Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

On Wednesday this week, I happened to look over at the terrarium and saw Nina doing something I've never seen before: she was hanging on the wall, like she does, but for some reason she wasn't staying stuck. Instead, she was slowly sliding down the wall while at the same time walking back up it, so she wound up walking in place, at a 90-degree angle. (Surely I'm not the only one here who's felt like that.)

She didn't do it for very long before jumping to the ground, but still -- it's been so long since I saw her doing anything new that I was pretty amused by it.

No idea why she would have been sliding in the first place; ordinarily she sticks just fine. Maybe she's dirty? Or the wall is? Or she's too clean? She did just shed her skin recently.

In other Nina-related news, her new plants are filling in surprisingly fast. The Pellionia pulchra is particularly surprising me; it'd gotten along in the living room just fine for a long while, not really growing a lot, but not dying back or complaining either, so I thought maybe they just aren't fast growers. But it turns out that the drier air, or drier soil, or small pot, or something was clearly restraining it, because since I planted those in there, they've been growing like gangbusters.

If gangbusters was a small, fast-growing, trailing plant.

Compare the original shot right after the plants were put in --

-- to the situation now, only about six weeks later. The Peperomia caperata's not so happy (are they ever?), and the Fittonia seems to still be getting accustomed to the new place: it's filled in a little, though not as much as I'd expected, but the Pellionia's everywhere. And such big new leaves in some places, too! I'd liked Pellionia already, but now I really like it.

In other other Nina-related news, she bit me yesterday. Granted, I was chasing her around the terrarium, trying to herd her into a more photographable location, so I was being rude.

Didn't hurt. Pretty sure she doesn't have teeth. I've met scarier clothespins. But still: bit me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

How to Pack Plants for Mailing

SPECIAL NOTE: Just to get this out of the way up front: there are any number of perfectly valid ways to send plants through the mail. I am describing a way that works and is convenient for me, but it's not the only way, not by a long shot, and persons who have mailed me plants in the past should not interpret the instructions which follow as an indication that they did a bad job packing.

First, you will need to try to determine whether you even can send plants through the mail. If you're not a business, you probably technically can send anything wherever, but some U.S. states ban the import of plant material and/or soil from certain other states. Shipping citrus fruit to California, for example, is a no-no. I've located California's list (it's the only one I've needed to find so far), but some of the other western states have similar restrictions.

For what I'd hope would be obvious reasons, sending plants known to be invasive in the state you're sending them to (i.e. mailing Ardisia elliptica to Florida), or plants which are diseased or infested with insects or other pests are bad ideas also.

I asked the Postmaster here about mailing stuff into states with quarantines, and she said she honestly didn't know what happened in those cases: she was sure they would run packages by drug- or other-contraband-sniffing dogs at some point, and maybe also x-ray them, but unless there was reason to think that there were drugs, banned plant products, or other contraband in the packages, she didn't think they were ever opened. So it's quite possible that you could send kumquats to California and get them in anyway. Which makes it all the more important that you try to find out what would be harmful: these restrictions are in place for a reason. If you send a diseased kumquat to Los Angeles and it destroys their whole citrus crop, guess who's paying more for orange juice at the supermarket.


And I guess probably also you, but I'm less concerned about that.)

Other countries are a much more complicated situation, and I'm not clear at this moment whether it's possible for me to, say, ship a couple houseplants to someone in Canada or Mexico. (I'm pretty sure anywhere else in the world is out of the question, if for no other reason than it would take a really long time to get there and/or be prohibitively expensive.) I'm working on finding out, especially with regard to Canada, but if anybody happens to know the answer already, or where I could find the answer, please leave a comment.

In the U.S., they'll ask at the post office if what you're mailing is perishable. (I'd hope that other services like UPS and FedEx do this as well, but I don't know.) I always say yes, and that it's plants. I'm not sure what this actually means in terms of how the box is treated within the postal system, whether your box is actually kept somewhere with moderate temperatures or just gets thrown in with everything else anyway. So if it's going to be very cold along the route, or if the plant may have to sit outside in the sun for a few hours on a hot day, you're probably best to wait and send it later. I usually (always?) send stuff between April to October. Cold is more of a problem for most tropical plants (i.e., houseplants) than heat is, but extremes of either can be fatal, so think first.

