Saturday, January 30, 2010

Site-related: Difficulty numbers

Back in November, I sat down in front of the computer with the difficulty-numbers spreadsheet and started anew, plugging in whatever numbers seemed appropriate without consulting the old numbers first. This took a stupidly long time and failed to accomplish anything meaningful: most of the new numbers came out pretty close to the old ones. However, in a few cases, the experiences I'd had with a plant since generating the old difficulty numbers meant that the new difficulty numbers were significantly different. So I've had vague plans to change the numbers over to the new ones for two and a half months now, and I've decided to do this today. The sidebar list has already been put into the new order; I'll be going into the profiles to change the numbers there over the next day or two. This is unlikely to affect you in any way whatsoever, though in theory if you click on the right profile at the right time, you might see no number at the top, or something like that.

I won't give you the full list of changes, since, as I said, most of them were pretty similar to the old numbers anyway (and in a handful of cases, they were exactly the same), but here are the biggest movers, and reasons, where applicable:

Went from easier to harder:

Clivia miniata 'Aztec Gold,' without flower.

Clivia miniata (3.2 to 4.4) -- I think the main change here has to do with the fairly extreme switch in care between summer and winter, though I also may have initially underestimated their capacity for getting bugs. (Mine don't have bugs, knock wood, but I've seen mealys on other people's Clivias often enough that I'm taking it more seriously as a risk.)

Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana.'

Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' (1.2 to 2.6) -- still an easy plant, overall, but I've had a lot of weird little things happen that make me think I was overestimating it before. Growing tips have died and resprouted (a side effect, I think, of watering from overhead; they don't like to get water stuck inside the growing tip), sprouts from the side of a cane have suddenly blackened for no reason, that kind of thing.

Begonia rex-cultorum 'Harmony's Red Robin.'

Begonia rex-cultorum (8.0 to 9.6) -- subsequent bad work experiences, plus the realization that nobody else is that great with these either, leads to Begonia stealing the most-difficult spot away from Gardenia. Though I still like my 'Texas Coffee Star,' or whatever it is, and it seems not to hate me nearly as much as every other rex begonia I've ever met.

Ledebouria sp.

Ledebouria socialis (2.2 to 3.9) -- Had some watering problems last summer. I still haven't figured out whether I was watering too much or not enough, but whichever it was, they weren't happy about it. It probably didn't help that I'd divided my plant into three last spring.

Dracaena sanderiana.

Dracaena sanderiana (1.1 to 3.5) -- Part of this is sheer unreasoning hatred: I've never liked these. But I've also had some problems with a plant that used to belong to the husband, that I've taken over care of. Some of the growing tips are dying, the soil has springtails (or something), I've seen lots of other people's plants just up and die over nothing. They're not good long-term plants.

Aspidistra lurida 'Milky Way.'

Aspidistra lurida 'Milky Way' (1.1 to 4.8) -- I recently lost my third A. lurida, in the winter, to unclear cultural problems. I thought I had it figured out the first time, but then the second died. So then I bought a third one, and it stuck around for an admirably long time, but it's died too. AND I DO NOT KNOW WHY. So I hate this plant. No more Aspidistras, ever. Even A. elatior, which I've never even tried before. Just because it's related.

Went from harder to easier:

Cissus quadrangularis.

Cissus quadrangularis (2.4 to 1.2) -- I don't actually know what numbers changed here to make this jump happen.

Pilea cadierei.

Pilea cadierei (6.0 to 4.8) -- Though still more difficult than your average plant (mostly because it needs more warmth and humidity than most), I think I was overcautious when I came up with the original numbers. It doesn't appear to have particularly unreasonable humidity requirements, and it's been growing fine in the basement all winter, so temperature isn't that big of a deal either.

Alworthia 'Black Gem.'

Alworthia 'Black Gem' (3.3 to 1.8) -- I have yet to have a problem with these. It's likely I was being more skittish about overwatering than has proven to be the case. (Though some of my success there may be because I have a really lean soil mix; I'm not sure if I'd be as confident if I were using Miracle Gro or something.)

Senecio macroglossus.

Senecio macroglossus (5.4 to 3.9) -- I still don't especially like the plant, but I suspect the watering problems I talked about in the original profile were partly a matter of bad soil and overpotting. I probably also wasn't giving the plant enough light, then. They seem fairly resilient, if still a little more difficult than the average houseplant.

