Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday morning Nina picture (with bonus canine content)

The husband and I had a dog for about an hour and a half on Thursday. Not had exactly, but it lived in our house and ate dog food we bought, so it sort of counts. It happened because I saw this Husky running around in the neighbor's yard, no leash, no people nearby, and I thought, well, if it were my Husky, I'd want somebody to try to find me. So the husband and I went out and called the dog, who came right over to us, and walked in the house like this was a totally normal and obvious thing for it to do, and I called the vet clinic phone number on the tag to see if they could tell me who had lost it.

And they kind of knew -- they gave me a name (which wasn't in the phone book), and they gave me a phone number (which didn't work), and they said the owner's address was given as Fairfield, IA, which is a solid two counties away. This dog was way too clean to have been walking through the snow and slush for fifty miles, so locating an owner looked like kind of a dead end.

So it looked like maybe he (oh yeah -- the vet's office also said it was a he; there's lots of fur on a Husky, so this wasn't immediately obvious) was going to be here for a while. The husband set some water out for him, and went to the grocery store for food, and I just followed the dog around the house as he sniffed everything, repeatedly, partly because it was really novel to have a dog in the house and partly because I wanted to make sure he didn't try to chew any of the plants. And then I tried getting some pictures so I could make a FOUND DOG sign to put up. This was the best one --

And the thing you have to know here for this story to make sense is, we've been talking about getting a dog for a long time. Since well before we moved into the house last May. Since before we'd even started looking for houses. And we were actually looking for a dog that was about this size (thinking more of a German Shepherd, but whatever, the Husky was already trained well enough to know "no" and "sit," at least, so he was probably housebroken already too, which is a huge plus). So I was kind of hoping we wouldn't be able to locate an owner, and I'd already started blogging about him in my head, how he, like Nina, had just shown up and been taken in, and it was all going to be very heartwarming. You'd have laughed, you'd have cried, you'd have learned the true meaning of St. Patrick's Day.


Asked the neighbors, when they got home, if they had any idea who in the neighborhood had any Huskies, particularly any Huskies that might be interested in investigating their yard, and, long story short, they did know somebody close by who had recently moved up here from Fairfield to live with family, and who had a Husky, so the neighbors went to ask them if they had a dog missing, and of course they had, and so then within a few minutes our dog was running over to his actual owners, who were repeatedly grateful, and that was the end of the whole thing, it would appear.

Now. We can hope that the dog remembers that if he runs away from home and comes to us, we'll give him tons of attention and feed him and play with him and pet him and all kinds of fun stuff, and maybe he'll just keep running away and coming to us until the real owners throw up their hands in exasperation and say fine, he's your dog, he obviously likes you better, we don't want him anymore, but this is probably unrealistic.

So there's a pretty good chance that you're going to see a brand-new dog show up on the blog here sometime in the next couple months. Just 'cause . . . you know.

I mean, we have all this dog food already, and it'd be so wasteful to throw it out.

I mean, maybe not. But we're at least probably going to be looking harder. To date, we've only gone to the animal shelter once. But that might be happening quite a lot more for a while.

Friday, March 5, 2010

List: Houseplants You'll Want to be Growing During the Zombie Apocalypse of 2014

(Howdy to visitors from Homegrown Evolution!)

Although we can't be certain about the location or severity of the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse of 2014, we have a fairly good idea what it's going to involve: there will be zombies, brains will be eaten, civilization as we know it will end, and people will need to be resourceful. And also, obviously, we know it's going to happen sometime in the year 2014, 'cause otherwise the name makes no sense.

Though food-producing plants like potatoes and corn will be of primary importance in the days and months immediately following the rise of the zombie menace, there are other plants, including many sometimes grown as houseplants, which may also prove useful in obvious and non-obvious ways. I have collected a list here. The reader may wish to acquire and begin growing several of these immediately, just to be sure to have enough on hand when the time comes: we only have four years, give or take, so people may need to start propagating some of the slower-growers now.

Please leave a comment if you have any additional suggestions. I'm very interested in everyone's thoughts about the subject.

