Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Something new in Nina's terrarium last week: she's now keeping trophies from her cricket kills.

See it? Hanging on the back wall? How about a close-up?

I don't know what to think about this. Maybe she's having a goth phase of some kind, and this is the lizard equivalent of white pancake makeup and black candles? I guess it's her room, and she can do what she wants with it, but it's a little unsettling, is all I'm saying.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pretty picture: Ananas 'Ivory Coast' inflorescence

So far, this is turning out to be an unsatisfactory week. I'm not sick, and nothing in particular has happened: mostly I'm just really tired, like, the sort of tired that normally only happens during the week after a Daylight Saving Time switch.

Election years tend to be hard on me. Particularly terrible were 2004 (the year all Republicans ran against the state of Massachusetts and/or gay marriage) and 1998 (the year all politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, ran against Ellen DeGeneres). This one's not looking good either,1 and the recent string of suicides by young gay men and teens hasn't helped.

There are worse things to be than gay, this election cycle. The house hasn't been foreclosed on, nobody's lost a job, we both speak English, neither of us are, or could be mistaken for, Muslims. However bad of an election year this is to be gay, it's way worse to be Muslim.

But even so. The election is making me tired, and anxious. Also I'm not sleeping well, as of the last three nights (though that has more to do with indigestion than the election), and the not sleeping well is also making me tired, as not-sleeping will do.

Therefore, colorful pictures of pineapple flowers. I don't know whether pineapple flowers require commentary, but if they do, I can't come up with any, so think of something really cool and funny, the kind of thing a well-rested person with no worries would say, and then imagine I said it.


1 There's at least a decent chance that some of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who wrote the pro-gay-marriage decision in Varnum v. Brien last year are going to be recalled: to put this in perspective, no judges have ever been recalled in Iowa since the state adopted the current recall system in 1962.
The reason it's close this time is that the bigots are out to punish the judges for the Varnum decision, and they're getting lots of money (from the Mormon and Catholic churches, primarily, though not exclusively) to convince people to recall. If the judges are removed, it doesn't change the law -- you need a constitutional amendment for that, and it's hard to change the Iowa Constitution, requiring multiple large-majority votes -- but it's a signal to the other judges. If you like your job, rule the way we want you to.
If the judges are recalled, then the governor -- who will almost certainly be Iowa Governor For Life Terry Branstad (governor from 1983 to 1999, and very likely also 2011-2015), a Republican, will be the one to choose their replacements. Branstad's been kind of coy about gay marriage thus far, not making it a central campaign issue. What he has said on the matter falls somewhere between not encouraging and downright incoherent.
In the event, I'm not sure what would happen if the Iowa Constitution were amended to officially exclude gay marriage, whether the husband and I would remain married under the law or not. The precedent from California suggests that we would, but California didn't change their constitution over it, either, so who knows. Even if it didn't affect me directly, it still wouldn't be fair, obviously.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Random plant event / Unfinished business: Abutilon seedling

Not an amazing picture on its own, but I'm very happy about what it represents:

Since I took that photo, two more Abutilon seedlings have come up, plus the plants keep making more seed pods. This is going much better than the cuttings did.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Walkaways Part 11

Just another random batch of stuff I didn't buy. Some of them are very cool, but wrong for me for one reason or another; some would have worked just fine, and I just couldn't justify it to myself because I was buying other stuff instead, or I was having a weird day, or something.

First up is the one that most impressed me.

Ananas lucidus. Ex-job. Don't remember the price.

In person, this is a tall, dark red/brown/black plant with a bit of white bloom on the backs of the leaves. It photographed badly, due to interference with other stuff in the background, and too much light, and the camera being just kind of generally bad at color reproduction. If I have a chance to take a better picture sometime, I will do so. But the point is, this is big and spiky and dark and very cool-looking, but way too big for the house, and buying it would almost certainly have taken more than half the money left in my checking account, so it stayed at the store.

Fruit of Ananas lucidus.

Cyanotis somaliensis. Reha Greenhouses. $5.