Homalomena 'Emerald Gem.'

Homalomena 'Emerald Gem' (5.6 to 3.8) -- We've reached some sort of agreement, is all I can say. It's possible, again, that overpotting was part of the problem originally; it always threw leaves after I watered, and then stayed wet for a long time. Lately, though, it's been getting much better about this. It wilts slightly when it needs water, I give it water, and then it sends up three new leaves in quick succession. It still doesn't look as good as it did when I bought it: by this point, the stems are getting kind of leggy, and all the leaves are pointing straight up, because I have it under a fluorescent light and it doesn't really get any light from the side. But the new leaves are large and increasingly abundant, and there are even some new suckers. So we've turned a corner.

Synadenium grantii.

Synadenium grantii (3.5 to 1.7) -- Aside from some understandable trauma very recently (I transplanted some cuttings to a large pot, and they dropped leaves), and occasional dropped leaves to let me know I waited too long to water, I've never seen Synadenium grantii have a problem with anything. Not sure how it got the 3.5 rating to begin with, but I think 1.7 is about right.

Hylocereus sp.

Hylocereus undatus (3.1 to 1.2) -- It's a fugly, fugly plant, even when it's more or less healthy (and mine actually is a little etiolated, which doesn't make it prettier), but it's not hard to grow. I actually kind of wish it were a little harder to grow, so I had more of an excuse for the extreme hideousness.

Saturday morning Nina picture

In case you've wondered: the reason why I don't take pictures of Nina sitting on any of the other plants, the reason why it's the Stromanthe every time, is because the other plants have mostly ceased existing. The Vriesea remains, and you can usually see it in the background of the Stromanthe pictures. The Impatiens is still there, too, though I've had to cut it back a few times, so it comes and goes.

Everything else is either entirely gone or only technically present. The Peperomia caperata got too wet, plus shaded out by the Stromanthe. The Cryptanthus have, for the most part, been dug up before they rooted -- they're still in there, but they move around a lot. I'm not sure if Nina is responsible, or if it's the crickets. Or both. The Podocarpus was nibbled by crickets, shaded out by the Stromanthe, and then got alternately drowned and parched: I don't know if it's still technically alive or not, but I haven't taken it out yet. The Pilea depressa never really took off like it was supposed to, though bits and pieces survive. I've tried adding new stuff a few times, but so far the only one that has even maybe worked is a Saxifraga stolonifera, which I haven't even been able to get all of those to work out.

So I guess it's a kind of rough neighborhood for plants.

There's been talk of using the tax refund to get Nina a new, larger home (perhaps Felipe could even join her!). Still just talk at the moment, as I haven't priced any and don't know how much money will end up having to go where. But it's under consideration. And it would be an excuse for new plant-shopping.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pretty picture: Duranta sp.

This picture is from the ex-job in I think October. We've seen Duranta once before here at PATSP, but I didn't know that's what it was then.

The first time around, what interested me about the plant was that the flowers smelled really good (like sugar cookies). I remember checking for a smell on this occasion, and being disappointed that there wasn't really any. If I remember correctly, they had it tagged as D. repens, but I think it's probably D. erecta.

My former employer still has the plant there as of last Saturday, but it's not flowering anymore, so it's not very likely to sell. I have no strong feelings about this either way. No idea what they're like as houseplants.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Random plant event (?): Blue Begonia?

Don't get all excited. It's not actually a blue Begonia in the way you're thinking. Though that would be cool, and I encourage somebody to create one like what you're thinking someday.

What it is is, I took some pictures of my 'Coffee Texas Star' (which might also be several other things, including 'Gladys Meyer:' I've run into at least four differently-named Begonia rex-cultorum cultivars that all look more or less exactly like my plant.) on Tuesday for the "yearbook." Because I never know how the light is until after I've uploaded the photos, I took some pictures with the flash, and some without. And in every single one of the photos with the flash, I got blue iridescence off of some of the leaves, particularly the leaves that were most directly facing the camera. Or maybe it's more turquoise than blue --

See? Above, with the flash; below, without:

And a close-up of the blue part, just for shiggles:

So I was thinking, wow, that's weird, I wonder why I've noticed that before. Maybe it's something specific to the flash on this camera. So I got a flashlight, and shined1 it at the plant, and when the beam hit the leaf more or less perpendicular, I did see a little bit of turquoise bounced back at me, so long as my eye was more or less right behind the flashlight. Which looked approximately like the above picture.