Then you'll need a box. For small items, like a single Kalanchoe leaf, you could use a padded envelope, but even for small things I prefer the added strength of a box. I don't know what sort of machinery envelopes get put through.

If the recipient already knows what they're going to be getting, then you don't really need to include a list, or ID tags, but it's neighborly to do so anyway.

Usually I don't: instead I slice up an index card and tape it to the plants after they're wrapped up, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. For our first example, I actually did write a tag (piece of a plastic gallon milk jug: Mr. Brown Thumb is responsible for that idea) and stuck it in with the plant, a Hatiora salicornioides:

Next, I line the bottom of the box with some packing material. In the past, I've used shredded paper, crumpled paper, styrofoam peanuts, and plastic bags, to various degrees of success. I think I prefer plastic bags, now that I've tried them all a few times, but the particular material isn't that important. The idea is just to have a layer of something that will stay between your plant and the edge of the box. This will protect it somewhat against temperature swings, as well as some kinds of mechanical damage.

Then, I put the plant in one of the plastic bags,

loosely tie the top of the bag onto the plant with a rubber band (this keeps the soil from leaking out all over the inside of the box, and also slightly reinforces the stems against crushing forces against the top of the plant),

and then put all that into a second bag and rubber-band it far away from any plant parts. The second bag is not strictly necessary, but in this particular case I wanted to make doubly sure the soil was contained. Some mail-order sellers will insert two bamboo stakes into the soil, to hold the bag up away from the plant and protect against crushing forces against the top of the plant. It shouldn't be necessary in most cases.

Some people, instead of bagging the plant, put packing tape over the top of the soil, or fold aluminum foil up around the edges of the pot, to hold the soil in. Those both work, though I don't do them because: tape is hard to get back off, afterward, and sometimes it sticks to the plant or the packing material and has to be peeled away carefully, and aluminum foil runs a slight risk of injuring the stem.

If they're all you've got to work with, then by all means use tape and/or foil, but try to avoid it if you can. Also I should probably note here that professional plant-shippers tend to stick a wad of shredded paper around the top of the soil and then use packing tape to tape it down to the pot. Again, sometimes getting the tape back off again can be a problem, but it is probably the best way of keeping the soil in place, if that's a major concern.

Anyway. Then the bag gets set down on top of the cushioning layer of stuff you put down first. If you're going to attach a piece of index card with an ID, now's the time to do that.

For plants that aren't already potted-up, like these Cissus quadrangularis cuttings,

the process is basically the same, though I used a sandwich bag to first wrap some soil around the roots before bagging the whole plant up.

Again, tying a rubber band on -- not so tightly that you hurt any stems, but tight enough that the soil's not going to shake its way loose -- can be helpful. Not reliable on its own, but helpful.

I didn't trust the rubber band to be that great in this case, though, so I put the baggie and plant on the side of another plastic grocery bag --

-- and then rolled the bag up around it.

Fold over the loose end with no plant or soil in it, and tie it down with a rubber band like in the first example, and then it's done too and can be set on the pile.

Try not to put plants directly on top of one another if you can help it: you don't want a carefully-packed fragile plant to have a heavy pot resting directly on top of it, and since the box is going to get spun around during shipping, you don't know what direction "on top" will be at any particular moment. For this box, I did try to do a sort of lasagna-packing approach (layer of bags, layer of plants, layer of bags, layer of plants), but I don't usually if I'm working with a small box or limited number of plants; I just try to jigsaw them all in there together in a way where they can't move around much.

You may be wondering about watering. Generally speaking, if the plant is okay when you put it in the box, it's going to be okay when it comes out of the box too: it's dark in there, so it's not going to lose a lot of water to evaporation, and transpiration is reduced simply because there are so many layers of plastic standing between your plants and any dry air that might be outside the box.

Another good reason not to water before mailing stuff, unless you really have to, is that the price to mail your box will depend partly on weight, and wet soil weighs a lot more than dry. (With the U.S. Postal Service, the destination zip code and dimensions of the box also factor into the cost, FYI.) So it costs you to water first, too. If the plant really is dry, you can also just dribble a little bit of water in and then seal it all up. It's not a good way to water in general, but these are exceptional circumstances.

