Thursday, December 31, 2009

Random plant event: Hoya lacunosa flower buds

I buy a lot of plants that can flower without ever necessarily expecting that they will flower. In fact, most of the plants I have here have earned a spot whether or not they ever produce flowers, because I like the leaves, or the habit, or something else.

That said, it's always nice when flowers happen anyway, as they have lately for Cyanotis kewensis, Hatiora salicornioides, Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Rain,' and Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial,' and it looks like Hoya lacunosa is next in line.

I don't really know what to expect from this; I've seen the flowers once before, at work (my plant is the descendant of cuttings from the work plant), but only briefly, because the plant sold shortly after flowering. They were light yellow and fuzzy. I hear the scent is kind of perfumey/floral. I suppose we'll find out. I only have two peduncles (short stems on which flowers appear) at the moment, but I haven't looked very thoroughly, either. Updates as events unfold.


Meanwhile, here we are again on New Year's Eve, which I've long appreciated in theory, as a holiday. In practice, it never seems to go all that well (my best holidays, statistically, are Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day), but I like the concept: unwrapping a shiny new year, hope for the future, heaving a crappy old year into the dumpster, yada yada.

I've not been that impressed with the quality of recent years: they have their moments, but clearly we've started buying the knockoffs, not the brand names. I mean, 2006 looked like it was made by a team of bonobos out of saran wrap, discolored felt and a glue gun. (The tag probably reads "YEAP.") 2009 was marginally better, but all the same, I think I'm due for a year that's actually good on its own merits, rather than just looking good by comparison to the other years. There's a good chance I'll get it: years ending in zero have been good for me in the past.

The husband and I will likely be staying up until midnight tonight, but we do that pretty much every night, so it's not something special for the day or anything. Hope everybody reading this has something more fun than that planned. And of course it goes without saying that I hope everybody has a good 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The dame said she had a case for me. I put down my glass, looked her over, and said, "It looks like a case of spider mites, lady, and you can keep it."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Random plant event: Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Rain' flowering

Content advisory: post contains castration-related imagery which may be uncomfortable for male readers with vivid imaginations. I mean, I didn't think it was that bad, but you never know.

This is very possibly a delayed response to the plant room evacuation in early December, but this particular plant had already been having a bad month. I'd let it get excessively dry, so it wilted, and I was sure it would pick itself up, like it always had before, but it stayed bent over this time. And then the evacuation, and I tried to prop it up against a wall in the living room so it would un-bend -- which kind of worked -- but I'm wondering now if the wall wasn't too cold for it to be leaning up against.

So this may be less an "I'm happy, so I guess I'll use some of my abundant resources to make flowers and reproduce myself" and more of a "Oh my god he's finally going to do it; he's really going to kill me this time. I'd better throw everything into some flowers so that at least some of my genes might be able to go on."

(If you're interested in weird Dieffenbachia flowering strategies and are too new to PATSP to have seen the last post on this I did, I recommend checking it out.)

I should probably cut the inflorescence off, rather than letting it develop. The plant doesn't need to be wasting its time on this, especially since I know there's no chance of it getting pollinated. But I have a hard time doing that kind of thing: it seems so darn benign for the plant to do what it wants to do, even if I know it's in its best interests not to do it. This is why I would make a bad parent.

Not that it's in children's interests to have their genitals cut off, of course! Or at least not usually. It might be worth your time if it's a situation like there's a bear dragging your son into a cave, and the bear is holding your son by the genitals. Possibly then, you could argue that cutting off your son's genitals would be a good idea, 'cause then it would be easier to get your son away from the bear. Except it probably wouldn't be a great idea even then, cause if your ungenitaled son survived he would resent you for it later, and if he was really young during the bear attack, when he grew up and was a teenager he'd be all like, oh my god, you let a bear eat my genitals? You're the worst dad ever! and would probably be a real pain about it, and you'd be all like, I should have just let the damn bear drag you into the cave and eat you instead of trying to be a hero; I wouldn't have to listen to all this whining.

But now that I think about it, this situation would never arise for me in the first place because I don't carry a knife. And even if I did carry a knife, it probably wouldn't be sharp enough to do spur of the moment amputations with, 'cause how often do you need a surgical scalpel? I mean really need. A scalpel. Especially in the woods. I mean, it'd be really awkward to be standing there, you know, next to the bear's face, just sawing away for a long time 'cause your knife wasn't sharp enough. So probably I'd just let the bear eat the kid, perhaps while yelling and waving my arms around a lot. "Hey! You there! Bear! Stop attacking my son's genitals! If you want to!"

Do bears even attack children's genitals in the first place? I mean, you never see documentaries on Animal Planet about the Dread Genital-Eating Bears of Alberta or wherever. And if there were Dread Genital-Eating Bears of Alberta, I think I would have heard about them, because it's a safe bet that there would be documentaries. The documentaries would be titled, "Holy Shit! The Fucking Dread Genital-Eating Bears of Alberta!" and they'd be narrated by someone super-serious and manly, like Patrick Stewart, and macho straight American guys would go up to Alberta all the time in large drunken groups for the purpose of shooting bears in the face because they'd seen them on TV.