Abutilon x 'Bella Pink' and other Abutilon cvv., flowering maple. (toilet paper)
Abutilon cvv., with their relatively broad, fuzzy leaves, can be used as toilet paper, according to my dad. He was referring to Abutilon theophrasti, or velvetleaf, a common agricultural weed here in Iowa, but I'm pretty sure the more ornamental Abutilons would work. And who wants to survive the zombie apocalypse without toilet paper, am I right?

Agave attenutata (?) and other Agave spp. (fiber, sewing needles, defense)
Agave species can be planted near the home as a first line of defense against zombie attack. Obviously Agaves will not kill the zombies, since zombies are already dead, but it'll slow them down -- the spines can snag clothing and body parts, slowing down attackers, and in the case of sufficiently dense plantings, attacks might be stopped altogether. In areas where Agaves are not hardy, they may still be useful houseplants: the terminal spines of Agave leaves may be removed and used as sewing needles, and the fibers of dried leaves can be spun into coarse but strong ropes. Larger species like A. americana are most efficient for such uses, but other Agaves can be used as well.

Aloe vera, aloe vera. (medicinal)
Aloe vera is widely respected for its ability to soothe and heal burns, which is very useful if your zombie defense system includes flamethrowers. As your zombie defense system should.

Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant, airplane plant, mala madre. (environment, decoration)
Zombie-resistant fortifications are likely to be airtight or nearly so, both to keep out the stench of rotting zombie parts on your Agave-planted perimeter and to keep zombies from detecting the presence of your delicious, delicious brains. Plants like Chlorophytum comosum will help to improve the air quality of such tight quarters, decorate your living space, and continually produce oxygen so you don't accidentally suffocate while hiding from the zombies.

Cissus quadrangularis. (medicinal)
Cissus quadrangularis has been used, historically, to speed healing of broken bones and injured tendons. It is currently used in dried, processed form as a dietary aid among the bodybuilding community.

Dieffenbachia 'Tropic Marianne' and other Dieffenbachia cvv., dumb cane. (sleep aid)
Dieffenbachia canes, when chewed, cause pain and swelling in the mouth and throat, potentially leaving the victim mute for extended period. Fed to zombies, this will quiet their moans of "Braaaaaaains! Braaaaaaains," enabling you to sleep comfortably, safe in your defensive bunker.

Dionaea muscipula, venus flytrap. (pest control, hygiene, environmental, sleep aid)
Effective as your defensive perimeter of Agaves may be, the zombie body parts they accumulate will begin to stink and rot over time, and with stink and rot come flies. Dionaea muscipula, in large enough quantities, can eliminate said flies and protect you against the diseases they transmit, as well as the annoying buzzing sounds they make as they fly around.

Euphorbia grandicornis, other thorny Euphorbia spp. (defense)
The thorns and sap of Euphorbia grandicornis are capable of deterring or capturing zombies, as with Agave spp., preventing them from getting close to your bunker.

Euphorbia tirucalli, pencil cactus. (secondary defense, offense, fuel)
In the event that the zombies breach the Agaves and/or Euphorbia grandicornis, your first line of defense, you can use Euphorbia tirucalli as a backup: when the sap contacts zombie (or human) eyes, it causes temporary blindness and searing pain, potentially for several days, enabling you to repel the attack or relocate with significantly less risk to you and the other survivors in your bunker. To use, simply cut a few branches of the plant and fling them repeatedly in the direction of the zombies until sap contacts the zombies' eyes. (WARNING: Do not fling sap unless you, and all humans in your vicinity, are wearing goggles or other protective eyewear. Wash all exposed body parts extremely well following the use of Euphorbia tirucalli in defense.) Additionally, processed sap of this plant shows potential as a fuel source, which may be used to power generators or vehicles. This is likely critical, since power plants and oil refinery operations will likely shut down shortly after the existence of zombies becomes public knowledge.

Pandanus veitchii and other Pandanus spp., screw pines. (fiber, defense, cooking, shelter)
The sharp marginal spines on Pandanus can deter or slow zombie attacks, as for Agave spp. The leaves can be dried and spun into ropes, or used fresh as a water-repellent shelter for food or other valuables. Some Pandanus species, like P. amaryllifolius, are used in cooking to impart a sweet flavor and aroma to cakes, breads and meat dishes.