Cyanotis somaliensis has been stalking me, I think: I keep seeing it around, and almost buying it, but I haven't been able to convince myself I need one yet. Part of the problem is that I didn't know what it was until fairly recently; once I found out, that was a problem too, because my current Cyanotis, C. kewensis, has been . . . well, not difficult exactly, but sort of hard to communicate with.

But that's been resolved, more or less, so it's probably only a matter of time before I get a C. somaliensis.

Crested Euphorbia lactea grafted to E. drupifera. Ex-job. $25 or $30, probably.

I'm not really a big fan of grafted plants, and with one exception, I don't really care for crested plants either. So this one never had a chance. But I thought it was worth including here for the people who like them; I've seen lots of different color varieties, but I'd never seen one that was speckled like this.

Aglaonema NOID. It was 'Susie' something, or something-"Susie." Possibly it was "Susan," not "Susie." I don't know. It wasn't on the tag; somebody told me and then I half-forgot. Ex-job. $30.

Too much money, but I would have bought it otherwise. I like the red Ags, and this was small enough that I'm sure I could have squeezed it in somewhere.

Aloe dorotheae 'Sunset.' Reha Greenhouses. $7? $5? Something like that.

This was a size problem. I don't have a lot of full-sun spots in the house, and although it might not look it in the picture, this was a big plant. I didn't think I could find a spot big enough for it that also get enough light for the plant to stay red. Plus I was buying two and a half other Aloes already.

Acalypha wilkesiana NOID. Pierson's (Cedar Rapids). Didn't ask about price.

I suspect this is one of those plants that looks great in the store, but when you get it home and try to grow it gets all leggy and pale and needs to be pinched back every five seconds. (See: Iresine herbstii, Solenostemon scutellarioides.) It just has that look.

I was, therefore, not interested. But there's no denying that it looks great in the store.

Bryophyllum tubiflorum. Reha Greenhouses. $5.

I kind of want one of these, but it seemed like the sort of thing I could trade for, rather than buy. Not that $5 is a terrible price for a 4-inch plant, though. I hear the flowers are nice.

Monstera adansonii. Ex-job. $25? $30?

We had these at work when I first started, and although it was hard not to be impressed with the speed of growth, they got out of hand almost immediately. The distance between leaves (the internodal distance) is long, so you get lots of vine but not much leaf. Also, we had occasional problems with spider mites. And it's expensive. It just seemed like trouble.

NOID plant from Commelinaceae. Reha Greenhouses. $5.

I don't actually know what this is. I know it looks like a fuzzier, shorter version of purple heart (Tradescantia pallida), and maybe it actually is, but the lady there said it was something else. They had regular T. pallida there as well, and when the two were side by side, the T. pallida was much darker and smoother. They also had a hairier all-green version (which I think was Tradescantia sillamontana) and a less-hairy plant that looked identical to the above NOID, but was green on top and purple underneath. She didn't know what any of them were called, botanically, but said that the differences in coloration were intrinsic, not the result of getting different culture. This is the sort of thing I could possibly figure out on my own if I took an afternoon to Google, and I'll still do that if I have to, but I'm hoping that maybe someone will know without me having to go to that trouble.

I have no memory of the reasoning why I didn't buy it. It was probably that the two and a half Aloes were just cooler.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Virus warning

Just a heads-up --

I found an e-mail in my spam folder just now that claimed to be a failure-to-deliver notice from the USPS. It was suspicious because the text looked "dirty" (grayish areas around the letters, instead of clean black type on clean white background), and also because it said the package I'd tried to send on September 19 had failed to be delivered. I checked my journal, and not only did I not mail anything on the 19th, the 19th was a Sunday.

It uses a spoofed e-mail address and appears to come from the USPS. The subject line is "USPS Delivery Problem NR#######," where ####### is a random seven-digit number.

The file it asks you to download is called, and contains the Oficla trojan, which is used to create security gaps that can upload other malware to your computer. The virus, or at least this method of delivering the virus, has been around for a while -- I found references as far back as 2008 -- but they're apparently making a new push nowish. (See articles dated 28 Sep 2010 and 30 Sep 2010.)

