Friday, September 19, 2008

Pirates / Hiatus / Figs

Ahoy! Talk Like a Pirate Day 2008 be upon us already. So swab the decks, kick the bilge rats overboard, and let's all drink grog 'til we can't drink grog no more!

Or something. I'm just trying to hide the fact that I didn't buy you guys any presents.

This is my last posting day before a briefish and badly-needed four-day hiatus; I know it doesn't seem like I'm actually exerting myself that much, but I've actually posted more than 10000 words so far in September alone, not counting this post, anything I've written on drafts of posts that haven't gone up yet, or the time it takes to take and edit photos. Plus, I worked yesterday and found mealybugs on two more work plants (or at least one: the other had obvious damage from something, and it looked like mealybugs were the likely culprit, but I couldn't actually see any. Sprayed it anyway.), and one of my plants at home. So that's been a little discouraging.

The next post will be on the 24th of September, and I'll probably be working on more stuff during the hiatus, which will then be posted once I come back. I.e., I will be blogging during my blogging hiatus: the actual hiatus w/r/t blogging is going to be after I "come back," hopefully with lots of stockpiled small posts that I can use while I work on the big ones. I'll still be checking e-mail and comments and so forth during this time. I'm not disappearing from the earth, just relieving myself of the pressure to post something every day for a little while.

Anyway. Just so this post isn't completely without plant-related content, I've got a Ficus triangularis at home that recently produced a bunch of figs all over the place (the earlier post about Ficus triangularis figs was incorrect, I think: I now think that that plant was probably Ficus deltoidea instead. Or else the plant in this post is deltoidea.), and a Ficus benjamina that I started from cuttings at work last winter is figging out, too, but in a more colorful way. According to a PBS special I watched semi-recently, Ficus trees, or at least Ficus carica, the edible fig, produce figs at random points throughout the year so as to maintain the population of animals that spread and pollinate them. So the fact that there's been no consistency to the time of year on the figging-out posts previously (December/maclellandii, April/deltoidea, July/benjamina, September/triangularis and benjamina) is, actually, exactly what we should expect. Assuming that carica works the same as benjamina and triangularis and maclellandii and microcarpa/retusa and religiosa and all the others. Which may or may not be a safe assumption. We'll have to wait and see if different plants consistently flower at certain times of year.

So I leave you with: figs.

Ficus triangularis (unless it's deltoidea).

Ficus benjamina.

Ficus benjamina, slightly closer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pretty picture: Portulaca 'Tequila Mix,' one last time

I love Portulaca. I do. It took me a while to figure out what I was supposed to be doing for my moss rose in my planters: I was initially not watering as often as it would have liked. But we figured it out together, and I think it's now my First Annual Friend. Next year, and every year.

Portulaca isn't the only annual I became friendly with this year, but it's the only one that came home with me, to live outside. I may experiment with additional plants next year. I found Osteospermum intriguing. I remembered that I like the smell of Petunias. I can finally see the appeal of Pelargonium. I think Zinnia might be worth trying eventually. But there's just something about Portulaca.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Random plant event: Disocactus fruits

UPDATE 4 Aug 2009: The plant in this post is in fact not a Disocactus. What it is, is a Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa. It was sold to us (where I used to work) as a Disocactus, so that's what I called it. I would rewrite the whole post to reflect this, but that would be an awful lot of work to go to for an old post that nobody is likely to read anyway, so instead I'm saying this. Sorry for any inconvenience and/or confusion.

This is a Disocactus. Maybe. Still shaky and hesitant on the ID: posters earlier suggested that the more accurate name might be either Rhipsalis or Pseudorhipsalis, and maybe that's true. I have yet to see any really good photos that make me think that it's definitely anything, so for the time being we're going to keep calling them Disocactus. (Among other reasons, that's what the tags for them that I printed up at work say they are, so I have a certain personal interest in seeing them remain Disocactus.) Anyway. I wrote about them previously, because they had all flowered and that seemed noteworthy.