You know how it would go. One guy would be all, I bet those bears aren't so tough, and the next guy would be all, yeah, those guys were just pussies, and then somebody would say hey, why don't we go up to Alberta and shoot us some goddamned genital-eating bears? And if anybody thought that sounded like a bad idea, they'd get mocked for not being manly enough to go up to Alberta to shoot the genital-eating bears until finally they'd say, okay, okay, I'll go shoot bears with you, Jesus, y'all are such assholes. And they'd get up to Alberta and the bears would get them and that would then be the material used to make the next documentary.

I'm glad I don't feel compelled to prove my manhood all the time. It sounds exhausting.

But. What was I talking about?

Oh, right. Plants aren't children. And I would probably be a bad parent.


Pretty bad.

Though I would tell awesome bedtime stories.

Monday, December 28, 2009

[Exceptionally] Pretty pictures: transmitted light -- Part XXIII

Just to get this out of the way: I apologize in advance for tomorrow's post. I free-associated, and the post kind of ran away and wound up joining the circus. You'll understand when you see it.

Meanwhile, we have some transmitted light photos again. We're not quite out of the crappy-photos period I mentioned back in Part XVIII, but this is approximately the end of it; the photos should be getting better from here on. And some of these aren't that bad, actually.

(The previous transmitted light posts can be found here.)

Nematanthus sp. I tried this one several times before I managed to get a focused, flare-free photo. There is definitely an argument to be made that maybe it wasn't worth all the effort.

Dieffenbachia 'Triumph,' or similar cv. This particular plant has a tendency to produce really white leaves that photograph really yellow (in fact, all my Dieffenbachia photos tend to come out more yellow than I expect them to); I don't know how to explain this. The picture here is more or less accurate color, but I had to tweak it a lot.

Pachypodium lamerei. Even more difficult to get than the Nematanthus post: Pachypodium leaves are extremely narrow. All things considered, I think this is worth being proud of, even if the end result does look quite a lot like the Ficus maclellandii photo in Part XX.

Fatsia japonica. This is from the extremely short-lived plant I bought last summer, that I found mealybugs on. I think Fatsias are really attractive, and kind of want to try again, but they're extremely hard to come by around here. When I have found one, they usually have spider mites. The one time I found one that didn't have detectable spider mites, it had mealybugs. The plant may not be worth the grief.

Aglaonema 'Jubilee.' Very different from how the plant looks under reflected light. This may be my favorite from this batch.

Neoregelia 'Ardie.' Perhaps a little too Mark Rothko. Not that I don't like Mark Rothko.

Aglaonema 'Gold Dust.' I think this one suffered from too strong of a back-light.

Vriesea splendens. The colors remind me of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Though this leaf, if turned into ice cream, would be more like chocolate ice cream with mint chips than the other way around. I bet I'd like it either way.

Dieffenbachia NOID. This is one of two Dieffenbachias I've had for three and a half years; I bought this one thinking it would be a huge variety, like 'Tropic Snow' or 'Tropic Rain,' and then I went to the next store and found a 'Tropic Rain' which was already big, and bought it, and was stuck with this one. It's never been huge, though it started producing much larger leaves after a well-timed hit of fertilizer, and I've come to like it in that way you can't help but like a plant that does well for you over a long period of time, even if it wasn't your first choice.

Anthurium "hookeri," Very new leaf. I think this is not how this plant is supposed to work, and the weird paleness of the leaf indicates something bad (probably inadequate light). But it makes for a pretty striking photo nevertheless.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Random plant event: Hatiora salicornioides flower

I was afraid that something would happen and all the buds would drop off, but I have at last seen a Hatiora salicornioides1 flower. And although I kind of expected to be disappointed, I really wasn't.

First, the plant in general, to show the scale, more or less. The individual segments of stem are roughly 3/4 inch to 1 inch long (1.9-2.5 cm), and the flower is about half an inch (1.3 cm) long.

And then the flower itself, which on some plants is orange, or yellow with orange tips, but my plant's flower is just yellow.

Though it's a much brighter yellow than I was expecting, from the photos I'd seen.

So far, I've only got one flower open, and another five or six buds, so it's perhaps not going to be a huge show. Too early to tell, really, since the websites mostly agree that flowering can happen throughout the winter and spring.

Not that I care particularly if it continues. I waited three years2 to see any flowers (and never actually expected to see one), so it seems downright ungrateful to complain that it's not a bigger show. We'll see how it progresses.