Pedilanthus tithymaloides, devil's backbone. (defense, offense, fuel)
As for Euphorbia tirucalli, though less effective as a form of defense and possibly more effective as a fuel source.

Plectranthus amboinicus, Cuban oregano. (cooking, medicinal, environmental)
Plectranthus amboinicus has a pungent odor similar to oregano, and is used as an oregano substitute when cooking. As spices will probably be difficult to come by once civilization has shut down, this is a cheap way to maintain a little bit of flavor in one's diet. The smell is extremely strong, and may partly mask the odor of rotting corpses from the front lawn. The oil is said to be effective at relieving arthritis pain when applied directly to the skin. As a very tolerant plant which grows quickly, it also has the ability to clean and oxygenate the air, as for Chlorophytum comosum.

Salvia elegans, pineapple sage. (cooking, environmental)
Salvia elegans can be used in cooking to impart a pineapple aroma to food; one can also make a refreshing and anxiety-reducing tea from the leaves. The leaves may also be somewhat useful in masking the scent of dead bodies, as for Plectranthus amboinicus. Its quick growth also oxygenates and detoxifies air. Hummingbirds are attracted to the bright red flowers, which appear in late summer into fall, thus the plant may also be grown outside (it's even perennial in warmer climates) and used as bait for catching hummingbirds to eat. (What's for dinner? Pineapple upside-down hummingbirds!)

Spathiphyllum spp., peace lily. (environmental, social)
Spathiphyllum spp. are relatively easy-care, attractive green plants with a high capacity for air filtering and oxygenation. They are frequently given as funeral gifts in pre-apocalyptic America, and may be useful for expressing condolences to other groups in other bunkers following zombie attacks, facilitating trust between survivors and forming bonds which will help to rebuild civilization after the zombie threat has been eliminated.

Not pictured:

Citrus / Fortunella cvv., citrus fruits. (culinary, medicinal, environmental) (thanks, Daphne!)
Colocasia esculenta, taro. (culinary, shelter) (thanks, Taylor!)
Cordyline fruticosa, ti plant (culinary, shelter, clothing, alcohol, fuel)
Dioscorea bulbifera, air potato. (culinary, visual camouflage) (thanks, Errant!)
Dracunculus vulgaris, voodoo lily. (olfactory camouflage?) (thanks, Kenneth Moore!)
Musa spp. / Ensete spp., banana. (culinary, shelter)
Ocimum basilicum, basil. (culinary, environmental)
Opuntia spp., prickly pears. (culinary, defense/offense, livestock feed) (thanks, Andrew!)
Salvia officinalis, sage. (culinary, environmental)
Sansevieria trifasciata cvv., snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue. (fibers, environmental)
Yucca guatemalensis, spineless yucca. (fibers)
Zingiber officinale, ginger. (culinary, environmental, medicinal)

P.S. in response to criticism on a forum I don't want to register for just to make this one point and then never visit again: Yes, I know none of these would survive outside in a northern winter. "Houseplants" is in the title for a reason.

The reason being that sometimes they would have to be grown in the house.

As one does with houseplants.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Personal-ish: Good News All Over the Place

At long last, after several months of taking all the plants to the kitchen sink to be watered individually, I can water plants in a bathtub with a detachable showerhead again. The degree of overall life improvement this represents can hardly be overstated. Watering has just gotten much, much faster, because I can now water more than one plant at a time. I can also keep the plants dusted a little better, because now I can spray them down with water without it getting all over the kitchen floor.1 This will also, in theory, keep the spider mites, if not the scale and mealybugs so much, somewhat in check. Also, the rearrangements necessary for installing a shower/tub in the plant room have left me with a bit of open space where, hopefully, the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis that were so terribly afflicted with mites (link) can recover and resprout and stop looking so sad and pathetic all the time.

The watering station. Note that it's sitting on a couple feet of cinder blocks, that the shower head is much lower than anybody would ever want a shower head in an actual shower for human beings, and that the temperature-control knob is relatively small. The temperature-control thing is a big, big problem (I spend large chunks of time trying to get a water temperature that's not going to scald or shock the plants.), but the other two things are deliberate. It's also kind of a problem that the faucet controls are all on the left side, but I am right-handed, and this means that if I'm not careful, the connection for the detachable showerhead will knock over all the plants when I try to use it. But this can, we think, be worked around.

