Saturday, July 5, 2008

Work-related: Paphiopedilum 'Gina Short'

A customer asked a few months ago if we had any Paphiopedilums in stock, and we didn't, so I said I'd see what I could do when the June plants came in and give her a call if we managed to get any. Well, we could, and I called, and I didn't get an answer back, but I brought in two anyway (of the same variety), and the customer is apparently no longer interested.

This sort of thing happens. We got stuck with a really big and really expensive Schefflera actinophylla in March because we ordered one for a customer who then balked at the price. (I'd estimated $70, and she was okay with that, but when it actually arrived we had to price it at $110, and that was too much.)

Sometimes for special orders, I won't put the full markup on a plant, because if it's pre-sold then we won't have to put that much energy into caring for it while waiting for it to sell, which is what a lot of the markup is for. I've regretted this a few times now, because I've been nice and priced things a bit low for people who wanted specific stuff, and then when the item comes in we end up taking care of it anyway. We have a Ficus benjamina 'Midnight' standard that someone specifically requested, that I wouldn't have brought in if not for the request, and then when it was finally here, the customer turned it down, saying she didn't have the money for it at the moment. There's a Bismarckia palm in the store now that a guy asked for, and as far as I know he still wants it, but it's been four weeks now and he hasn't come to pick it up, or called to say whether his mind has changed.

In both of those cases, I was lowering the price slightly for the customers, and now it's looking like we're stuck with them. It's not that I can't sympathize, but come on, I went to some extra trouble for you: the least you could do is not cause me a bunch more. By the time he comes to get the Bismarckia, he's probably not going to want it anymore: it's so big we don't have a good place to put it, so it's not getting the care it wants, so it's starting to decline a bit. Nothing devastating yet, but I worry.

With the Paphiopedilums, this is less of an issue. I think they'll probably sell on their own eventually. And it has been neat to look at: I've liked having them around. I just hope it holds the flowers long enough to sell: the heat is not being kind to the orchids, and we're still far enough behind schedule right now (because of the chaos brought by the flood) that we can't move them outside yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ghost (Hedera canariensis)

Hedera canariensis (Algerian ivy) is a lot like its close relative Hedera helix (English ivy), and has most of the same qualities, both good and bad. The most obvious difference is that it has much larger leaves than H. helix, but there are a few other differences as well.

When you do a search for this plant, most of the sites that come up involve outdoor cultivation. It's apparently pretty low-maintenance, and hardy in a lot of places (there's disagreement about the exact range possible: everybody agrees it will grow in zones 8 and up, and everybody agrees it will die in 5b or below, but anywhere between 6a and 7b is debatable, I guess. Also variegated varieties are said to be less cold-tolerant.), and it's pretty pollution- and salt-tolerant, I guess, as well. Also people usually note that it's from northwest Africa (also Portugal and the Canary Islands -- hence the name -- and that general region).

And then tucked in there somewhere will be a one-sentence acknowledgment that, oh yeah, it can be grown indoors too, which is usually as much information as you get.

I bought one in February 2007, and we actually got along pretty well for quite a while. I was a little worried about it, because of how plants in the Araliaceae are susceptible to spider mites, and I was, at the time, already dealing with a mite-y Hedera helix. But it turned out to be okay, even after the H. helix succumbed (to either the spider mites or to my efforts to rid it of spider mites; it's a toss-up which was the bigger problem), and everything was good for several months.

Hedera helix 'Gloire de Marengo,' R. I. P.

Then I started working in the greenhouse, in August, and shortly there were a lot more plants coming home with me, and things got a little crazy. Less time spent caring for the plants, or even looking at them, and then the blog started in October and things were even crazier. It wasn't a good time to be one of my plants (unless you were new). And at some point around mid-October, I noticed that the Hedera canariensis was looking a little off, a little dusty, but I looked at it a couple times and didn't see any mites or webbing or anything, so I figured it was probably dry (even though the soil was staying wetter than usual, if anything), watered it, and went on.