1 (Possibly Rhipsalis salicornioides: Wikipedia and Cactus Blog go with Rhipsalis, but,,, and all go with Hatiora, as has PATSP to date. Virtually every place that gives you one name will give the other one too, so it's not a controversy with a lot of real-world application.)
2 I bought the plant in question in March 2007.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday morning Nina picture

Aaaaand we're back, with a Nina photo that has a lot of dramatic tension, I think. Or at least potential for it.

It occurs to me that it's actually been a really long time since I've seen Nina actually eat her crickets. I mean, I know she is, because she's not dead, and the crickets disappear over time, and I'm not finding cricket corpses. But it used to be that once I dumped them in, she'd go after them immediately, and she hasn't done that for a few months now. I'm not worried about this, just less entertained than I used to be.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Son of Even More Blogroll Additions

PATSP hiatus begins tomorrow, and I have to say, I've rarely looked forward to hiatus as much as I do this time. I do, in fact, finally have too many plants, and keeping up with all of them has gotten to be a bit of a pain. (I know I've said this before, but this time I really mean it.)

This has especially been the case following the recent evacuation. This won't actually let me off the hook for anything, since I'm still going to have to be working on the blog during the hiatus, as well as continuing to keep the plants watered, but at least not having to come up with stuff for a few days means that I might be able to finish some of the longer posts I've been trying to work on. Some of them will be very cool if I ever manage to finish them. Plus there's a profile coming just any day now on Pandanus veitchii and P. utilis (UPDATE: Done!), and a large number of potential profiles (see sidebar).

(The Pandanus profile looks like it's even going to involve cake, for you fans of cake. I'm not kidding.)

But you are not entertained by promises of posts in the future! You want posts right now, am I right?

So allow me to recommend the following sites to enjoy in my absence:

Homegrown Evolution isn't really applicable to me so much, but I suspect they're relevant to a lot of my readers, and the site is well-written and interesting, so I include it. Main topics include urban gardening, self-sufficiency, environmentalism, beekeeping, canning, and similar hippie-slash-grandma stuff. But in a good way. It is written by "Homegrown Neighbor," "Homegrown Evolution," and "Mrs. Homegrown," which one rather hopes are pseudonyms. All three live in Los Angeles, CA. The site first came to my attention when they linked to my Asparagus spp. profile. (They don't like asparagus ferns either.)

Fuck You, Penguin isn't very houseplant-relevant either, but it's funny. Topics: mostly being rude to adorable animals, as the title suggests. Sometimes being rude to gross animals. Animals, animal photography, that kind of thing. Posts written by "BZA," though the book (F U Penguin: Telling Cute Animals What's What) is by Matthew Gasteier, which is at least strongly suggestive that maybe BZA and Matthew Gasteier are the same person. I think I found this by checking out the other blogs that one of my "followers" followed, but I don't remember who it was.

Howplantswork Weblog is yet another blog that is more or less exactly what it sounds like: it's a blog about how plants work. Consequently, it contains a lot of science; most of it is about two notches more sciencey than PATSP, and there's more biochemistry than the average PATSP reader is going to be accustomed to. But it also explains things like how plants make flowers, how plants know how big they are, how and why plants produce ethylene, and various other stuff that we've occasionally touched on here. Try it and see if you get anything out of it. If you don't, no harm done, and you don't have to go back. I think I found it through a Google search on something or another.

The Phytophactor is both the title of the blog and its author, who when referring to himself in the third person sometimes calls himself "The Phactor." The Phactor is an academic biologist, with a particular interest in tropical rain forests, but the jargon is fairly minimal, and the science, when presented, is totally readable. The vocabulary is roughly equivalent to, or maybe even a notch below, PATSP, depending on the post. I have no memory of encountering this blog, so I can't tell you how it happened. Topics: academia, gardening, rainforests, taxonomy, plant diversity.

Liz and the Professor is written by who you would think it would be written by. They live in Key West, FL, U.S., and grow a lot of the same things I do, but they grow them outside instead of inside. It's mostly about the photography, but -- it is very good photography, especially if you're like me and have only ever seen these plants indoors, in pots. It hasn't been updated much lately, which makes me wonder about things, but before November there were about three posts per week. I'm pretty sure I found it during the Blotanical Awards last September (L&tP was up for Best Florida Blog; it placed third, but as a multiple third-place finisher myself, I say third is not that bad).

Garden Chronicles is similar: it's interesting to find pictures of houseplants I have growing outdoors, fifty times bigger. Also lots of orchid pictures. Garden Chronicles is written by James Missier from Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia. (If you're reading this, James: I tried to find Garden Chronicles at Blotanical to fave you, and literally could not get to your blog or plot. I know Stuart said he was going to be fixing the navigation problems, so I can only assume that he's started to do so already. But the intent was there.) I suspect I found it through My Nice Garden, but I'm not sure.