And and and -- the whole arrangement is looking significantly better for my back than the scenario in the apartment was before we moved, because the shower is actually raised a couple feet off the floor, meaning I don't have to bend over repeatedly in order to put things in and take things out, which you would think that my back would get used to doing that if I was having to do it a hundred times a day, several days in a row, but it never, ever did.

I am also thinking that maybe the scale on the Ficus benjamina (link to post about the discovery of the scale) may have been misdiagnosed,2 though I bought neem oil anyway.

Also I just bought five new plants semi-recently (mostly succulents: the Coralville Lowe's has suddenly decided to sell plants again, after a long winter where they mostly didn't: it's a welcome development, but leaves me wondering why they haven't had plants before now), which I'll show you later, and just in general things are looking better for me than they have in a while.

Therefore, we should have a Gazania picture, as Gazanias are the Official Celebratory Flower of PATSP, and some of this seems like it's worth celebrating. So voilĂ :

This whole post, obviously, is what you call "tempting fate," but I'm in a good mood now so I don't even care.


1 It still kinda gets all over the plant room floor. But less so, and the plant-room floor is concrete, not wood like the kitchen floor is, so it doesn't matter as much if it does. And most of the plant-room plants would be thrilled to have the extra humidity anyway.
     In any case, everything always needs to be dusted, because every single step in the home-improvement process so far appears to require generating large amounts of dust, and dust cuts back the amount of light plants can receive, so it's fairly important to stay current on that.
2 I should have taken pictures. I thought of it, at the time, but I figured it was clear enough that it was scale, and I was upset about finding them anyway, and I was already somewhat behind on watering, so I didn't bother. Now I'm wishing that I had, because some stuff isn't adding up -- it doesn't make sense that plants that were very probably never even in the same room together, that were always watered several days apart,a could have gotten scale at the same time. Also 1) I look at the plants every fourteen days: how could a scale problem suddenly appear and get that bad that quickly? 2) How can the Ficus have scale, when the bug-prone plants near it (Dizygotheca, Breynia, Cordyline) did not? (And oh, yes, did I ever look closely.) 3) Since when is it normal for scale to congregate on the tops of the leaves, instead of underneath? And why only on certain specific branches, that weren't even touching one another? 4) Why did I never see any crawlers, only adults? 5) Why aren't they coming back yet?
     Plus, I noticed while trying to clean construction dust off of the 'Margarita' Ficus for the billionth time, just wiping the leaves is enough to cause small pinprick injuries that bleed sap, which can dry to a brown, slightly-domed shape that resembles scale, so now the theory is forming in my mind that maybe the Ficus was injured in a widespread but patchy way following a watering, which caused the leaves to bleed sap, which when dried looked like scale.
I don't remember beating the plant with a wire brush or kicking the plant down the stairs -- which if my "injury" theory is correct, something like one of those would have had to happen -- but I do recall there being some sparks flying from a metal grinder being used in the room, during the watering-station install, and I've picked what I believe are melted metal bits out of a plastic pot I was storing in the general vicinity of the Ficus, and in theory that could explain the suddenness and the odd distribution. Also I'm not seeing any new stuff on the Ficus that looks like scale, so maaaaaaaybe it wasn't scale after all.
I'm not sounding the all-clear just yet, and I'm still treating the plant as though it had scale, but the possibility exists that one of my problems has been fixed, and another of my problems was never one of my problems.
The Neoregelias definitely had scale, for sure, still. But things are looking relatively good even there; I've done the alcohol rub-down with them twice now, and the second time I didn't even see anything that looked like scale, so things are looking up on that front as well.
          a My plant-watering spreadsheet sorts plants alphabetically by rooms, so during every watering cycle, I start with the ones in the basement, then the living room, then my office, then the husband's office, then the plant room. Which I have only just realized spells "BLOOP." And, within a given room, I generally go in the same order: start at one end of the room and work my way to the other side. The Neoregelias that had scale were at the end of the basement group, and the Ficus was four rooms later, at the end of the plant-room group, so not only is it extremely unlikely that they ever touched one another, it's extremely unlikely that I would ever have touched one and then the other within the same day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pretty picture: Vuylstekeara Aloha Sparks 'Ruby Eyes'

I'm not impressed by these pictures. I don't know what went wrong here exactly, but they don't strike me as being . . . right, somehow. Still, they're the only pictures I've got, so I guess I have to use them anyway.