So by the time I noticed the actual spider mite infestation, it was too far gone to bother trying to save, which is how I learned the valuable lesson that even if it's subtle, a plant that appears to be going downhill is doing so for a reason, and you ignore the early signals at your own expense. If the leaves are not as glossy, if the stems droop a little more than usual, if the color's half a shade off, if the new growth is coming in a little twisted or discolored, there's something going on. Look into it.

(I also learned the lesson that I don't want to buy any more Hederas, though that one I had already kind of suspected.)

Still. H. canariensis is better than H. helix in a number of respects. They do, despite the fate of my own plant, resist spider mites better, and they also seem to be a little less hysterical if they get a little too dry or too wet. I still like them. I might even let myself get another at some point (as opposed to H. helix, which is strictly off the list, forever).

Hedera canariensis hanging basket.

As far as care information goes, well, I couldn't find any reference sources, so all I've got for you is my personal experience, the growers' guide (which is far more concerned about Hedera helix) and some educated guessing. Some skepticism is advised.1

Light: Indoors, bright indirect light seems to be ideal. My own plant, when I had it, also got some filtered sun once in a while. Solid green varieties might tolerate a bit less light, but I don't recommend it.
Water: Though the plant will tolerate a range of moisture levels, it's important to keep this fairly consistent, and never let the plant get completely dry or it will drop leaves. My six-inch pot seemed to be happiest when I watered as soon as it was dry an inch or two below the surface. It generally recovered from getting drier than that, but leaf tips would brown sometimes.
Humidity: The plant itself will tolerate dry air fairly well, but it has its limits, so don't ask it to handle central heating without a little help. More importantly, low humidity will give aid and comfort to the spider mites, if there are spider mites, and you do not want that.
Temperature: Generally not a consideration indoors; the species will survive temperatures down to 15ºF (-9ºC), though it will defoliate and/or discolor if it gets that cold (see Bunnies! Bunnies! It must be bunnies!2 for discoloration pictures). I couldn't find any guidelines for how low it can go before it discolors, but the growers' guide says not to go below 45ºF (7ºC), to maintain continuous growth, and I would be inclined to draw the line a little warmer than that, like maybe 50ºF (10ºC).
Propagation: One of the few really solidly excellent things about Hedera spp. is how easy they are to propagate. Tip cuttings, like one would use for a lot of plants, will work very well, but at work we've also propagated them, in the middle of winter, from single-leaf cuttings.3 For best results, keep cuttings in a warm, bright spot, with extra humidity if you've got it (e.g. a mini-greenhouse sort of arrangement would be helpful) and don't let them dry out: something should be visible within three or four weeks, if I'm remembering correctly.
Pests: Hedera species are very susceptible to spider mites, if slightly less so than H. helix.
Feeding: Hedera is somewhat sensitive to fertilizer build-up, so the growers' guide says to be sure to flush the soil often and avoid getting fertilizer directly on the leaves. Otherwise, feed as for any plant.
Grooming: Mostly limited to the removal of the occasional dead leaf. Vines that grow too long may be cut back; new growth will emerge from near the cut. It may help the plant's appearance to plant cuttings in the pot to keep the plant looking full, though I don't find this to be a huge issue with the plants at work, and when I tried to stick cuttings in with the parent plant at home, they usually didn't take; cuttings seem to need their own space. Plants can also be grown as climbers, though this seems not to be done indoors very often; not sure why.

Tangled mass of plants we grew from cuttings, as well as a couple Hedera helix that jumped into the shot at the last second.

There aren't as many cultivars of H. canariensis as there are of H. helix, but there still are quite a few. 'Gloire de Marengo,' the gray and white one pictured above, is one of the more common ones, and one also sees quite a bit of the plain green. We were offered a variety called 'Neon' at work, and bought some, and were extremely disappointed: the only special thing about 'Neon' is that new growth comes in bright yellow and then quickly turns green. I suppose this is slightly more interesting than a plant that's all-green, all the time, but not by much.4 As with H. helix, variegation patterns are said not to be incredibly stable, and sometimes plants will switch to other patterns, or revert to all-green (the latter is especially common if the plants are being grown without enough light), though I can't say I've seen this personally.