Your antivirus software will not necessarily catch it, and if downloaded it may disable your antivirus protection. (Older versions did, at least.)

Just so you know.

List: Houseplants Which Could, In Theory, One Day Produce Something Edible, Perhaps

Lots and lots of caveats for this one.

1. I could be mistaken. I've collected what appears to be good information from knowledgeable sources, but they could be wrong, I could have been looking at the wrong line on the page, etc.

2. You might not have the identity of your plant correct, even if I do.

3. Just because some part of the plant may be edible, it does not necessarily follow that the rest of the plant is safe to eat.

4. Even if you and I have both identified the plant correctly and I have good information regarding the edibility, some "edible" plants are poisonous if not prepared in a certain way. Some things have to be cooked first. Some things have to be washed and filtered and washed again, and so forth. Some fruits are incredibly nasty if you try to eat them before they're ripe. And so forth. So don't just assume you know how to prepare it.

5. Even if I'm right about the identity of the plant, and you're right about the identity of the plant, and I've located good information about which parts are edible and under what circumstances, and you prepare the plant properly, if the plant hasn't been in your care for a reasonably long time, it may still have been sprayed with pesticides of some kind and be unfit to eat. Unless you know where it's been, don't assume you can eat it.

6. I also have to qualify this list by adding "in theory" and "someday." In general, tropical houseplants need to be fairly old, large, and healthy before they will flower and fruit, which is fairly difficult to pull off in normal home conditions. One stands a better chance, obviously, with leaves.

7. Even if you manage to get a plant to the point where it bears fruit indoors, or whatever, and you know for sure what plant it is, and I've identified it correctly, and I was working from good information, and you prepare it correctly, and it's been yours for long enough that pesticides aren't a problem, you may find that the fruit (or whatever), when eaten, is not particularly good, compared to the sorts of stuff you could get from the supermarket.

8. And you could be unlucky enough to have an allergic reaction to the plant anyway.

But! Hypothetically! If you were locked in a tropical botanical garden or garden center greenhouse full of houseplants or whatever, and aliens/zombies/genetically-engineered frog-bear hybrids/H1N1 flu/bird flu/Big-Bird Flu1/whatever attacked Earth and killed everybody except for you, these are the plants that could maybe keep you going for a few more miserable weeks as you starved to death, dazed by grief and shock and completely alone. I think I personally would get the hell out of the botanical garden and set up in a nice abandoned supermarket somewhere, with a can opener, charcoal grill, and a few blow-up dolls or mannequins for company, but hey. It's your apocalypse; you do what you like.

Ananas comosus. (pineapple) Edible portion: ripe (!) fruit.

Cereus peruvianus. (Peruvian apple cactus) Edible portion: fruit, seeds.

Coffea arabica. (Coffee plant, coffee tree) Edible portion: flesh of berries, roasted seeds.

Cordyline fruticosa. (ti plant) Edible portion: rhizome, young leaves.

Eriobotrya japonica. (Loquat) Edible portion: fruits (excluding seeds).

Hylocereus sp. (dragon fruit cactus) Edible portion: fruits, seeds.

Monstera deliciosa. (Split-leaf philodendron) Edible portion: ripe (!) fruit.

Musa x 'Cheeka' and some other Musa cvv. (Banana, plantain) Edible portion: fruit, flower, trunk.

Myrtillocactus geometrizans (Whortleberry cactus) Edible portion: fruit.

Opuntia microdasys (Bunny ears; shown), and most other Opuntia species (Prickly pear). Edible portion: fruit, stems.

Of the above, the three I'd recommend would be Cereus peruvianus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, and Coffea arabica. Cereus is definitely a pretty nice guy, and although I don't know Myrtillocactus as well, it seems friendly enough so far, and the fruit is supposed to resemble blueberries. Even if it's a long shot, that's still pretty cool. Also the color is nice -- the photo makes it look more green than blue, but in person it's more blue than green.

Coffea arabica is a weird one to recommend, since it's supposed to be a fairly difficult plant. Monstera deliciosa would be the more obvious choice for the third recommend. But, if I'm honest with myself, my Coffea has done better here than my Monsteras have. So Coffea it is.