I should possibly take this moment to mention also that a lot of plants like Sedum morganianum, Echeveria spp., Pachyphytum spp., Crassula ovata (jade plants), Saintpaulia cvv., Begonias, etc., are likely to break apart to some degree during shipping even if you're very careful about how you do it. Generally, the plants that tend to shatter also tend to be pretty easy to start from the pieces, so it's not a huge loss, but you should warn the recipient in advance that this will probably happen, because otherwise they may open the box and see a shattered Sedum in there and think it's dead, or be angry with you, or whatever.

Echeveria leaves sprouting new plants at work.

As a final example, we have some Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' cuttings. These were just cut, so they'd be as fresh as possible, but I still had to do something so they could ship without drying out.

So I took a paper towel, and laid it underneath the bare stems (from which I'd removed side shoots and leaves),

folded the bottom of the paper towel up over the stems,

and then rolled the whole thing up.

Then I got the paper towel damp but not sopping wet,

and proceeded as with the Cissus example, putting the plant into a baggie and then into a plastic grocery bag. (I think. I may have skipped the baggie. Two layers would have been unnecessary, whatever I actually did.)

When all your plants are in the box, you should still have a small layer of space available to put packing material on the top, bags or whatever, before closing up the box. I use packing tape to close up the top, and then often put packing tape along all the edges of the box too. This is mostly because I'm neurotic and enjoy taping things, but some of it is also so that if I've done a bad job and soil does start rattling around inside the box, at least it's not going to fall out through the edges and seams and leave trails around the Post Office.

If you've packed the box well, you should be able to pick it up and spin it around without hearing or feeling plants shifting around a lot inside. If you do hear or feel this, you probably should re-open the box and add more bags (or whatever you're using to pack); every shift is a chance for damage to happen, and your box is going to get thrown around a lot before reaching its destination. Too much packing material, on the other hand, is just going to push against the plants and add to the shipping weight, so try to add in just what you need to keep it from shifting around, no more.

Then you can address your box and take it to the post office (or wherever).

I personally try to send all my plants out on Monday or Tuesday, so as to minimize their chances of sitting unclaimed in a closed post office on a Sunday. It also seems to help them get to their destination faster if they're sent first thing in the morning, though that's a lot harder for me to do than the Monday-Tuesday thing, and may only be true for Iowa post offices or something.

Boxes sent by Priority Mail (first class), through the USPS, generally take three or four days to arrive, though I've had a couple arrive in two. Third-class mail is significantly cheaper, but it's also slower (five to ten days), so I don't recommend it unless you're sending exceptionally sturdy plants that won't mind being in the dark for a week and a half.

You should instruct your recipient (if they don't already know) to open the box and let the plants breathe as soon as possible on arrival. It's not necessarily an emergency if they don't pot up all the cuttings and stuff right away, but staying longer in the box without light or fresh air isn't probably going to do them any good, either.


So that's my advice. Contrary opinions or experiences, questions, or comments are welcome. Also this was written quickly and without a lot of proofreading, so if you catch any redundancies, typos, misdirected links, etc., I'd take it as a kindness if you pointed them out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pretty (?) pictures: Tacca chantrieri flower

The ex-job has gotten some Tacca chantrieri plants in, in bud. They're surprisingly big, maybe three feet (0.9 m) tall, with multiple flowers and buds. I didn't get any pictures of the whole plant, because when I was thinking of it, there were people in the way, and then when there weren't people in the way anymore, I forgot I'd intended to. But I did at least get photos of the flowers.

The plants themselves have big, broad, green leaves with maybe a slight iridescent/metallic shine to them. (See pics here and here.) If you didn't know what they were, you'd probably guess a new variety of peace lily. Like peace lilies, they're still attractive when not in flower.

We never get them for sale around here -- these are the first ones I've seen in the area, as far as I can remember, in the three or four years that I've been going around to look at different garden centers -- and these weren't too ridiculously priced. I don't remember how much they were, but it wasn't outrageous. I was, however, not even a little bit tempted, because my understanding is that they're fussy as hell.