As is sadly typical with orchids, the name is sort of a word salad.

Vuylstekeara is also orchid-typical in that it's a three-genus hybrid (also called a trigeneric hybrid, which means the same thing), of Cochlioda, Miltonia and Odontoglossum.

This is the first Vuyl. I've seen, or at least the first one I've seen that was identified as such, and I'm a bit underwhelmed. The color's nice, but I also feel like I've seen this flower before. So whatever. Am I being too harsh?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It Girl (Dracaena reflexa 'Riki')

According to Wikipedia, the term "it girl" was coined for Clara Bow, the hot silent film actress of the time, and has been used ever since as a term for the hottest, most popular actress of whatever given moment you're talking about. I'm not sure who the It Girl of 2010 is, but I'm pretty sure Julia Roberts was the It Girl of 1990, if that tells you anything about the term.

Clara Bow, 1927, in the movie Wings. Photo from Wikipedia.

Anyway. In 1927, Clara Bow starred in the silent film It. The movie was an adaptation of a story by Elinor Glyn. And Elinor Glyn defines "it" in the story thusly:
"IT" is that quality possessed by some which draws all others with its magnetic force. With "IT" you win all men if you are a woman—all women if you are a man.1 "IT" can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.
and also,
Self-confidence and indifference whether you are pleasing or not—and something in you that gives the impression that you are not at all cold. That's "IT".
In other words, mostly sex appeal.2 But sex appeal that's not superficial, or at least, sex appeal that's not only superficial. What might be termed "charisma," or "star quality," with a certain amount of popular-for-being-popular in there too.

Clara Bow ca. 1924. Photo from Wikipedia.

Anyway. So that's what I mean by "it" and "it girl."

Cameron Diaz (of There's Something About Mary -- a film title which is itself about "IT," except in this case "IT" is "Something," which doesn't sound as neat) is my guess for who would have been the It Girl of 1998, though one could make a solid case for Gwynneth Paltrow. Either way. The reason 1998 is important, and how it ties into our plant here, is that 1998 is when the cultivar Dracaena reflexa 'Riki'3 was officially patented. According to its patent, it was discovered in 1993 as a naturally-occurring sport of Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India,' among a group of plants being cultivated in the Netherlands.4

Dracaena reflexa 'Riki.'

Now, to me, what's interesting about this is that 'Riki' and 'Song of India' don't really look anything alike. This is Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India:'

Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India.'

Compare to the picture of 'Riki,' further up the page. Would you think they were the same species if I hadn't just told you they were? Hell, no. The coloration is backwards: 'Riki' has dark green leaves with a yellow-green center; 'Song of India' has light yellow leaves with a greenish gray center. 'Riki' has fairly stiff, thick leaves with ridges running their entire length; 'Song of India' has lighter-weight, smooth leaves. 'Riki' has long, narrow leaves -- the plant of mine I've had longest has leaves two feet (61 cm) long -- while 'Song of India' has leaves that are only about 4 to 6 inches long (10-15 cm).

So this seems, you know, very weird to me. Not impossible to believe, because plants do weird things all the time, but I think it's interesting that 'Riki' wasn't a sport of 'Song of Jamaica,' which at least has similar coloration. That would be more believable. But anyway.

Dracaena reflexa 'Song of India' (L) and D. r. 'Song of Jamaica' (R)

I don't recall seeing 'Riki' in stores prior to August 2007, when I started working in the greenhouse, but boy howdy did they make an impression on me the first time I did see one.5 Three plants to a pot for $50, though, put them out of my price range. So I did the logical thing -- and divided one of the three-plant pots into single-plant pots, priced them each at $15, and sold one to myself.