This is the flower, along with, underneath it, a couple of fruits. I had originally assumed that the fruits would probably only contain one or two seeds, not for any good reason, really. I guess I just figured the fruits were pretty small already, so the seeds would probably take up most of the volume of the fruit. Like an olive or something.

This, then, is what happens when a ripe fruit is squeezed a little bit. Seeds start popping out of one end. The overall texture and feeling is kind of like squeezing jelly out of a plastic bottle.

This is cool, but we're not done yet, because the gunk in which the seeds are embedded has interesting properties of its own:

The gunk is almost exactly the texture of snot. Or slug mucus. Something that is simultaneously very viscous and sticky, but becomes slippery if dampened (making it fun to try to get off). The whole point in touching them in the first place was because I wanted to plant them, and that didn't work out well at first: anything I tried to plant them in would just stick to my finger.

Eventually, I resorted to washing them off in a glass of water. The seeds from any particular pod all stay stuck together in water, like a phlegm globber, so, after adding several more, I stirred hell out of the water and then pulled out the -- I guess you'd call them "rinds?" This did sort of separate the seeds from one another well enough to make them plantable: I basically then just poured the water out on vermiculite, and we'll see whether that's good enough.

The interesting part of that was that the seeds actually made the water noticeably thicker to stir. Not by a lot, but enough that you'd have no trouble telling the difference between a glass of ordinary water and a glass of water that had had Disocactus seeds stirred in it and then filtered out. This is impressively viscous glop. It really just cries out for an industrial application of some kind. I have no ideas about this personally, but there's got to be something.

It's all kind of beside the point, because they're very easy to propagate from cuttings anyway (like Epiphyllum, which it resembles). I in fact have one at home, which came from a cutting of one of the work plants. Seeds are hardly necessary.

But: they're fun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Work-related: Dendrobium Yellow Splash No. 7 pictures

So, to summarize life lately,

We finally get cooler temperatures, so work is suddenly a lot less life-threatening, and I think, oh, finally, things are going right again, and then immediately I discover scale on some of the bigger Cereus peruvianus and Agave lurida at work, plus one Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig Compacta' but apparently not any of the others that were right next to it, go figure.

These are at least related to scale somehow, because they're only on the scalier plants. I've just never seen anything that looked like this in the plant books. I'm assuming a juvenile form of some kind? We're trying to save the plants, but none of us are at all optimistic about it. I wouldn't be bothering if we didn't have a lot of money sunk into them already. And even if I get them cleaned up to the point where I can't see scale on them anymore, I still don't know that I'd trust them enough to put them out on the floor again. There's never a way to be sure you've gotten them all.

Then I find mealybugs on, to date, about six hanging baskets of 'Hindu Rope' Hoya carnosa (within, literally, seconds of telling a customer that we hadn't had mealybug problems in the greenhouse for quite a while -- I suppose I was tempting fate by saying that, but fate was clearly not even trying to resist temptation, either), assorted Hedera helix three-inch pots, one Aglaonema, one Crassula ovata, a really pretty Eugenia bonsai (still pretty, though one wonders how long that will last), and two large Dizygotheca elegantissima. This after a longish stretch of not having any mealybug problems at all. The afflicted plants have been located all over the store, not in any one particular area, so there's no way to know what plants they might have come in on or where they might still be, and everything is going to have to be checked, at some point, which could easily take three weeks to do. I'm betting that the last Florida order is at least partly responsible. The only response I get from anybody at work is, spray spray spray, never mind that we spray every goddamned week and it hasn't seemed capable of doing much, I mean seriously, we may as well be blowing kisses at the bugs, it'd be just as useful.

And then I think our entire stock of larger Codiaeum variegatum, anything bigger than a four-inch pot, has spider mites. As does our one remaining citrus plant (impossible to get citrus now because our supplier in Florida, and the rest of the state, are under a quarantine for citrus canker or something. We could buy from Texas or California, but neither the boss nor I especially want to go to the trouble to track down a new supplier and all the headaches that go with that just for a few lousy citrus trees.), some of the Alocasia 'Polly,' and I think a few of the Hibiscus (though the Hibiscus, some of them, have been outside until recently, and so they could have actual spiders, rather than spider mites. Not enough time in the day to check everything).