Greensparrow Gardens is written by Greensparrow (Joseph Tychonievich) and appears to be mainly about outdoor gardening, plus a good bit of science and miscellanea. It's hard to summarize. I also don't know anything about this alleged green sparrow: was it green to begin with? Did someone make it green? Is it metaphorical, and the sparrow in question is just really environmentally conscious? We do not know. We may never know. I don't remember how I found it: possibly via comment here at PATSP, or through some other blog (The Scientist Gardener would be a likely candidate).

Good to Grow, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I discovered through looking at my Sitemeter statistics. Houseplants, interiorscaping, how-to, retail, outdoor. It's written by Liza, from Albuquerque, NM, U.S.

I don't even know what the name of the next one is, because it is, unfortunately for me, written in Greek. It looks like "Phytology," maybe. (Google Translate renders it "Fytologio.") I found it when the author started to follow PATSP. (I don't check out all of my followers' profile pages, for various reasons, but I usually do eventually look at most of them.) I recommend it mainly for the photography, which is very good. Lots of close-ups of very obscure succulents, plus also some orchids and really strange cactus stuff. (For example, this post from October, which involves grafting cactus that have been cut vertically: the plant which results is an Echinopsis on the left and a Sulcorebutia on the right. Crazier still, both of these appear to be grafted themselves, onto an Opuntia. Why? I do not know. But it certainly expands my understanding of what can be done with cactus grafting. Also check out the thinly-sliced Lithops pictures, which does the same for my concepts of transmitted-light plant photography.) The pictures also link to a separate website with a really ridiculous number of plant pictures, which I had previously run into when researching for the Haworthia profile, and which is nice for IDing stuff because there are many pictures of each plant, from various angles.

So. There. That should hold y'all for four days. (Actually, some of those sites could give you reading material until Easter, all by themselves.) Have a good Christmas, and I will see you again on Boxing Day, at which point we can gleefully fling poinsettias into the garbage while saying rude things to them, which is how I traditionally observe Boxing Day.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pretty pictures: Cyanotis kewensis flowers

Well, I said I'd get better pictures of the flowers than I did of the buds (last Thursday), and I think I was successful. A couple of these turned out really, really well, in fact, or at least better than I was expecting. The first two pictures were taken using the flash on the camera; the others used natural light. I can't really tell the difference, as far as the quality of the pictures goes.

The flowers are not especially long-lasting, and on dark days, I don't think any of them bother to open at all, but considering that flowers are pretty much just a bonus, not really the reason for growing the plant, I'm satisfied.

The color doesn't come out quite right in the photos, by the way. I mean, the pictures are closer to reality than I was expecting them to be (particularly the first picture), but the real flowers are a strange glowy, possibly fluorescent, purple that I really like. It doesn't exactly go very well with the rest of the plant (glowy purple plus olive green plus brown? Ew. . . .), but I try not to think about that.

Cyanotis kewensis is in the Commelinaceae, a family which has given us several other houseplants (Tradescantia pallida, Tradescantia sillamontana, Tradescantia spathacea, Tradescantia zebrina, Gibasis geniculata, Siderasis fuscata, and Callisia fragrans, among others) and outdoor plants, plus a few weeds (Commelina communis being the main one). The family shares the same basic flower structure, though the color varies from species to species, and not all of the flowers look so much like feather boas.

I've found mine to be somewhat difficult to get going; I've tried starting cuttings in the mini-greenhouse, with partial success, and in Nina's terrarium, with no success. Once established, it seems to be relatively easy. I get the feeling it would be happier in a higher-humidity environment.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday morning Nina picture

Shots like this make me appreciate the wisdom of Daffodil Planter's comment from Halloween: Nina is cute because she's so much SMALLER than we are. Imagine if she were eyeing you this way -- and the size of a smallish motorcycle.

Suddenly way less adorable, right?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Question for the Hive Mind: NOID Gesneriad

You know that feeling you get when you spend all day on the 17th working on your blog post for the 21st, and then you realize at 10 PM that you don't have a post ready to go up on the 18th?

Oh. Yeah, me neither. Totally never happens.

But so yeah. Um. Look! It's a NOID gesneriad!

Pretty, right? This picture would probably have gone up several days sooner than this if I had been able to figure out what it was. I actually feel quite strongly that I know what this is, and that the answer is somewhere in one of the dustier corners of my brain, perhaps in a box labeled "surge suppressors & extension cords" instead of "gesneriad IDs." But the ideas I had didn't result in any matching Google image search results, so I'm stumped. I'm sure someone out there must know.

For the record, I don't have any ID at all on it; nobody told me it was a gesneriad. I am oddly positive that it is, but it wouldn't, like, ruin my entire day if it turned out not to be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Random plant event: Cyanotis kewensis flower buds

This is a really terrible picture of a really interesting event, for me. First the terrible-picture part: I took 25 different shots of this same plant, and this was the one that was best in-focus. I probably should have tried with the flash, I realize as I write this (the blur almost always comes from me not being able to hold the camera steady, not any inherent defect in the camera's auto-focusing; a shorter exposure time gives my hands less time to move around), but I didn't think of it at the time.