WCW had one, or maybe two, plants that she brought from home to overwinter in the greenhouse a couple years ago. They didn't make it, and if I remember correctly it wasn't the first time she'd tried. If WCW can't grow something, the odds are very good that I can't either, so I wasn't tempted at all.

There are at least three other Tacca species: T. integrifolia is also occasionally cultivated as a houseplant, and then also lists T. nivea and T. leontopetaloides. They all have the same structural plan for the flowers: three large bracts, a bunch of "whiskers" extending out and down, and then a batch of true flowers in the middle of the whole thing. None of the pictures in this post show the true flowers completely opened: they're all flexed back away from the flowers' centers, which are the weird things with the red balls in them.

The genus is also of interest to me for being one of very few words that a person can spell using only the letters of the bases in DNA, which are A, C, G, and T. You can spell a, at, cat, tag, gaga, act, tact, and that's about it for real everyday words. Caca, maybe, if you include Spanish words. Tata or Ta-ta if slang's allowed. GATT if we permit acronyms.

Tacca also works, for a fifth letter, and if movie titles are permitted then you can get as far as the seven-letter Gattaca (which wasn't a word until the movie, but I think it counts now) before you hit a wall.

So if anybody discovers a fifth species of Tacca, I would very much appreciate it if they would name it Tacca gaga, Tacca gattaca, Tacca attacca (TACK-ah ah-TACK-ah), Tacca gagaccat (TACK-ah GAH-gah-cat -- which would also be a palindrome, for triple cool points), or something along those lines. I can be flexible on the exact name; I just care about the letters.

I thank the Tacca taxonomists of the world for their time and attention.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Random plant event: Abutilon seed pod

This is the first post I've written in quite a while, because I've been on a partial vacation from PATSP for the last week and a half. I consistently start feeling a slight case of burnout coming on about a month before a hiatus (next hiatus will be late September), so this time I just wrote a bunch of posts in advance and took a break from trying to write any more. This means, among other things, that I'm no closer to having the Aloe vera1 profile done than I was ten days ago. (UPDATE: But it still got finished.)

This will be explained.

However, on the glass-is-half-full side, I used some of the time constructively, attacking the considerable backlog of photos I'd accumulated (rough estimate: 2500-3500 individual photos of 750-1000 different subjects), and actually managed to deal with 2/3 of them, which had the pleasant burnout-reducing side effect of suggesting new topics for future posts. Which posts, once written, will in turn lead me back to burnout, later on. It's the Circle of Blogging. There should be a song.


Maybe not that song.

Anyway. I also had time for updating and slightly reworking the plant list, doing a full round of watering, going back in the archives to add links to recently-posted plant profiles, and playing a moderate amount of Sim City 4. I knew blogging took up a lot of time, but damn.

The actual subject of today's post was discovered during the plant-watering.

It's an Abutilon seed pod. I've never had one before, because for a long time, the only Abutilon I had was 'Bella Pink,' which is apparently not self-compatible. I bought 'Bella Vanilla' and 'Bella Red' at the start of the summer (late May), and tried to cross them both with 'Pink' when I first got them home, by mashing stamens and pistils together kind of sloppily, but nothing appeared to happen, and then 'Red' and 'Vanilla' both stopped flowering for several months, and I tried cutting 'Pink' back so I could propagate cuttings of it, so I couldn't try again until they all decided to flower again. (Which actually hasn't happened yet, though 'Pink' has been blooming for quite a while, and both the other two have buds now. I've had buds develop to a certain point and then drop before, so this doesn't necessarily mean I'll get new flowers, but in theory it's just a matter of time, right?)

Abutilon 'Bella Red.'

Abutilon 'Bella Vanilla.'

And that was where things stood until this last round of watering, which shows me that at least one of the crosses I tried actually did work, and at some point I should have seeds. Which is awfully exciting, since the attempt to propagate from cuttings was a complete disaster. Everybody says that Abutilons are the easiest plants to propagate from cuttings, you just take a piece off and stick it in the ground and away you go, but in my case, I took the pieces off and stuck them in potting mix and then watched as they all shriveled up and died within a week. Which made me very, very angry. (On the positive side, though, I got the first picture in this post by putting all the flowers that I took off of the cuttings together in a box. May or may not be pretty, but it's different.)

People say the seeds are easy too, so maybe nothing will come of me having seeds either, but at least I get to try. I'm pleased.