All of the orchids have come down with varying kinds of black spots on the flowers, and / or root rot (the root rot makes sense; they've been rained on a lot -- this last batch got shipped just after Tropical Storm Fay soaked them, and then we put them outside because the greenhouse was too hot, where they've also been rained on a lot, because all it's done this summer is rain), and those that aren't rotting need bigger pots.

The latest batch of six-inch Adenium obesum all dropped flowers and buds on arrival, as well as a lot of leaves, and I think it's likely that I haven't actually found all of the problems yet that are out there, because I've been too busy dealing with the ones I know about.

And we've got poinsettias coming in about a month.

And I mean, seriously, most of this shit is new as of a week ago. And then my favorite writer kills himself and Blotanical still won't pick up my feed (not that I'm upset with Stuart about this; I'm just upset in general) so even though I'm still trying to keep up the blog nobody's reading it anyway, and all the customers at work have suddenly turned high-maintenance and impossible to please and douchbaggy. Or, well, not all of them. But the customers do get snippy this time of year, for reasons I cannot fathom, and it's a large enough percentage that it makes work more unpleasant. And I don't even want to think about the election.

So the question is: can orchid pictures make me happy again? If I was happy to begin with, that is? Will orchids make everything better?

That'd be a no. Oh well. Worth a shot.

I can only assume that the moral of the story is, never think, oh, finally, things are going right again, or tell a customer we haven't had mealybug problems in forever. I don't dare try to be happy that at least there's no whitefly. In fact, I probably shouldn't even have mentioned them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Random plant event: Pogonantherum paniceum flowers

Bought a "house bamboo" (Pogonantherum paniceum) a while back in the Quad Cities, and although I have trouble keeping up with the amount of water it needs, it's surviving so far. And it's a cool little plant:

I tried to bring some in on the last tropical order from Florida, but there's apparently a difference between a plant being available and a plant being something you can actually bring in: a lot of times we're told that something is available and then at the last minute we can't get it anyway, because the crop in question looks bad, or because we're not ordering enough to make a minimum order for some vendor or another, or because it was a mistake and that was never an available plant in the first place. It makes for a frustrating experience sometimes.

Anyway. So now I'm wondering if it wasn't all for the best that I couldn't get them, because mine at home has started to bloom:

I know just enough about bamboo to be worried (some species flower and then die, all at once, all over the world), but not enough to be sure what's going to happen to this one in particular (P. paniceum may or may not be one of the plants that do this). I'm not sure where I'd even look to find out.

Meanwhile, after spending yesterday trying to figure out what I'm feeling about David Foster Wallace's suicide, I think I've settled on an emotion: unsettled. I'm not angry, I'm not depressed, I'm slightly sad, but mostly I'm feeling disturbed. Anxious. Restless. Like there's something I'm supposed to do about this.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

R.I.P. D.F.W.

David Foster Wallace. Unknown photographer. Picture from the LA Times.

Two people e-mailed me last night to tell me that David Foster Wallace, novelist/essayist/teacher, had killed himself at his home last Friday. Since I'm on record as being a fan of his, and even said so fairly recently, I feel obligated to come up with something to say about this, but I find I'm really not all that terribly surprised by the news, and it's not like I have any words of wisdom or comfort to share. So I'm a little lost.

It's not surprising because, more than anybody I can think of, DFW acknowledged in his writing that life can be extremely shitty sometimes, even when one has food, a warm, clean place to live, a prosperous country with marvelous technological gadgets and distractions, and the love of a good person of one's preferred gender, that brains will sometimes do everything possible to try to tear themselves to pieces. This is described in Infinite Jest thusly, as part of a chapter which is just a list of things one can learn in a halfway house for people with substance abuse disorders:
That 99% of compulsive thinkers' thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good. Then that this connects interestingly with the early-sobriety urge to pray for the literal loss of one's own mind. In short that 99% of the head's thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of itself.