As far as it being an interesting event, well, it had never occurred to me that Cyanotis bloomed. I mean, if I'd stopped to think about it, I would have realized that yes, it's a plant, obviously it blooms, but I never stopped to think about it. And even then, it wouldn't probably have occurred to me that it might bloom for me. So this is interesting. I'll post a picture -- a true-color, in-focus picture -- when I see some flowers open.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walkaways Part 5, plus, Plant Room Panic

Life here has been more chaotic than usual lately, because of the blizzard last week. It all seemed to be going pretty well: I was disappointed with the amount of snow we got, but there were substantial winds, as promised, and I enjoy having weather. Then I noticed that the plant room, which ordinarily contains about a third of my plant population, was down to 60F/16C, and this was around 5 PM: the forecast was for it to continue to get colder for the next twelve hours or so.

And I panicked, as I sometimes do, and took a lot of the more temperature-sensitive plants out of the plant room and stuck them in the basement, and then I ran out of room in the basement so I started putting them in the kitchen. I subsequently ran out of room in the kitchen, living room, and my office before the migration was complete, and this is stack-on-any-open-surface running out of room, not place-in-designated-plant-areas running out of room like I always am.

Part of the reason for the panic was because, in the process, I found two plants that were dead: an Astrophytum myriostigma and a Gasteria NOID. I don't know for sure what happened to either of them: the Astrophytum in particular had had sort of a rough life (it was kind of top-heavy, and then got knocked out of its pot about every six weeks since we moved to the house), and the Gasteria was near the floor where the temperature was the coldest, plus both of them had been watered semi-recently. Maybe they were dormant and didn't like that. So there's circumstantial evidence that both of them were actually my fault, not the weather, but in the heat of the moment, this was evidence that they were ALL GOING TO DIE if I didn't move them out of the plant room immediately.

The husband, meanwhile, was stapling (?) blankets over the windows. We found fans to blow warmer air into the plant room. Everything got turned upside down, and the plants that stayed in the plant room more or less had to do without light for a couple days, though blankets and fans got the temperature back up around 72F/22C more or less immediately. Which made moving everything seem kind of unnecessary, but whatever.

The husband then spent a couple days in the plant room, installing some heavy curtains, which in theory can be drawn the next time the plant room gets too cold. It's not a perfect system, as the curtains are probably going to catch on plants and pull them over the next time the curtains have to be drawn, but knocking over a couple plants is still better than panicking.


I suppose it depends on which plants.

All of the above is to explain why, last Sunday, I went back to visit my old job. I really needed to get out of the house; I'd just posted the Cactus Blindness post and felt, as one does, an urgent need to photograph more cacti; and a couple spots had just opened up in the plant room, which needed to be filled. . . .

But here's what I didn't buy.

Anthurium x 'Marie.' The file name says 'Maria' because I was briefly confused, but 'Marie' is correct.

This wasn't a particularly serious contender: it looks an awful lot like my Anthurium "hookeri," though the dark purple/black leaves are kind of interesting. They only turned color, I'm told, once they arrived in Iowa and started getting direct sun, though, so the odds of keeping the color in the house were pretty slim. Plus, if I'm going to spend $25 on an Anthurium, I'm still holding out for a Anthurium podophyllum.

Still, makes 'Marie' sound pretty interesting: apparently its chromosomes are kind of a mess, so individual plants are prone to do odd things (double spadices on the flowers, weird branching, etc.: you can see a picture of a deformed 'Marie' spadix here, and other Anthurium nervous breakdowns, plus those of a few other aroids, are here), and I do kind of find that appealing. We'll see.

Episcia NOID.

This Episcia, on the other hand, didn't tempt me at all. I'm this close to renouncing gesneriads and all of their works (only 6 left, 2/3 of which are Nematanthus). But I appreciate seeing them in the garden center. I mean, they're pretty and everything. I just don't want to bring one home to kill.

Cactus NOID; my best guess is Ferocactus gracilis, but this is fairly likely to be at least half-wrong.

Might come back for this guy, though. As I've mentioned before, I seem to be very focused on buying cacti lately. Some of the reason for going to the garden center in the first place was because the Stenocereus thurberi in the cactus blindness post had been calling me from afar. I also bought what I really hope is a Myrtillocactus geometrizans; previous attempts have been foiled by erroneous labeling and my inability to tell the difference.

So what haven't you bought recently? (Please say poinsettias. Except you, water roots. I already know about you and the poinsettia, and I'm very disappointed. Now go to your room and think about what you've done.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

List: Plants With a "Fountainy" Habit

You know what I mean. Lots of long and thin, or at least long and strappy, leaves, all going upward and then out and down in a graceful curve. I've never been able to figure out whether I have a particular attraction to this particular habit, or whether there are only a limited number of ways to build a plant and this is one of them so inevitably I would end up with lots of plants that look like this. I lean toward the latter, but it seems significant that a lot of my most favorite plants (Yucca guatemalensis, Pandanus veitchii, Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime,' etc.) fall into this category.