The anti-recommend would be Opuntia microdasys, because of the glochids (tiny barbed hairs that get embedded in skin and itch and hurt -- they're terrible). I think Opuntia microdasys is actually the very species of Opuntia that traumatized me as a child in Evil Grandmother's house.

Not pictured:
NOTE: Much of the below information was gathered from Plants for a Future. I'm reaching kind of hard for plants that qualify, but everything in the below list is either a plant I've grown indoors more or less successfully, or a plant I've heard of people growing indoors more or less successfully. Additional suggestions are welcome.
Abutilon cv. (Flowering maple) Edible portion: flowers. Leaves are technically edible but not very good.
Agave americana, A. parryi, A. tequilana (Century plant, tequila agave) Edible portion: baked leaves, stem, and seeds; sap and fermented sap. Some people's skin is irritated by the sap. (Usually too large to be particularly good houseplants.)
Aloe vera (Medicinal aloe) Edible portion: juice from center of leaves. Avoid juice from near the leaf surface if you like the current speed of your digestive system.
Amaranthus caudatus (Love-lies-bleeding) Edible portion: leaves, seeds. (from comments; not common as houseplant)
Aptenia cordifolia Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant; likely harmful in large amounts)
Araucaria araucana (Monkey-puzzle tree) Edible portion: seeds (fresh, cooked). (uncommon as houseplant)
Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya-bunya) Edible portion: seeds (fresh, cooked, partly sprouted). (uncommon as houseplant)
Asparagus setaceus (Asparagus fern) Edible portion: cooked young shoots. Apparently does not include the related A. sprengeri, though I'm not positive about that.
Aucuba japonica (Spotted laurel, Japanese laurel) Edible portion: cooked leaves, but you'd have to be fairly desperate, from the sound of it.
Calathea allouia (Sweet corn root) Edible portion: roots. (from comments; I've never actually heard of it being grown as a houseplant)
Capsicum annuum and some other Capsicum spp. (Ornamental peppers, Sweet peppers) Edible portion: fruits.
•Some Caralluma spp. Edible portion: stems? I assume? Likely toxic in large quantity (from comments; uncommon as houseplant)
Celosia argentea (Lagos spinach, Feather cockscomb) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; I've never actually heard of anyone growing it as a houseplant)
Chamaerops humilis (Dwarf fan palm) Edible portion: young leaf buds or suckers, fruit. (uncommon as houseplant)
Citrus sinensis (Orange), C. limon (Lemon), other Citrus, Citrofortunella, and Fortunella spp. Edible portion: fruit, flowers.
Dasylirion wheeleri and other Dasylirion spp. (Sotol) Edible portion: cooked or fermented stem, flowering stem. (I've seen it sold as a houseplant, but I don't know anyone who's actually grown it successfully indoors.)
Ensete ventricosum (Ornamental banana?) Edible portion: rhizomes. (from comments)
Epiphyllum anguligar Edible portion: fruits. (from comments)
•Some Ficus fruit, but not the species ordinarily cultivated indoors.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Tropical hibiscus) Edible portion: flowers, young leaves (?). Root is technically edible but not very good.
Hydrocotyle leucocephala (Brazilian pennywort) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant but maybe semi-common as aquarium plant)
Ipomoea batatas (Sweet potato) Edible portion: tuber. Uncommon as houseplant, though some ornamental varieties are widely grown outdoors.
Laurus nobilis (Bay tree) Edible portion: leaves (fresh or dried), fruit, flowers.
Liriope spicata (Lilyturf) Edible portion: cooked roots. (Rare as houseplant, though I'm growing the variety 'Cassidy' inside now. It's going so-so.)
Maranta arudinacea (Arrowroot) Edible portion: tubers. (from comments; I've never actually heard of it being grown as a houseplant)
Muehlenbeckia complexa (maidenhair vine) Edible portion: "fruit" (actually swollen flowers). (uncommon as houseplant but not unheard of)
Ocimum basilicum (Basil) Edible portion: leaves.
Olea europaea (Olive tree) Edible portion: fruit.
Ophiopogon japonicus (Snake's beard) Edible portion: root. (Rare as houseplant, though I'm growing O. planiscapus var. nigrescens indoors now. It's not particularly satisfying: growth is slow.)
Origanum majoranum (Marjoram) and O. vulgare (Oregano) Edible portion: leaves.
Oxalis deppei (Iron cross oxalis) Edible portion: leaves, flowers, root. Excessive consumption can lead to calcium deficiency and other problems.
Oxalis stricta (Yellow wood sorrel) As for O. deppei. It's a common enough hitchhiker in houseplants (around here, anyway) that I figure it qualifies as a houseplant, though it's rarely (never?) cultivated indoors on purpose.
Oxalis triangularis (False shamrock, purple shamrock) As for O. deppei.
Pachira aquatica (Money tree, Water chestnut, Malabar chestnut) Edible portion: nuts, leaves, flowers. (from comments)
Passiflora spp. (Passion flower, Passion fruit) Edible portion: fruit. (from comments)
Perilla frutescens (Perilla, Shiso, Beefsteak plant, Purple mint, Japanese basil) Edible portion: leaves. (from comments)
Persea americana (Avocado) Edible portion: fruit.
Portulacaria afra (Elephant bush, Spekboom) Edible portion: leaves.
Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary) Edible portion: leaves. (I know people grow it indoors, but I don't recommend it.)
Salvia elegans (Pineapple sage) Edible portion: leaves. (uncommon as houseplant, but undeservedly so)
Salvia officinalis (Sage) Edible portion: leaves. Can be toxic when used to excess and/or over long periods.
Saxifraga stolonifera (Strawberry begonia) Edible portion: leaves, flowering stem. Usually cooked.
Sempervivum tectorum (Houseleek) but not necessarily other Sempervivum spp. Edible portion: young leaves and shoots. (much better as an outdoor plant than an indoor one, in my experience)
Solanum lycopersicon (Tomato) Edible portion: fruit. (from comments; uncommon as houseplant)
Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia) Edible portion: leaves.
Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) Edible portion: leaves.
Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm, Chinese windmill palm) Edible portion: young flower buds (cooked).
Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) Edible portion: leaves, flowers, seed, seedpod.
•many Yucca spp., including Y. guatemalensis, the only one commonly grown indoors. Edible portions: flowers, fruit, leaves, stems. (from comments)
Zingiber officinale (Ginger) Edible portion: rhizome. (from comments; I'm told it's a fairly uncooperative houseplant)