So I guess it's a real thing. What does it signify? How does it help the plant? Or does it help? What structure or structures within the leaf are responsible? Do all Begonias do this? What does it all meeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaan?

I have no idea. But it happened. You know the blog's title.


1 I know. It sounds wrong to me too. But the internet says that if there's a direct object, "shined" is correct, and without it, it's "shone." So I shined the light on the Begonia, but yesterday the sun shone. This sounds really stupid and wrong to me either way, and I'm actually more, instead of less, confused by the direct object thing and should probably have rephrased the sentence as, "So I got a flashlight, turned it on, and aimed it at the plant," but that sounds kind of clunky too. So I think I'm just going to swear off flashlight-related writing after this post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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

Some very nice stuff from this round. I think you'll be pleased.

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

Heliconia psittacorum 'Bright Lights.' It's not grown for the colorful leaves, obviously.

Breynia discticha 'Roseo-Picta.' Difficult to photograph, because the leaves are very small (about an inch, inch and a half long and wide -- roughly 2.5-4 cm). Not as uninteresting as it might have been, I suppose.

Alocasia 'Frydek.' I think the message here is "Left Turn Only."

Philodendron 'Congo Rojo.' There seem to be only so many ways to vein a Philodendron; almost all of them look like this to some degree or another, at the vein level. The spots are most likely areas where the developing leaf was damaged before it hit maturity; such spots are permanent, kinda unsightly, and occasionally lead customers to completely lose their shit. But it's nearly impossible to prevent spots from happening, especially if you're producing them on a wholesale kind of scale.

Tradescantia zebrina. Well, the color is nice, even if it's not otherwise terribly interesting.

Syngonium podophyllum, didn't catch the entire cultivar name but it involved the word 'Gold.' There's a 'Gold Allusion' out there, but the pictures I found for it were not particularly golden, nor did they look much like the plant in question.

Codiaeum variegatum NOID. Should it surprise me that, as much as I like taking pictures of croton leaves, I never ever ever have even a moment of wanting to own one again? I mean, it's like, never. I don't care about having one. But I guess I want others to have them, so I can take pictures. This seems weird.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar.' This reminds me of something non-plant-related, but I can't think of what. I want to say either fabric or ice cream, but I'm not a big noticer of fabric, and I'm pretty sure I've never seen ice cream that looked like this, so I have not idea where that feeling is coming from.

Codiaeum variegatum NOID. This picture is kind of interesting as a negative: it winds up looking a bit like white "clouds" on a blue "sky."

Maranta leuconeura erythroneura. Just . . . perfect, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Hey, remember that blizzard, the one that got me all freaked out because the plant room got cold, but then it turned out not to be much of a blizzard at all and I was kind of disappointed?

I think I've been adequately compensated for that now.

The view southeast from the front door.

Three days ago or so, the forecast was for an inch of snow on Monday, followed by some wind Tuesday. This was mainly of interest to me because it was supposed to get really cold at the same time -- down below zero again -- which we'd been getting kind of a break from that over the last week or two. So that was kind of unpleasant. But still -- an inch of snow. How bad could it be?

And then on Sunday they changed the forecast to two inches of snow, but that's hard to get terribly excited about too. So then Monday arrived.

Outside my office window, the neighbors have parked a lawnmower. It's maybe thirty or forty feet from where I'm sitting. Black and red, on a snow-white background. It's as full-daylight as you can get on a totally overcast day. And I have been intermittently unable to see the lawnmower.

Due east from the front door. (I was going to take a west-facing picture of the back yard, but my body refused to go through the door when I opened it, so I settled.)

So this is kind of awesome.

I'm still not nuts about the plunging temperatures, but this is a totally acceptable blizzard. Four out of five stars. (I'm withholding the fifth star because I can, after all, still see the lawnmower. And also two inches of snow is not very much. For five stars, you need at least 12 inches / 30.5 cm of snow.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Random plant event: Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Splish Splash' flowers

Not quite what I had in mind for today's post, but I'm having trouble with the longer pieces I'm working on, so instead you get this.

This is one of the coleus cuttings I'm trying to overwinter; I have all of them under lights for the time being and didn't expect to have to watch for flowers, but apparently I do.