I suppose calling this one "Ghost" is a little bit of a stretch, though it does meet the one mandatory spook requirement, being dead. At least my own plant is. It also has one more ghosty thing going for it, which is that it haunts places: outdoors, it's got tendencies (like H. helix) toward being an invasive, noxious weed, and it's apparently difficult to eradicate from a given spot once it's become established there. The same easy propagatability that is so desirable indoors is a liability outdoors. As far as I could find, there are no major problems with this species yet, though it is reported to be invasive in small areas in California (the San Francisco Bay area, specifically), and it's on the noxious weeds lists for Oregon and Washington. Florida and Hawaii, who normally get all the good invasives, weren't mentioned in anything I looked at, which is very unusual: my intuition says that it's not that Hedera canariensis couldn't be invasive in those states, it's just that there are so many other invasive species there that it has a tough time building a base of operations. Though my intuition is not incredibly reliable.

They're also slightly hostile to the living, as ghosts sometimes are: like Hedera helix yet again, plants are poisonous, and in extremely good conditions, plants may flower and produce small, shiny black berries, which are also poisonous. Some people experience skin irritation after contact with the sap. I've never had any firsthand (or even secondhand) experience with this, but everybody says it so I figure it must be worth passing along.

So, all in all, how does it rate? Should you get one? Ennh. I don't consider it a plant that everybody needs to have, for sure. If you feel like you really need a plant that looks sort of like English ivy, this one is the best I've found so far: Hedera helix is a less attractive plant (in my opinion) even when healthy, and it's very often not healthy, and the only other option I have any personal experience with is Senecio macroglossus, which didn't blow me away with its great communication skills.5 Hedera canariensis is at least better than those two, I think.


Photo credits: all my own pictures, mostly not my own plants.

1 Really, some skepticism is always advised. Just, more so than usual in this case.
2 Oddly, "Bunnies! . . ." is one of my more popular posts, at least as assessed by the number of Picks it received at Blotanical. I know it isn't my best work, so I have to assume that the number of Picks is related to something other than the quality of the post. I just haven't been able to crack exactly what that critical something is, except to be fairly sure that there's a pro-outdoor-plant bias. Which is not surprising to me (anymore).
3 Which is to say, a piece of stem including a leaf and the node it's attached to: If the node is under the soil, the piece will root and sprout a new growing tip in about eight out of ten cases, even if you don't know what you're doing and aren't trying particularly hard.
4 (Though we did sell out of them, so I guess that's something. Considering how many very cool things we get in that nobody wants to buy -- er, nobody except me and WCW, that is -- I do have to grudgingly acknowledge that it's the Tradescantia zebrina, Codiaeum variegatum, Ficus elastica, Crassula ovata, Spathiphyllum spp. and Dracaena marginata that pay the bills. Hedera canariensis does, if nothing else, pay its own way. So I'll give it that much respect.)
5 Though I have to give it props for being a lot more pest-resistant. I never really got to the point where I could water it the way it wanted, but I didn't have bug problems.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Vine identification (mildly NSFW?)

From xkcd:

Can't believe I missed seeing this one for as many days as I did.


I transplanted the Ficus religiosa seedlings a couple weeks ago, because they seemed potentially kind of crowded, and also because the flood was approaching and I didn't want to leave them all at work to die: I figured I could take a couple home to keep and hedge our collective bets. But then I wound up taking them all home anyway, when I was told the water was going to be four feet high in the greenhouses.

It was all too soon. Immature roots being disturbed, plus a change in environment, and now we're down from ten seedlings to four. And, frankly, I don't like the looks of the four, either.

Growing plants from seed, it would seem, is stupid. Mostly they don't sprout, and when they do sprout they don't grow. Presumably if they both sprout and grow, they end up looking like crap and you're still better off to buy them fully-grown from a grower.