It did very well. So I bought a second one. And then some time later, Lowe's had some on the clearance cart for $2. So I bought them out, winding up with another four. And they've all been great. Seriously. 'Riki' is going to be huge someday. (With any luck, they'll replace Dracaena marginata.) Whatever "it," the quality that makes a plant a star, actually is, 'Riki' has it.6 And I'm not the only one who's noticed: 'Riki' won the UK's Office Plant of the Year for 2009, the first year it was given, beating out office standards like Spathiphyllum spp. and Sansevieria trifasciata.7

Dracaena reflexa, the species, has a kind of scary reputation, as Dracaenas go: supposedly they're fussier, quicker to drop leaves, and that sort of thing. This may be true, to an extent, but it's been my experience that 'Riki' actually holds on to its leaves quite well. Much better than D. fragrans, for example. I also don't find them fussy at all as far as what conditions they require, which is perhaps a good lead-in to the care instructions:

LIGHT: Indoors, these seem to do best with partial or filtered sun: an east or west window, maybe a south window through a sheer curtain. 'Riki' will grow in much, much less, but without at least some sun, the yellow coloration pretty much disappears.8 Very low light will also cause the new leaves to narrow, though aside from leaf narrowing and darkening the plants seem to accept their situation just fine.

WATERING: Normal procedure for a Dracaena is to let the soil dry out almost completely, then saturate it with water, let the excess water drain out, and then wait for the soil to get almost completely dry again. Keeping it steadily moist over a long period is bad. Pots with no drainage are almost certain death. Using very water-retentive soil (like Miracle Gro straight from the bag, or anything with a lot of peat in it) won't dry out fast enough, which is bad. I occasionally see the advice that 'Song of India' and 'Song of Jamaica' prefer to be wetter than other Dracaenas; I'm not positive that this is true. I don't think I've ever actually had a Dracaena of any species or variety complain about being too dry, come to think.

TEMPERATURE: As with Dracaenas generally, don't go below 60F (16C) if you can help it at all. And if you must go below 60F, then at least try to keep the plant out of strong winds, which will damage the plant a lot more than cool temperatures on their own.

HUMIDITY: This is the one area where D. reflexa is supposed to be substantially different from other Dracaena species; they're said to need high humidity. All the books say so. It has not been my experience that 'Riki' requires high humidity for good growth, however. In fact, it seems to do really well in low humidity.

PROPAGATION: Is just not really very practical for most people, if you're wanting to produce ever-larger numbers of plants. As a way to salvage a too-tall or ailing plant, propagation is still not incredibly easy, but it should be doable. I have not yet tried propagation with 'Riki,' but I've rooted a stem cutting of 'Song of India' in water before, and then transferred it to soil when the roots seemed substantial enough to get by.

Whether the old stem would resprout or not, I don't know. We cut back some plants at work once due to mealybugs, but ended up throwing the stumps out because they got mold on the cut almost immediately. Even if it had resprouted, there's no particular reason to think that it'd look particularly pretty: I expect that if they resprouted full, lush heads after being cut back, we'd be seeing them sold that way, as is done for Yucca guatemalensis and Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig.' It could also be the case that they'll sprout new heads, but do it so slowly that it's not economical to produce them as staggered-height canes. More investigation is clearly needed.

PESTS: If 'Riki' has a weak spot (and I'm not conceding that it necessarily does), this would be it. They're mostly resistant to spider mites (they can get mites, but it doesn't happen easily, and when it does happen, it isn't particularly disfiguring or hard to treat), and I can't imagine that thrips or aphids could get much of a population going, but they are susceptible to mealybugs in a way that most Dracaenas aren't (except maybe for D. marginata, q.v.), because of the way the leaves are constructed.

The leaves on 'Riki' have lengthwise ridges and grooves.9 Unfortunately for all involved, the crevices are deep enough, and the leaves stiff enough, that pests like mealybugs can hide in the grooves and be more or less protected from sprays. We had one shipment of 'Riki' come in with a few of these in the leaves:

I wasn't sure what they were. I would have mentioned it to our supplier, but I'd complained about several other pest-related issues in the previous order and didn't want to give her a hard time over nothing, especially if I wasn't sure what they were. It was a weird location for mealybugs, it looked a little too "tidy" for mealybugs, so I told myself it was probably a spider egg sac or something, took a picture, wiped off the few that I saw, and went on.