I know: not interesting. I suck. The really frustrating thing is that I know more or less where I want to go with the posts I'm working on, and I'm just having trouble getting them to work properly. I hate trying to write from outlines, but it may come to that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Plants, Part Whatever

I had planned to spend all day yesterday diligently working on the blog and/or watering, because both of these are things that always need to be done, and experience has proven that when things need to be done, it works out best for me if I do them. I even had a specific post idea in mind. (I won't tell you what it was, but you would have found it brilliant.)

But then the husband said he wanted to go to Iowa City for something or another, and I have that pending tax refund burning a hole in my pocket, and this is the time of year when my former employer puts everything on 20% off1 in order to move stuff out the door and make room for the annuals.2 So this was my moment to buy anything I'd seen in the last six months that I really wanted and hadn't already bought.

So I bought.

And yeah, I know the pictures aren't great. I was in a hurry and the light was crap. Only so much I can do.

Two of the four plants have appeared on the blog as walkaways already. Anthurium podophyllum (which if you've not yet seen pictures of what A. podophyllum is capable of becoming, you should) --

-- and Monstera deliciosa (née Philodendron) 'Cheesecake' --

-- were both from Walkaways Part 4. (The Monstera returned later, for an unfinished business post.)

I hadn't really intended to buy the Monstera, originally. I walked away from it just fine the first time, no pangs of longing and regret, it was totally cool. But then I did the unfinished business post, and Karen715 pronounced them "to die for" in the comments there. Apparently Karen715 has the power to change my reality merely by saying that something is cool, 'cause after that, I started thinking, well, they're not so bad, and I bet I could find someplace to put one if I come into a lot of money someday. . . . So the Monstera is her fault.

Which we are okay with as long as she promises to use her powers for good.

I also picked up a Eucharis grandiflora, even though I already have a Eucharis grandiflora, because . . . there were a bunch of them blooming, and they had this really nice 4-inch one that was way nicer than the 4-inch one I've got at home, and -- well, and I got caught up in the moment. Though even that one, I'd considered buying before, so it was also a walkaway that I came back for. Technically.

And then finally, a kind of NOID. It's an Aloe, I'm pretty sure. WCW had told me last summer that the only identification they had for it was "hedgehog aloe," and when I look up "hedgehog aloe" on Google I get the ID of Aloe humilis. The problem is, the pictures I get when I look for "Aloe humilis" don't look a whole lot like this particular plant; the main difference is that the on-line pictures have a lot of bumps on all sides of the leaf: front, back and margins.

My plant does have two bumps on the upper leaf surfaces, but otherwise, they're all on the margins. Which makes it all kind of ambiguous. So I think it's probably Aloe humilis, but I am far from confident about that.

The reason for buying it doesn't make a lot of sense either: I kind of felt sorry for them. They haven't sold well for the store: I don't think it's any fault of the plant, just that they got too many of them. But so regular readers may be aware of my soft spot for plants that nobody else likes (e.g.), and I guess this is another case of that. The actual thought process was something like, Aloes and I get along well, this is one I didn't have already, and it has three offsets. Which put it over the edge.

Contrary to what you might think, I'm not ordinarily quite this much of a pushover for new plants: there's a guy in my head who processes all new-plant requests and tries to talk me out of them (Do you have a specific, available physical location in mind for this? Do you already have one of these, or anything that is strongly similar? Could you find it cheaper somewhere else? Do you have reason to think you'll be able to keep it alive for a year or more? Do you actually have the money physically on your person? Could this money be more productively spent elsewhere? Etc.), and I gave him the day off.3 He's back on the clock again at least until I receive the tax money, but I figure I'd been good for quite a while4 and deserved something new.

If anybody thinks they might need his services the next time I give him the day off (I'm pretty sure it'll be no later than the end of March), send me an e-mail.


1 Except for the things that don't count, an exception which is mainly there to cover the highly-desirable blooming stuff (Phalaenopsis, Cyclamen, Primula, etc.). This was annoying to have to describe or explain to customers, but I have no problem enjoying foliage plants, and actively dislike some of the bloomers which don't fall under the discount, so it's not much of an issue for me personally, as a customer.
2 This is a lot of the reason why the bloomers don't count: the flower shop has one table's worth of space in the greenhouse regardless of what's in the rest of the greenhouse. So there's no need to sell them any faster than usual.
3 Easier said than done, of course, since I then had to field questions from him for half an hour about whether giving him the day off was a good idea.
4 (Seriously -- my last new plant purchase was December 13, more than a month ago. I am the very model of restraint.)