Also relevant here is that certain entire genera (Dracaena, except for D. surculosa) and families (Bromeliaceae), are basically all like this, so it's potentially a long list. I tried to pick a set of ten diverse plants.

Asplenium antiquum. (Japanese bird's-nest fern)

Beaucarnea recurvata, variegated. (ponytail palm)

Chlorophytum comosum. (spider plant, airplane plant, mala madre)

Clivia miniata 'Aztec Gold,' without flower.

Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime.'

Dracaena reflexa 'Riki.'

Neoregelia NOID. May be 'Purple Star.'

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Niger.' (black mondo grass)

Pandanus veitchii, variegated. (screw pine)

Yucca guatemalensis, plain green. (spineless yucca)

I pretty well covered my favorites in the introduction: Yucca guatemalensis, Pandanus veitchii, Dracaena deremensis 'Lemon-Lime.' In truth, though, I'm also very fond of most of the others, and it would probably be easier to talk about the three I don't like, and why.

Asplenium antiquum doesn't do well for me; it doesn't cope well with missed waterings, and humidity may also be an issue. Typically, when I buy an Asplenium, I have about six good months and then it falls into an irreversible decline.

Beaucarnea recurvata is pretty easy to take care of, and it does fairly well for me, but I don't especially like it. Part of this is because it steadily dropped leaves for a long time after I first got it, and stopped only after I gave it more soil and covered its base up a little more (which may or may not have been the reason it stopped). Also it's slightly annoying because the length of the leaves make it inconvenient to move around. I'm warming up to it, though, at least a little.

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Niger' is also pretty easy, but I'm not a huge fan. It's also very slow-growing indoors, or at least it's been slow for me so far. Not sure if this is natural, or a cultural issue.

Not pictured:
Aechmea 'Del Mar'
Aechmea fasciata (silver vase plant)
Agapanthus spp.
Many Agave spp. (attenuata, geminiflora), at least in a way
Quite a few Aloe spp., particularly those with long leaves (maculata, greatheadii)
Ananas comosus (pineapple)
Callisia fragrans, sort of
Cryptanthus cvv. (some cvv., anyway)
Cymbidium cvv. (plus a fair number of other orchids)
Dracaena deremensis cvv. ('Art,' 'Janet Craig,' 'Janet Craig Compacta,' 'Limelight,' 'Warneckei,' etc.)
Dracaena fragrans cvv. ('Massangeana,' 'Sol') (corn plant)
Dracaena marginata cvv. ('Bicolor,' 'Colorama,' 'Magenta,' 'Tarzan') (Madagascar dragon tree)
Dracaena sanderiana cvv. (lucky bamboo, ribbon dracaena)
Furcraea foetida and F. f. cv. 'Medio-Picta' (false agave)
Guzmania cvv.
Hippeastrum cvv. (amaryllis)
Other Neoregelia cvv. (incl. 'Ardie,' 'Fireball,' 'Gazpacho,' 'Medium Rare,' 'Nuance,' 'Perfection,' 'Victoria,' 'Yang')
Sansevieria trifasciata cvv., sometimes, at least to a first approximation (snake plant, mother-in-law tongue)
Tillandsia cyanea (pink quill)
Other Tillandsia spp. (air plant)
Vriesea imperialis (aka Alcantarea imperialis, giant bromeliad)
Vriesea ospinae var. gruberi
Vriesea splendens (flaming sword)

I know I have to be missing hundreds of plants here, so throw 'em out there as they occur to you. If you want to.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Unfinished business: Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial'

A couple weeks ago, I posted about (among other things) flower buds on my Pelargonium. Those buds have now opened, so I figured I owed y'all a follow-up.

This doesn't capture the color very well, but there's something about my camera, or maybe something about Pelargonium flowers, that keeps pictures from producing very true-to-life color. It's in the ballpark, though.

The flowers are basically a really bright orange, quite a bit less red than they appear here. There's sometimes a slight hint of coral, depending on the light. It's a pleasant enough color as far as I'm concerned: I've got nothing against orange. Not particularly big and showy, but, you know, whatever. I kind of don't like the big snowballs of flowers the regular varieties produce anyway, and it's not like the plant owes me flowers in the first place, given the leaves it makes. So I'm satisfied.

The plant itself appears to be falling apart a bit: whether this is because the flowers are taking too much energy to produce, or whether I let it go a little too long between waterings, I'm not sure, but if it's the latter, the plant really ought to try to get itself used to that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Random plant event: Hatiora salicornioides flower bud

This is funny, because somebody just asked me if I'd ever had my Hatiora salicornioides bloom, and I answered no, it's never bloomed, and then a week or two later, bam! We have flower buds.