I'm not saying I've given up on the seeds I have, and the Echinopsis seedlings, the four that came up, are still technically among the living. But the Great Annual Seed Project, or GASP, isn't going to be annual. I'm not doing this again. Not with my own money, anyway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Random plant event: Asparagus densiflorus flowering

Not that this is an especially big deal, I guess -- they flower pretty easily -- but I liked the picture. I hadn't noticed the orange pollen before, or the precision of the six anthers. It's all so tiny.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Random plant event: Polyscias fruticosa flowers

A few days back, I reported that our Polyscias fruticosa had flower buds on it. Well, now they've opened, more or less (flowers are apparently never all open at once), and it's a little underwhelming.

The second picture is very large when clicked on:

Not really worth the hype, but oh well. It was new.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Random plant event: Gynura aurantiaca flowers

Most houseplant books mention that Gynura aurantiaca has yellow-orange flowers with an unpleasant smell, and advise you to pinch them off. I've smelled them before a time or two and didn't think they were really all that bad. I mean, it's not a nice smell, but it seemed to me like it could be lived with.

Then all the Gynuras at work, like three flats of them (seven pots to a flat, three plants to a pot), all bloomed at once, and I understand a little better now. Sort of a body odor / vomit / feet / rancid butter kind of smell happening. Not good in large doses. So now the flowers get pinched off.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Plants I Would Like to Exist, Someday

Glechoma rosea

This post was very probably prompted by Amy Stewart's post at Garden Rant about the book Pull Up Your Agapanthus, Your Aster is Showing, and also by the website Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature, but I had already been thinking about plants that should exist but don't. Every once in a while, I'll get something mis-sorted on a spreadsheet (Oh yes. There are spreadsheets.) and find all the botanical names recombined on me, and some of them look like they'd make interesting plants, if only they were real.

So here are a few I came up with. Some of the names are puns, some are just recombinations that were interesting, some are something else entirely. Some of the jokes are a little bit of a reach, or obscure, for which I apologize in advance. Readers are invited to pick a couple and try to picture what the plant would look like. Or suggest your own in the comments. Or pre-order any that you think sound exceptionally interesting. Or throw out some better names for the pictures. Whatever.

Saintpaulia x 'Minneapolis' & Saintpaulia x 'Minnesotia'

Aglaonema purpurea (purpurea = purple)

Echeveria salicornioides (salicornioides = like a [weeping] willow)

Aglaonema purpurea 'Purple Jesus'

Ludisia giganteum (giganteum = giant)

Sutera cordata 'Cabana' (actually does exist, but I thought of the name before I knew that)

Araucaria spheroides (spheroides = like a sphere)

Tradescantia cerulea variegata

Spathiphyllum rubrum (rubrum = dark red)

Dieffenbachia palmata (palmata = hand-shaped)

Dahlia x 'Barbie' & Dahlia x 'Ken'

Neoregelia x 'Bjorkia'

Guzmania canadiensis (canadiensis = Canadian)

Euphorbia cordatum (cordatum = heart-shaped)

Hoya x 'Ahoy'

Hoya carnosa 'Kermit'

Dracaena x 'Da Crime'

Anthurium erythroneura (erythroneura = red-veined)

Sedum obama

Ficus maclellandii 'Purple State'

Monstera deliciosa 'Cookie'

Hosta x 'Work Environment'

Calathea asterifolia (asterifolia = star-leaf)

Strelitzia reginae 'Bluebird'

Syngonium alumin[i]um

Maranta leuconeura 'Carmen'

Epipremnum quadrangularis (quadrangularis = rectangular, four-sided)

Clematis x 'Kathy Griffin'

Philodendron bonjovii

Portulaca x 'Chewbacca'

Dracaena scandens (scandens = trailing)

Tillandsia lavendula

Schefflera albolineata (albolineata = white lined)

Dracaena marginata 'Gothic'

Beaucarnea hastatum
(hastatum = spear-shaped)

Gerbera jamesonii cv. 'Oceanic'

Pilea ascii

Euphorbia suburbia

Strelitzia maculata (maculata = spotted)


Photo credits: mostly my original photos (except for Hoya and Strelitzia), inexpertly and hastily recolored with the freeware program Irfanview, which is still the only photo-manipulation software I'm capable of using without getting confused, frustrated, or both.