Shortly thereafter, all the new 'Rikis' from that batch had mealybugs, but it still wasn't conclusive, because there were other plants near them that did too. The mealys might have gone from the 'Rikis' to the other plants, but they could just as easily have gone from the other plants to the 'Rikis.' By the time anybody noticed, it was way too late to tell what had happened. So I never figured out whether I should have said something or not.

I don't think they're particularly likely to get mealys in the first place -- the plants in that one batch are the only ones I remember ever seeing anything questionable on -- but this is a factor in how you have to approach getting rid of them, if it happens. You will probably have to get some Q-Tips and rubbing alcohol and clean out the grooves in the leaves, one by one; it's too easy for a spray to miss them. Imidacloprid, or some other kind of systemic insecticide, would probably help too.

GROOMING: Pretty minimal. Like other Dracaena species, they are sensitive to fluoride, which will cause burnt leaf tips. In my experience, it's easier to water thoroughly and flush any fluoride out of the pot when you do so, so it doesn't ever have the chance to build up, than it is to water with unfluoridated water (distilled, reverse-osmosis, rainwater), so it never gets added to the soil in the first place. But do whatever works best for you.

FEEDING: As a general rule, Dracaenas need little food, and they don't need it very often. You could probably go to a quarter-strength with each watering, or even every second watering, and be fine. Too much food will just burn the roots and set the plant back.

I've only had my original plant for two and a half years, which is long enough to know that I like it, but probably not long enough to have seen everything it's capable of (whether good or bad). So there might still be some kind of huge personality flaw that's going to keep 'Riki' from taking the world by storm. Maybe after a 'Riki' plant hits six feet tall it spontaneously catches on fire or something.

But I really doubt she's hiding anything like that. I think we're looking at a star here, and if you haven't seen one in your area already, you're going to, soon. So get used to this face, 'cause there's just something about 'Riki.'


Photo credits: Clara Bow pictures are public domain photos from Wikipedia; 'Riki' and other D. reflexa pictures are my own.

1 The word "heteronormative" had not yet been invented, so sweeping generalizations about what you could do to all men or all women seemed more reasonable back then. Apparently.
2 Dorothy Parker's observation about Clara Bow: "'It,' hell ... [S]he had those."
3 Occasionally misspelled 'Rikki.' But the second "k" is wrong. I've also seen it spelled 'Ricki' on-line. Still wrong.
4 The patent seems fairly straightforward on this point, and yet I found websites claiming other things. One said it's a variety of D. deremensis that was discovered in "the cutting fields of South America" (ref.); another calls it a variety of D. fragrantissima (ref.), which is an obsolete synonym for Dracaena fragrans, and which is likewise wrong. I mean, if we believe the patent. Which I think we ought to.
5 It seems unlikely, but I suppose it's possible that we had the very first 'Rikis' in town. When I interviewed for the job, I was already pretty hardcore on the plant-collecting (I think I remember writing in my application that I had 208 plants at home), so it seems like if anyone else in or around Iowa City had had them at the time, I would have already owned one personally, and wouldn't have been as impressed by them a few months later when we got the first ones. But then I think about how much other stuff I've failed to notice, through the years, and . . . well, maybe we weren't. I don't know.
6 I hasten to point out that I think the plant's sex appeal is questionable. I mean, I don't want to. I'm sure there's somebody. But no, I don't find the plant sexy in any but the most metaphorical sorts of ways. Just in case you were, you know, worried.
7 It's questionable whether this means anything; the award may be wholly arbitrary, as a lot of industry-related awards tend to be. But it sounds sorta impressive, right?
8 This is semi-reversible: once a leaf goes dark green, you can't bring back the yellow on that particular leaf by giving it better light. However, new leaves on such a plant will begin coming in variegated again. In any case, the claims I've seen on-line that it maintains its variegation in low-light situations is a lie straight from the depths of Hell. Unless we have a really different understanding of what constitutes "low light," in which case it's only a misunderstanding from the middle part of heck.
9 On some leaves, the margin of the leaf is also folded over on itself. This is something you wouldn't notice unless you inspected them pretty closely, and I don't think it matters in any significant way, but it's another weird thing from an already-weird plant. 'Song of India' doesn't do anything like this as far as I've seen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pretty picture: Medinilla cv.