1 ("Mr. Hooper's Revenge")

Monday, October 4, 2010

Random plant event: Pilea nummulariifolia flowers

Saw this at the ex-job on Friday and thought it was interesting. At least, interesting as Pilea flowers go: usually they're pale green or pink. This red-orange color surprised me.

They're apparently pretty short-lived: when I pointed them out to the greenhouse manager, she said something to the effect of oh, those: I've never seen them before they got all brown and crusty.

I originally wrote that my plants at home have never flowered, but then yesterday I watered the one in the living room and found that no, it does have a few flowers on it. They're not as abundant as in the above pictures, but they're recognizably the same thing, if somewhat lighter in color.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

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

There have been better sets of transmitted light photos, but maybe I can make up for this with my theory about why I like the transmitted light photos.

Some of it is just that there are pretty colors, and I like pretty colors. In fact, that's probably the main appeal, but it doesn't explain why leaves. The world is full of pretty-colored things I could take pictures of. Candy wrappers, yogurt-cup lids, my collection of superballs --

and so on. It's not even strictly a botanical thing, the transmitted light photography, because I could just take pictures of flowers all the time, if I were looking for brightly-colored, botanically-relevant pictures. So there's something specific to the veins.

And I think the explanation is that I see the leaf pictures as street maps. I wind up looking at real street maps quite a bit anyway, but also I used to play a lot of Sim City, particularly the last one, SC4, when I find myself without internet access, or when I'm merely extremely bored and can't work on the blog. I'm pretty sure I did everything I could possibly do with the game a long time ago, but I still like fiddling with it.