1 I guess it really is called Aloe vera, not Aloe barbadensis. That's what GRIN says. Whatever is technically correct at the moment, there's so much confusion on the subject that I think I'm okay choosing the one that's faster to type. And everybody knows it as A. vera, so.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pretty picture: Cattleya aurantiaca

Not at all what I think of when I think of Cattleya (in fact, some of what I think about when I think about Cattleya are probably not even Cattleyas, at least not pure ones), but it's not uncharming. I still prefer the color of the cross with Lc. Rojo, but as they say, I wouldn't kick this one out of bed for eating crackers.

Though in point of fact, I would kick anybody out of bed for eating crackers, 'cause, dammit, it's a bed. If you have to eat something, you could at least make it something that's not going to splinter into a million pieces and get all ground into the sheets and stuff. If somebody's insisting on eating crackers on a piece of furniture which is clearly not designed with cracker-consumption in mind, and doesn't see how that's a problem, then I don't think we're likely to have that long of a relationship anyway. And who eats crackers as a snack anyway, crackers by themselves? I mean, I do, sometimes, but that's mostly because they require no preparation at all and I'm very, very lazy when it comes to food. But I assume that other people don't sit down with a sleeve of Saltines and start chowing down. And I certainly don't eat just crackers, in bed, with someone I don't know well enough to have had the crackers-in-bed conversation with.

So no. I'd have to be like, um, _________, you're going to have to leave the bed for a little while if you want to eat crackers. And then when you're finished eating the crackers, you should come back and we should maybe have a talk about foods which are and are not appropriate to eat in bed, and maybe we should also talk about exactly where you see this relationship going if you're not going to be respectful of my desire to not be rolled in cracker crumbs against my will.

In any case, I do approve of the flower.

Monday, August 30, 2010

List: Houseplants With Circular (or Nearly Circular) Leaves

It occurs to me that I could do these list posts differently: instead of telling you what that the criterion is and then listing the plants that fit it, I could give you the list of plants and have you tell me the criterion. Basically "$10,000 Pyramid" for houseplants.

I won't do it that way, because it'd screw with anybody trying to google their way to a list of plants that had the criterion in question. But it'd be amusing. To me.

This one was unexpectedly difficult: I anticipated that I'd find circular leaves all over the place, but actually there are very few. Many otherwise-promising candidates actually have leaves which come to a point at the tip (there's a reason why we call it "leaf-shaped"), or are a little a little too stretched-out to call "nearly circular," or whatever. An even larger number among the succulents had almost round leaves, but with a thick petiole connecting them to the stem (like Crassula ovata or some of the Aeoniums and Echeverias), so the overall shape was more spoon-shaped than circular, and I didn't count them. But so here's what I came up with:

Calathea rotundifolia.

Cissus rotundifolia.

Dischidia nummularia 'Pebble Beach.'

Peperomia obtusifolia variegata.

Pilea nummulariifolia.

Plectranthus verticillatus.

Polyscias scutellaria.

Saintpaulia ionantha cvv.

Saxifraga stolonifera.

Soleirolia soleirolii.

Perhaps to make up for the difficulty of finding a set of ten plants, the recommends are exceptionally easy for this list. Peperomia obtusifolia variegata, Saxifraga stolonifera, and Plectranthus verticillatus are all very easy and tolerant plants. Peperomia prefers somewhat warmer temperatures than the other two, and Plectranthus grows so quickly that it requires a little more maintenance, but they're all pretty easy, 2.0 or below on the PATSP difficulty scale.

The anti-recommend winds up being a tie between Calathea rotundifolia and Soleirolia soleirolii, both of which need a lot of moisture in the air and soil in order to grow well. Soleirolia works out well in terrariums, where it can spread out and form a mat. Calathea maybe would do well in a terrarium too, but it'd need a pretty big terrarium, as C. rotundifolia gets to be a big plant. recommends a spacing of 18-24 inches (46-61 cm) between C. rotundifolias when planted outdoors, suggesting that they can get at least that big across. Your average planted fish tank isn't going to be able to accommodate that.