I don't know much about Medinilla. WCW has grown them indoors before, but all that really tells me is that it's in the kingdom Plantae. Can't imagine they're particularly easy indoors.

I have not yet seen any of the flower buds actually open yet, and sort of doubt I'll have the chance to: stuff like this tends to sell before the show ever gets started.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unfinished business: fern babies, Anthurium babies

I am extremely sorry to have to report that the baby Cyrtomium falcatum and Asplenium nidus ferns I started forever ago, as well as half the Anthurium andraeanum seedlings I started half a forever ago, are not going to make it. I'm even more sorry to report that the reason why they didn't make it is really stupid. I got greedy.

But first, a quick recap.

At some point I didn't bother to write down, I brought home some fern spores from work. I put them on wet vermiculite, and in November 2008 I had the beginnings of baby ferns.

Eight months later, in July 2009, they'd developed to the point where there were signs of actual fronds developing, which was pretty exciting.

Meanwhile, I had some seeds form on an Anthurium andraeanum 'Pandola' that I'd bought in spring 2009, and I planted half of them with some Begonia leaf sections I was trying to propagate, and the other half, I planted with the baby ferns. And they developed and grew and all was good. So at this point we've got some developing Cyrtomium, Asplenium, and Anthurium, all in the same container of moist vermiculite.

And then I did something really, really stupid.

I had bought, somewhere in winter or spring 2008, a bunch of seeds of various tropical plants. I was going to plant them, and raise many, many baby plants, and it was going to be fun and awesome and stuff. Unfortunately, I planted the seeds in a plug tray, which I then failed to keep watered, so the seeds didn't sprout.

But I'd remained hopeful, and didn't throw the seeds out, because who knew, maybe they'd still be good for something. Which I apparently found a convincing argument until sometime during the summer of 2009, when I decided that there was no point in hanging on to plug trays full of very dry dirt anymore; if they'd been viable to begin with, surely they no longer were.

Which in retrospect was a really good decision.

However! As I was dumping them out, I noticed the Cordyline fruticosa seeds, which were big enough to be easily picked out of the soil and recovered. And I thought: hey. Maybe I could still plant these. What could it hurt?

The answer turned out to be, everything. It could hurt everything. Because, see, the seeds, when planted in the vermiculite, also introduced some odd little bugs, which I'd never seen before. I also kind of haven't seen them since, or at the time, because they are/were very tiny and semi-transparent and moved around a lot. This is the best picture I was able to get of them:

And this is the scale we're talking about:

So. Trapped in a more or less airtight plastic container with nothing to eat but developing seedlings and . . . um . . . let's call them sporelings, these bugs slowly went about the business of eating what was there to eat, apparently from the roots up. So the tops of the ferns withered, then browned, then collapsed. Patches of the ferns went black and slimy, and the Anthuriums turned sort of a weird bronze color (though they hung in there for quite a while, way longer than the ferns). I dithered for a long time about whether or not to throw the whole thing out, and eventually decided to toss 'em . . . right at about the same time I noticed that the Cordyline seeds were beginning to sprout. (So at least we know they can still be viable after sitting around for a couple years, even if they're totally dry for a six-month stretch there in the middle.) But the Cordylines were also bronze, and kind of stunted-looking, even for seedlings, so out the whole thing went. (No pictures. Too painful.)

So there's the whole tragic tale. I've started over again, with fresh vermiculite and fresh spores (obligingly produced by my own personal Cyrtomium last November, almost like it knew I was going to need them -- maybe I should have gone with "Psychic" for the "person," when I wrote the Cyrtomium falcatum profile), and so maybe in early 2012 I'll have some news on that.

The moral of the story, clearly, is: don't put nonsterile seeds into sterile media if you really value the stuff that's already growing in the sterile media. And insects are bad.

One could also make a case for part of the moral being that ferns are slow, frustrating, and not worth trying to raise from spores, but I'm not going there just yet.

The reader will be relieved to hear that the other half of the Anthurium seedlings, the ones with the Begonias, are still intact. I moved them into a 3-inch pot a week or two ago, because the Begonias were getting too big for the container and I couldn't transplant one without also doing the other, and so far they're doing okay, though I do worry a little.