Friday, August 7, 2009

The houseplant tournament: semi-finals

Well, this was a dumb idea. I mean, I'm sort of committed to continuing this until we reach a final winner, but I don't think a single-elimination brackets system was the right way to go. At one point or another, all four of the semifinalists in this post have seemed like the likely and inevitable winner, and it's only making myself try to name reasons that's enabled me to pick one over another. Except that then I start second-guessing, 'cause what if my favorite plants aren't favorites for reasons in the first place, and I'm defeating the purpose of the whole thing by trying to come up with some?

(It is sometimes difficult to be me.)

Now what would be fun would be to do the same thing, but as a series of reader polls instead. I would find that endlessly fascinating, in fact. It would also take a lot of time to set up, so don't expect it soon. But perhaps eventually, 'cause now I'm interested.

Anyway. So let's get to the matches.

Semifinal match #1: Yucca guatemalensis cvv. vs. Vriesea splendens

Vriesea is the better-looking plant. It's not even a contest. Even before you factor in the flowers, it's a prettier plant. So there's that. Propagation is considerably tougher, because the only easy way is by offsets, which they'll only produce after flowering, and they'll do that only while the mother plant is dying, so you lose one plant and gain one plant and the end result is that no propagation happens. (I have no idea how the growers manage to produce them. Seeds, maybe? I'd love to try seeds.) So that's one big factor for Vriesea, and one big factor against.

I like size, too (or at least the capacity to become big, whether now or in 20 years), and on that score, Yucca wins easily. Not that Vriesea can't get big, but it's never going to get tree-sized big, and Yucca can. It's also the case that Yucca comes in multiple cultivars, and Vriesea . . . well, Vriesea might, but I suspect that either they all look more or less alike, or the one I have ('Splenreit') is the only one that's easy to grow. Either way, for all practical purposes, there's only one Vriesea cultivar.

I've never had a significant care problem with either. I've failed to get some Vrieseas to root before, but that was after separating them from the mother plant, which I have since learned one does not have to do (and, in fact, probably should not do). Yucca has only been a problem when I've badly overpotted a newly-rooted cutting or severely cut back an established plant, and even in both of those cases I've still had 75% success or better. That said, I've put the Yuccas through a lot more than I've ever asked of the Vrieseas, and it would not necessarily surprise me for the Vrieseas to reveal a nasty side at some point down the line, since I've only had them around for just so long. I'm pretty sure I've seen almost everything a Yucca is going to do indoors.

Consequently, I'm more comfortable giving this one to the Yucca guatemalensis, which even if it's not as pretty, wins or ties on basically every other category.

Semifinal match #2: Aglaonema cvv. vs. Dieffenbachia cvv.

Personally, I will probably think that any random Dieffenbachia is prettier than any random Aglaonema. This is not to deny that there are some fucking gorgeous Aglaonemas ('Brilliant,' 'Peacock,' 'Red Gold'), nor that there are some pretty dowdy dieffs (I am unimpressed with 'Camille' and 'Carina'). But on average. Aglaonema variegation tends to be more subtle: the whites are rarely white white, the greens are rarely dark green, and they tend to stay in fairly well-defined zones within the leaf. Dieffenbachias, on the other hand, have very high contrasts, and can do most of the same color range as ags, with more complicated, more interesting (to me) patterns.

Dieffenbachias also get much larger, or at least some of them do, and that's an important consideration as well. Though I've seen some pretty huge ags, very few of them have been as big as my 'Tropic Rain' dieff.

On the other hand, Dieffenbachias tend to be more difficult to grow. With Aglaonema, as long as you don't get the plant cold and you don't keep it too wet, it'll be fine. Dieffenbachia have more specific ideas about light, and water. They'll also grow a lot faster, which is good (I like fast growth), but they'll also drop lower leaves as they go, so you wind up with a big bare cane with a few leaves on top, which after a while gets to looking silly. Ags do the bare cane thing as well, but take longer to get there. Ags will also considerately fill in their bare stems by sprouting the occasional new cane. (Dieffs will do that, too, but they're very reluctant, and if they do, they'll act like they're doing you some huge favor by resprouting.)

So, for a second time, I choose the homelier (relatively speaking), yet more considerate, plant, and this one goes to Aglaonema cvv.

Final match tonight on Twitter / tomorrow here at PATSP. Yucca guatemalensis cvv. vs. Aglaonema cvv. Watch Mr. Subjunctive become a mental contortionist as he tries to justify his choices!


Karen715 said...

Don't sweat it! As I understand it you started out to determine your favorite plant, not the best plant ever. Likes and dislikes are seldom 100% rational, though we try to pretend they are. Please don't be offended* but I hate Dieffenbachias. I try to rationalize my dislike by referring to their toxicity and finicky habits, but that doesn't jibe with my love for other viciously poisonous and/or tempermental plants. When it comes down to it there is just a certain ineffable something about their appearance I just can't stand. What makes it funnier is that I absolutely love (most) Aglaos, which don't differ all that much, looks-wise, from Dieffs.

*I remember a poster on GW who refused to post in a "plants you hate thread." She said she didn't want to hurt anyone's feeling by dissing their favorite. I thought that a was ridiculous position to take, until someone posted their disdain for ZZ plants. I was cut to the quick! (I didn't say anything though.)

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, yeah. I mean, all that at the top of the post was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I meant it, but I also recognize that this doesn't matter in any meaningful sense.

I would like to try to figure out a relatively easy way to do this same thing, but from reader polls, instead of just my own preferences. 'Cause I bet it would be interesting. Of course, then, how do you pick which plants get to compete? Do you separate cultivars or lump them together? Etc.

I will be thinking about it.

As far as hating Dieffenbachias, well, that's fine. Not everybody has to like every plant. I don't even like every plant. [shakes fist at Fenestraria rhopalophylla] I have the same kind of ineffable something going on with old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis), which I don't particularly understand, and I used to feel that way about Saxifraga stolonifera and now we're best buds, no pun intended.