60 days but doesn't have much to say beyond that. Propagation by sucker is considerably faster than propagation from seed: seedlings are said to be mind-bendingly slow-growing.

Closer picture of the rhizomes and suckers.

In good hands, a single Rhapis excelsa plant can outlive multiple generations of owners, and there's theoretically no reason why a given lineage of plant couldn't be immortal. So they're potentially quite a bargain, whether at $30 or $25,000. And -- they're authentically Asian (unlike a certain so-called "bamboo" I could mention), and make equal sense with Chinese- or Japanese-themed decor. What's not to love?


Photo credit: all my photos, except for the Kannonyama pictures (thanks again, Sean).

1 I'm at least not the only person who does. Last summer, a customer I was talking to about some plant or another started referring to it as "he." Then she caught herself and acted kind of embarrassed, and made some comment like, Geez, look at me, gendering the plants. I assured her that I do it too. The conversation continued, but left me wondering about all the gendered words in languages like French and Russian -- is this how that kind of thing gets started? Is gendering objects something people do naturally, or is it only particularly odd people?
2 Actually, individual plants are one or the other, either male or female but not both in the same plant. I am not aware of any way to tell which you have unless and until your plant flowers.
3 It looks like kannonchiku refers exclusively to dwarfed forms of Rhapis excelsa, not the species in general. Dwarfed varieties generally stay under six feet (two meters) tall. The non-dwarfed species plant can get in the neighborhood of 14 feet (4.27 meters). My assumption is that if you're buying an otherwise unmarked plant, you're probably getting a non-dwarfed variety.
4 The Bodhisattva of compassion, specifically. I have only a very rudimentary understanding of what is meant by "Bodhisattva," so don't look at me to explain it. Try Wikipedia. There's a story told in the Wikipedia entry about Kannon which is too good (or which I relate to too well, or something) to leave out of this post, even though it's not at all related to Rhapis excelsa. I'm paraphrasing because it's more fun that way:

Kannon vowed never to rest until all sentient beings were freed from samsara (the cycle of reincarnation and death by which beings pass from living to dead and back). She tried really hard, but it didn't work out; she couldn't save everybody. Eventually the stress of just trying to comprehend the needs of so many people made her head split into eleven pieces, after which Amitabha Buddha gave her eleven heads. So she could hear the suffering better, I guess. (Gee, thanks, Amitabha.) Then when she heard and understood all the cries around her, she tried to reach out to everyone who needed aid, but her arms then shattered to pieces. I think we've all had days like this. Amitabha to the rescue again: he gave her a thousand arms, then, to use to help people with. Whether Amitabha ever got up off his ass and listened to some suffering too, I don't know. One can hope. Continuing:

Should maybe also note, in keeping with the chosen "person" in the title, that Kannon is usually, but not always depicted as a woman. Kannon's known as Guan Yin to the Chinese, but it's the same "person," just with a different name. The Japanese and Chinese apparently steal stuff from one another all the time.
5 I kid. I would totally sit around ranking plants all day if I didn't have to go to work.
6 Also, despite its status as a "lady" palm, I've seen the claim made that only male plants are known of Rhapis humilis, in which case we should call it the "dude-looks-like-a-lady" palm. I suspect this is not true, and the growers' guide says "R. humilis rarely produces seed," so however rare it is, it clearly happens sometimes. Lynn P. Griffith, Jr. would tell me if there weren't any female plants. So I'm not sure what's up with this, but I'm learning to be a lot more skeptical about things I read at Dave's Garden.
7 Not that you should ask it to do this if you value your plant: it's stressful even if not fatal. Accidents will happen, though, so let me add that prolonged sub-freezing temperatures may kill a plant back to the ground, but they're said to be quick to recover and resprout as long as they weren't really cold, for a really long time. These are tough plants.
8 Or maybe not: this site says two or three suckers per year, which doesn't strike me as being that bad. Still, I suppose it'd be slow for large-scale commercial production. Why aren't the tissue culture people all over this like song-and-dance reality shows during a writers' strike?

Historical Illustration

I ran across Monkey Fluids yesterday and was inspired, I guess. The humor there is a very specific kind of humor, and won't be to everybody's taste, so click the link at your own risk. This is my recaptioning of one of the pictures, which hopefully falls under fair use. I took a couple other plant / greenhouse pictures to recaption while I was there, which may be popping up from time to time.

If you don't find it funny, don't worry, there's probably nothing wrong with you. I have a pretty specific kind of humor too.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Site-related: New Link

For those readers who have been around a while and have been interested in the orchid photos, I give you: The Orchid Chronicles. Plenty of great orchid porn, plus frequent posts, how-to-grow, tips and techniques, and so forth. I found this through Blotanical, but I'm going to put in a link in the sidebar special, 'cause even though I still maintain that I'm not going to become a fanatic orchid grower, I think I've already crossed the line to being a fanatic orchid looker-atter.

Gratuitous flower picture, which is a geranium of some kind, maybe (if I remember right) a variety called 'Hot Coral.'

Random plant event: Miltonidium 'Hawaiian Sunset' flowers

Aaaaand we're back to orchid pictures again, mainly because I still feel really unwell (sore, exhausted, kittenishly weak, emotionally volatile -- it's still not conclusive that I'm actually sick with anything, but it's clear enough to me that I wouldn't be functional at work. Standing up is a little bit challenging; running carts of stuff around and lifting bags of soil and whatever is out of the question.) and orchid pictures are, as previously noted, easy posts.

This particular plant isn't so much pretty as it is weird-looking. WCW and I have agreed that it's not the orchid breeders' best work. Miltonidium (Mtdm.) are crosses between Miltonia and Oncidium; I don't know anything about 'Hawaiian Sunset' specifically.

Frequent commenter sheila sent me an e-mail a while back containing the following paragraph which explains the American Orchid Society's awards for new cultivars. It's a quote from the (now defunct? I can't load the page, anyway. . . .) website:

The American Orchid Society (and other national groups) has established a series of criteria of excellence by which orchid plants are evaluated. Individual orchid plants ("cultivars" or "clones") may receive flower quality awards such as the First Class Certificate (FCC/AOS, 90+ points), Award of Merit (AM/AOS, 80 - 89 points), or Highly Commended Certificate (HCC/AOS, 75 - 79 points). Other awards may be given for achievement in culture, Certificate of Cultural Merit (CCM/AOS), or for botanical novelty, the Certificate of Botanical Recognition (CBR/AOS) and the Certificate of Horticultural Merit (CHM/AOS). While there are other flower awards that may be encountered, these will be the most commonly seen. Such awards are the purchaser’s assurance of a high level of flower quality, whether in the plant itself or of its parents. Plants are judged at monthly judgings held at Centers around the country, or at AOS-sanctioned orchid shows, of which there are over 250 annually around the world.
So I guess the Bakerara Truth 'Silver Chalice' didn't get an aluminum medal after all.