The point is that leaf-venation is a transportation network, and transportation networks fascinate me. And different leaves are reminiscent of different kinds of street plans. London (or at least parts of London) has weird, curvy, organic street networks. Washington DC streets are usually straight, but go in every crazy direction. Council Bluffs, IA has incredibly boring, straight, evenly-spaced streets in a perfect grid. Murphy, TX (suburban Dallas) has a more or less regular grid of main streets, but each square in the grid contains all kinds of curved, inefficient streets that frequently subdivide into cul-de-sacs. And I see similar patterns in the leaves. Most leaves fall into the Murphy pattern, but pretty much the whole Maranta family have Council Bluffs veins. Ferns tend to be London-like.

Something to think about, maybe, if you want, as we peruse this thirtieth batch of photos. In a lot of cases, of course, the venation won't be clear from the small versions of the pictures, but you can see them enlarged by clicking on them or opening them in a separate window. Not every leaf necessarily falls into one of the above models, which were only ever supposed to be broad descriptions in the first place, but I've opined below about which plants fit which maps. There are probably better city choices to be made, too, cities with street plans that are more exaggerated versions of the above (though Council Bluffs is pretty extreme already). Feel free to go to Google Maps if you like. (I would have included Google Maps maps in the post, but as I understand the Terms of Service, I'm not allowed to.) There are also some actual landscape shots at that are interesting, if thought of as leaf-veins, from in and near Fort Myers, Florida.

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

Eucharis grandiflora. Definitely built along the Council Bluffs model, though a little less regular than the town. This is a really frustrating leaf to try to photograph -- somehow the venation always seems clearer in person than it appears in the photos -- but I'm impressed with it as a houseplant. I can't figure out why more people don't grow it indoors, but I know there has to be a reason.

Tillandsia cyanea. For obvious reasons, we don't build road networks that have a bunch of parallel roads with few or no cross-streets. T. cyanea will only get the reddish stripes if grown in pretty intense light, and once it gets the stripes, you have to be pretty close to the plant in order to see them.

Heuchera 'Georgia Peach.' The contrast on the photo isn't quite good enough to tell what's going on here exactly, but it looks to me like something in the Washington / Murphy mode.

Asplundia 'Jungle Drum.' Also not much like an actual street map, at least not from this far back. Up close, the veins are mostly parallel, with occasional cross-veins at irregular intervals. Basically a Washington/Council Bluffs cross. Incidentally, I'm basically convinced now that this is actually Asplundia 'Jungle Drum.' Carludovicas look nothing like this, as far as I can tell from the internet. I'll go back and update everything whenever I get the time. I've got quite a list of corrections piling up. UPDATE: Done!

Tulipa NOID, petal/sepals. Also basically a bunch of parallel streets, but the color is pretty. This is probably my favorite of the group, plain though it is.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar,' in black and white just to try something different. Stromanthes are total Council Bluffs plants, though that's hard to see in this photo. The light gray areas, at full magnification, look very orderly, though.

Monstera deliciosa 'Cheesecake.' Also not a good example of road-mappage. In fairness to me, the pictures were in this post long before the road-map thing got added, so I wasn't choosing them with an eye to how well they'd reflect it. Arguably, this means that I should have waited to write about it until I could pick representative pictures, but, um . . . hey, isn't that Halley's Comet?

Stromanthe burle-marxii. Council Bluffs all the way, if you look at the cross-veining between the main ones. The main veins on their own mostly resemble Fort Myers. The coloration on this picture freaks me out a little. There's something about it that evokes the word "electrical," for me.

Hoya polyneura. This might be the only Hoya I've ever seen that had venation significant enough to show up in a picture, and looks like sort of a London-Murphy combination. Nice plant. Not a lot of Hoyas out there that I'd consider growing just for the foliage, but H. polyneura is pleasant.

Begonia NOID. Not really vein-relevant (the main veins have that sort of extremely organized haphazardness that you find in Washington, though), but the colors and patterning are pretty. I bought a leaf of this and tried to start new plants from it by leaf-section cuttings, which I only just moved to individual pots a couple weeks ago. Most of those look like they're going to survive, though there are four or five that I'm not going to count on.