Not pictured (please suggest others if you think of some):

Alluaudia procera, sort of (some specimens seem to have more of a tendency toward a teardrop or oval shape, but others have round leaves; this is maybe a difference in conditions, or possibly the plant is just naturally variable)
a few Begonia cvv. are kinda roundish, if not actually circular (especially the extremely spirally cultivars like B. rex-cultorum 'Escargot')
Breynia disticha 'Roseo-Picta'
Calathea makoyana, roseo-picta, and some other spp.
Coccoloba uvifera
Ficus deltoidea, barely (often more triangular than round, but there seems to be a lot of variation between specimens, and some produce rounder leaves than others)
Ficus pumila, barely (usually more heart-shaped or oval)
Hoya kerrii, very occasionally (much stronger tendency to be heart-shaped, though sometimes leaves will have less of a notch at the tip)
Hoya obovata, most of the time
Lemmaphyllum microphyllum, sometimes (often more oval or leaf-shaped)
Maranta leuconeura kerchoviana, sometimes (usually more oval: younger plants tend to have rounder leaves)
Muehlenbeckia complexa
Pellaea rotundifolia, frond leaflets
Peperomia argyreia
Peperomia 'Jayde'
Peperomia prostrata
Peperomia urocarpa
Pilea depressa
Pilea glauca
Pilea involucrata 'Norfolk'
Pilea microphylla? (leaves are nearly too small to really tell what shape they are)
Pilea peperomioides
Plectranthus amboinicus
Plectranthus ciliatus
Plectranthus oertendahlii
Polyscias balfouriana
Portulacaria afra
Sedum sieboldii
Senecio rowleyanus (More spherical leaves than circular ones, but close enough.)
Sinningia cvv.
Tropaeolum majus (Though nasturtiums are not very often grown indoors, and they're super-prone to spider mites when they are.)
Xerosicyos danguyi

Sunday, August 29, 2010

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

This batch is maybe a little heavy on the aroids, but what can I say? A lot of them have broad, thin leaves, which makes them very tempting subjects.

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

Philodendron 'Golden Emerald.' A much more interesting plant than the photo makes it appear.

Spathiphyllum 'Golden Glow,' flower spathe. Didn't work as well as I'd hoped, but I get so few chances at white photos that I figured I'd run with it anyway.

Monstera deliciosa. My Monstera has been pretty badly abused: I don't give it a lot of light, or warmth, or humidity. Not that I wouldn't, if I could, but it's big and awkward and I don't have a lot of spots where such a plant could go. So I get thin, pale, unsplit leaves like this one. Good for the transmitted light photos, bad for basically everything else. The especially confusing thing about this is that I took cuttings from this plant, and potted them up together, and they're also growing thin, pale, small, unsplit leaves even though they're getting very good artificial light and in a much warmer location. So maybe there's more going on here than I recognize.

Dracaena deremensis 'Warneckei.' Seems like it's been a long time since I tried a transmitted light picture for this plant. My sense of time, when it comes to these, is kinda screwy, though. I have photographs taken for Part XLIX already.

Philodendron gloriosum. I did finally reach the point with my plant where I had to cut it back. It needed to be repotted, and the thick, woody stems had crawled to the edge of the pot and made a right angle downward. No way to move the plant to a bigger pot without cutting at least some of these stems back, so I did. There's some indication that the cut-off parts might be rooting in water, which would be great news if true, but even if they do root, I'm not sure what I can do with the pieces. At least the plant survived the repotting, though. I'd known that I needed to do this for a long time, and had been scared that the plant would die if I did.

Dieffenbachia 'Starbright.' Looks like an Aglaonema to me.

Aglaonema 'Gold Dust.' Looks like a Dieffenbachia to me.

Zingiber malaysianum. I'm impressed with the range of colors I've been able to get out of this plant, with transmitted light pictures. As far as it goes, I'm still quite happy with it as a houseplant in general, too. So long as I don't neglect to water, it'll grow just fine for me.

Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Glennis.' I've taken a lot of 'Glennis' photos in the hopes of getting one that resembles the way the plant looks when viewed by reflected light. I've realized that that was never going to happen. This is nice too, though.

Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Kong Rose' sport. The weird orange color isn't natural to the leaf, but has to do with the light I was using. It doesn't really look like this, but I liked the effect so well that I kept it.