It doesn't look like much yet (dead center in the photo, if you're having trouble seeing it), and it's my understanding that the flowers aren't amazing either. Plus I only have two buds, so far. But still. I've only ever seen pictures, so I'm excited about the possibility of getting to see the flowers in person. I'll do my best to get pictures, but the reader is warned that I had a hell of a time getting my camera to focus on the buds (I've taken at least fifty photos, trying to get something in focus, and even though this picture is more or less in focus, it doesn't show what's going on well.), so we may or may not manage to document this properly.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday morning Nina picture

Hide and Seek.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cactus Blindness: Its Causes and Treatment

It's time to admit my shameful secret: I have cactus blindness.

Cactus blindness is one of a number of widespread horticultural learning deficiencies (HLD), resembling (and often overlapping with) other HLDs like fern blindness, shrub blindness (I am also considerably shrub-blind, by the way), and palm blindness. Afflicted individuals are easily able to learn and recall names of different cactus species, but are unable to visually distinguish cacti well enough to apply the names accurately to plant specimens.

Ferocactus latispinus? Not particularly confident, but I didn't see much that was particularly close. Flat, yellow, curved spines don't happen a lot. UPDATE: There appears to be consensus that this is in fact Ferocactus latispinus.

Many causes have been proposed for HLDs, ranging from the socioeconomic (lack of exposure to, or accurate identification of, enough plant species in childhood) to the organic (HLDs sometimes occur following stroke or brain injury in previously unaffected individuals). Though below-average intelligence and sensory impairment may also lead to the inability to distinguish cactus species from one another, persons with these conditions are specifically excluded from the DSM-IV definition of cactus blindness, as they lead to much broader difficulties.

Cactus blindness is also distinct from the condition called cactus alexia: in the latter, species are easily distinguished, but the patient experiences great difficulty in learning the names that go with the plants.

I originally suspected this of being a Pachycereus pringlei, and then for some reason decided that it couldn't be, so I switched to Carnegiea gigantea. Carnegiea is fairly common in cultivation (easy to grow from seed), but it's also incredibly slow-growing, which means that it should cost more than these did. So now I'm leaning back toward Pachycereus pringlei. UPDATE: Could go either way, but the smart money appears to be on Carnegiea gigantea.

I bring this up first of all because of Karen715's brave admission a couple weeks ago that she, too, suffers from cactus blindness. Her courage has given me the strength to admit that I, too, find it extremely difficult to identify many of the specimens I encounter. (It is my hope that we can start a support group or something.)

Stenocereus thurberi. Not particularly certain about this, but it does match: newest spines are dark and become lighter, plus the dark areoles -- if it isn't Stenocactus thurberi, it's something that's fairly indistinguishable from it. Also I kind of want this now. UPDATE: Does in fact appear to be Stenocereus thurberi. Yay me.

Secondly, I recently went back to my former workplace and photographed a few cacti there (bought a couple, too, alas), thinking I could identify them easily and then use the photos for yearbook pictures, and I think I even actually did, with great difficulty and the assistance of the photos at, identify a couple of them. However, some of them continued to stump me, either because none of the 1257 species represented at looked like the plant in question, or because far too many of them did for me to be able to pick one. (Some of the more questionable photos I took are decorating this post; I welcome any ID verifications or suggestions anybody wants to throw at me.)

Pachycereus marginatus. I'm just, you know, damn positive that I've got a P. marginatus this time. I had previously reported buying a P. marginatus, which for some reason I really really wanted, but I now think that that plant is probably an Isolatocereus dumortieri instead. So now I have this, which I really think probably is a Pachycereus marginatus. UPDATE: Experts agree.

Treatment of cactus blindness typically falls into one of three types. In conventional cactus blindness therapy (CCBT), CB sufferers are encouraged, with the aid of worksheets, photographs, and (when possible) actual cactus specimens, to describe plants in minute detail, with the aim of training the individual to notice the small distinctions between species. This is essentially the training of afflicted individuals to become cactus taxonomists, and while it has a high success rate (about 80% of subjects will become able to identify at least 100 cactus species with at least 70% accuracy), it also takes a considerable amount of time, and requires the assistance of a qualified trainer at all times. Consequently, it is very expensive, and CCBT-certified trainers may not be found in all areas, though cases are known of people who have taught themselves to overcome cactus blindness through informal CCBT-like methods.

Was tagged as "Lemaireocerous." They probably meant Lemaireocereus, though that still doesn't help, since the genus is now obsolete, and the species in it were distributed across five or six other genera. None of the pictures within those genera at resemble this as far as I'm concerned, and of course we have no real guarantee that Lemaireocereus was the right ID to begin with. UPDATE: I lean toward the suggestion of Browningia hertlingiana (see comments).