Which if you've had this experience, you will recognize it immediately, and if you haven't, hope that you never will.

Poking around at the various websites that have mentioned this, I see there are a few people who are angry with DFW about this, angry with him for killing himself. This is totally understandable, but kind of misdirected: it wasn't DFW the person who did this. By all accounts, DFW the person was a nice guy, concerned about the needs of others, overall decent and kind-hearted. And DFW the person would never kill somebody. The real culprit was his brain. The brain that took him from us was the same brain that gave us the stories and essays, and there is no separating the two. Brains tear themselves up, sometimes. Drugs speed up the process (DFW had had substance-abuse problems with I believe cocaine, in the early and mid-90s, which was part of the backstory of Infinite Jest. Though this had supposedly been resolved some time ago.).

So I'm not angry. I am sad, but even then, that doesn't seem quite right: he could be really annoying to read sometimes. So many of the bits in Oblivion, his last book, are intriguingly built-up, go through all kinds of twists and turns and insights, and then end before the ending, so that the story winds up all being about the build-up and never contains a pay-off. It's a valid and clever thing to try once, but he took it to the point of being a stylistic tic, and got me wondering whether he'd maybe forgotten how to end stories at all.

There are three writers I read a lot when I was writing fiction, who wound up influencing the way I write more than anybody else. Lorrie Moore (Self-Help, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Anagrams), Margaret Atwood (I don't like her later stuff, but Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Lady Oracle, etc., are all great), and David Foster Wallace. Wallace was probably the one with the most obvious stylistic influence: I still think of him every time I start a sentence with "which" or insert a footnote.1 Which I do both of those a lot.2 At the same time, I never really had the sense of knowing Wallace the person, through his fiction, which was sort of a perpetual frustration for me. There were certain recurring ideas, things one assumes he spent a lot of time thinking about (television, tennis, mathematics, depression, substance abuse), and his non-fiction (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster) gives a somewhat clearer image, but you can never really know a writer personally. He's always too conscious of what he's saying, how he's presenting themself.3 So I don't feel, as some people apparently do, that I've lost a friend. I was looking forward to his next book -- aggravating though he may be, nobody else was doing what DFW was doing -- but I didn't necessarily feel close. What I felt was, here's someone I can learn from. And I did.

Even so, he did leave a wife. Which is sad. And, as someone in one of the comments on one of the blogs noted, the world just got a lot dumber. Which it's not like we had a lot of intelligence to spare. So.

See also:


1 I had used footnotes in my early writing, as a kid, through junior high and high school: I don't know where that came from exactly, but I was reading books meant for adults as a kid, especially shark-related books -- something DFW and I have in common, actually, as he was also shark-obsessed as a kid -- and so I suppose I must have picked up the idea of footnotes without realizing that they're more a technical and academic tool than an ordinary part of writing.
2 See?
3 (Joan Didion talks about this sort of thing a lot. It's kind of endearing, coming from her, except that after you've seen it a number of times, it starts to dawn on you that this stance she's taking of, you can't trust me, I'm a writer, writers are always selling people out and lying and etc., is itself a posture, and is not necessarily any more authentic than postures of the other, supposedly less forthright writers. DFW took this to the next level in his short story "Octet," which is a meta-story about writing a meta-story, and which is either as forthright as it's possible for a writer to be or is a new high-water mark in cynicism and manipulation. Or both.)

Pretty picture: Pleasingly weathered building

The reader is advised to open the picture in a new window.

This is in Lone Tree, IA. I'd specify that it's on the edge of town, but Lone Tree is small enough that it's kind of all edge, there being no real center. So that's not all that informative.

I don't actually know what the story is here, what used to go on in this place, what still does go on. It's a fairly safe bet that whatever it was was agricultural, and not much more of a stretch to suggest that it was probably corn-related agriculture. (Everything in Iowa eventually intersects corn-related agriculture.) But I really don't know.

What do we care, though, right? Have you seen prettier rust lately? Hmmm?