The other treatment approach is known as wholistic cactus blindness therapy, or WCBT. WCBT de-emphasizes verbalization of the distinctions between species and instead focuses its efforts on the subconscious: subjects are presented, repeatedly, with randomized pairs of photos or specimens of cacti, and asked to identify whether they are the same species or different species. This, it is said, trains the mind to identify the relevant details which distinguish one species from another, without the tedious completion of worksheets as in CCBT. WCBT is also easily adapted to computer software, making it considerably more affordable and accessible than other therapies. Critics of WCBT point out that it does little to link the image of a particular cactus species to a species name, and is therefore not particularly useful in fostering cactus-related communication. Many WCBT trainers have responded to this charge by adding an additional four-week program to the end of a course of WCBT specifically for the purpose of linking names to the now-mentally-distinct species in the subject's mind.

NOID cactus #2. Lots of stuff looks sort of like this, but the arrangement of the spines (short ones pointing up, left, and right, plus a long one pointing down) seems like it's trying very hard to mean something. I couldn't find a match, and wasted a really ridiculous amount of time trying. UPDATE: I kind of lean toward Mammillaria winterae, though to be safe I think I'll just go with "Mammillaria sp."

Incremental cactus blindness therapy (ICBT), the newest of the CB therapies to gain acceptance, focuses on learning the distinguishing characteristics of only the most commonly-sold or -observed cacti, and those with the most distinctive appearances (e.g. Astrophytum myriostigma, which is fairly hard to confuse with anything else), slowly expanding the pool of one's knowledge only once the initial easy group have been mastered. Its largest advantage over the other methods is that it is more immediately useful than either CCBT or WCBT, enabling the subject to identify several commonly-encountered cactus species after the very first therapeutic session. ICBT is also somewhat adaptable to computer software and requires considerably less of a therapist than CCBT, making it less expensive and easily available. The main disadvantage of ICBT is that accidental exposure to unknown cactus species can result in the mental assignment of mistaken identities, which are frequently difficult to unlearn later on. ICBT also has a rather steep learning curve, which subjects often find discouraging, leading to a dropout rate more than double that of CCBT or WCBT.

To the best of my knowledge, the above therapies have not been attempted with other varieties of HLDs.

NOID cactus #1. This one makes me kind of crazy: I see it for sale all the time, so you'd think it would be easy to find out what it is, but no. I found plenty of approximate visual matches at, but nothing I could be positive about. UPDATE: Appears to be Parodia leninghausii.

Personally, I'm working a combination of CCBT and ICBT, on my own, with only the internet to guide me, and if I manage to learn anything I'll let you know. Meanwhile, perhaps we should be looking for some available church basements, or setting up a dedicated CB blog, or something. Who's in?

Mammillaria spinosissima. I'm actually pretty confident about this ID; the coloration is pretty distinctive, and I know it's a fairly popular species ("red-headed Irishman cactus"). (UPDATE: Experts agree.) This is one of the two I went ahead and purchased.

UPDATE: Enormous thanks to Daiv Freeman, Peter Breslin, erin, and CelticRose, for their help and suggestions on the NOIDs in this post, and confirmations on the ones I thought I had right.

Totally skippable political correctness disclaimer and commentary:

I'm not trying to imply that actual learning disabilities aren't real or shouldn't be taken seriously. They of course are, and should. The targets of ridicule here are more the non-disabled people who patronizingly claim every little obstacle's defeat as being inspiring and courageous than for the people who actually have the disabilities, people who try to make unchosen conditions into something shameful, and my own very real difficulty in distinguishing cacti from one another.

Sometimes overcoming disability / adversity / tragedy actually is courageous, of course, but sometimes one never really gets a choice about whether or not to overcome, and in any case it's kind of a weird thing to take someone who has an unusual life situation and single them out as being even more unusual by waxing poetic about their courage and whatever.

As far as it goes, I also don't mean to suggest that the blind are more disabled than others, by using the word "blindness" as part of the term for my made-up condition. It seemed like a better metaphor than, say, deafness, because people generally look at cacti a lot more than they listen to them.

As I have alluded to before, I don't want PATSP to be accidentally offensive to anybody, of whatever age, gender identity, sexual orientation, degree of disability, country of origin or residence, race, mental illness, etc. I want as much of the offensiveness as possible to be on purpose. At the same time, pretty much any reference to certain of these topics is going to be offensive to somebody, however it's phrased, because minority communities don't ever necessarily agree unanimously on PC language, reclaiming slurs, etc. (There's not even total agreement on whether "the disabled" exist as a group, or, if they do, exactly who belongs in it.) So I figure my choices are to never mention these people at all, effectively "disappearing" minority groups into nonexistence, or mention and try to make clear that I'm doing the best I can not to piss people off through my own privilege as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered, American male. (I've been noticing lately that I tend to assume my readers are U.S. or Canadian residents, in a way which probably marginalizes readers from other countries, and have been trying to think of ways to make that happen less often.) I do actually try to think about these things. Sometimes I don't think hard enough.

If I have expressed myself in a particularly inelegant or ignorant way on the matter, please let me know.