Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Things appear to be getting more or less back to normal for me, following the Times article, which is sort of a relief and sort of not. I mean, overall it was a good thing, but I was running pretty close to having all of my time spoken for already, before this all happened, and now there's that much more e-mail to deal with. So: if I owe you e-mail, I am most likely aware of it, and working on a reply, but . . . all of our operators are currently busy assisting other customers; please stay on the line; we value your business. [Muzak version of "Conga," by Miami Sound Machine, resumes playing]

Meanwhile, this week's Sheba and/or Nina picture is an older one, from Nina's terrarium-cleaning this summer. She was doing something really adorable on Wednesday night (sleeping on a Vriesea leaf, tail curled up, eyes closed), but I couldn't get a picture of that -- there's not enough light in my office once the timer shuts off Nina's light, and of course if I turned on a light to get the picture, I'd just wake her up and wouldn't get the shot anyway -- so I'm sorry.

Also, it's soon going to be time to do something about the Pellionia, which has, amazingly, nearly covered the floor of the terrarium and is working on crawling up parts of the walls as well. I am, frankly, amazed at the difference between growing it in the terrarium and growing it in a pot in the living room: when it likes where it is, it's very fast. Fittonia fans will be relieved to know that the Fittonia is holding its own.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pretty picture: Laeliocattleya Crownfox Sweetheart 'Paradise'

This is awfully close to what I picture in my head when I talk about the flowers from Cattleya alliance crosses, even if the lip is not all that frilly. I'm especially pleased with the light purple lines down the center of the petals and sepals: it's a nice touch. I'd like this a lot less if the petals and sepals were pure white.

I did Google, but didn't come up with a whole lot of interest about this one. Two sites sell it: one site sells this plant in Canada for $30 Canadian, plus $10-20 shipping; another site sells the same plant in the U.S. for $17.50 plus $10 shipping plus maybe more; it's kind of unclear how the shipping works on the second place. The flower is supposedly very fragrant, but I wouldn't know: this was eight months ago, and I couldn't get close enough to most of the flowers in the show to detect a fragrance.

The parentage is Laeliocattleya Memoria Robert Strait x Cattleya walkeriana; I couldn't find the parentage of Lc. Memoria Robert Strait, though I also didn't look very hard.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Question for the Hive Mind: Crassula rupestris?

I either need the help of a Crassula expert or a person who is not a Crassula expert but has the ability to talk about them in such a way that everyone will think s/he is correct. I don't particularly care which.

The reason is, I need someone to settle for me, once and for all, whether this is Crassula rupestris or Crassula perforata.

It was identified as C. perforata when I first got it, but then I've subsequently seen plants called C. perforata that looked very different, with much larger leaves and longer internodes (distance between leaves):

The above pictures could be different varieties of the same species; I saw a picture on line that made me think C. perforata 'Tom Thumb' was a possible ID for this plant, but I don't remember where it was, so I can't link to it. And, unfortunately, this page at Dave's Garden says that 'Tom Thumb' is a variety of C. rupestris, not C. perforata.

I've been confused about this for quite some time, but it's suddenly important that I figure it out, because whatever the plant in the top photo is, I'm going to write about it for the next plant profile. (UPDATE: Which has now been written.) So I have to settle on an ID before I can start, because search-and-replace on blog posts is a pain. Please help.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random plant event: Schefflera arboricola blooming

Here's one I never thought I'd see.

Technically, I don't know that this is a flower, but the few photos I was able to find on-line make me think that this is the very beginning of a developing flower spike on Schefflera arboricola. Not sure what cultivar; some yellow-variegated thing.

The weirdest part, though, is where I found it: a dark corner of the plant display in an Iowa City hardware store. (The Ace Hardware on Dodge St. in Iowa City, if you're in the area and want to gawk.) It looked like it had probably been there for a while, too, like this might have been the plant's way of keeping itself entertained while it waited to be purchased. Or maybe it's flowering 'cause it thinks it's going to die.

I don't know what it was thinking. I do know that this is the only time I've ever seen this, despite having met an awful lot of S. arboricolas, and I was impressed. Or confused. Or something.

I considered buying the plant, so I could watch and document the whole blooming progress, and if it had been anything other than a S. arboricola, I probably would have, but I'm just not a fan. I have one, because I wanted to give the species a chance, and it's done fine for me, but I don't need another. (I like S. actinophylla fine, though, and would buy another if it were doing something cool like this: I can't explain why actinophylla works for me and arboricola doesn't.) I feel mean for saying so, but that's why it didn't come home with me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charlatan (Sansevieria cylindrica)

Marketers! Are they able to feel shame?

This is something I truly wonder, sometimes, not a mere humorous overstatement. I figure probably they feel a twinge of something, from time to time -- weltschmerz,1 maybe, or indigestion -- but it seem to me that if they could feel what I feel when I feel shame, they'd have to find another job. The question then becomes: if they're not feeling what I'd feel, then what the hell are they feeling?

And I'm not saying that everybody who's ever had a marketing job is evil and inhuman.2 I'm also not saying I'm Mother Theresa here.3 I'm just saying that lying (or misrepresenting the truth) for the sake of taking someone's money is bad, and I have the capacity to feel bad when I manipulate people into doing stuff that's not in their interest. This should not be a high ethical bar to clear.

And yet --

The tag reads: "In earlier times the horns were thought to capture wisdom. As your own wisdom expands, more horns grow."

This appears to be the work of one particular marketing firm, BDK Marketing Inc., and it's a pretty transparent attempt to capitalize on the existing markets for "lucky bamboo" (Dracaena sanderiana) and "money tree" (Pachira aquatica). In this particular case, I think they may have miscalculated, though. Everybody wants to be lucky, and rich always sounds like a good time, but wisdom's a tougher sell: it implies thinking, and as we all know, thinking is hard.

I would have gone with something more like True Love Vine (Philodendron hederaceum), Happy Grass (Chlorophytum comosum),4 or Sexy Violet (Episcia? Saintpaulia?).5 Maybe Erection Cane (Dieffenbachia?) if one really wanted to get people's attention.6

I can think of one other problem with "wisdom horns" as a marketing strategy.

I assume that most of the "lucky bamboo" and "money trees" out there are given as gifts, rather than something a person buys for him/rself. And as gifts, I don't object as much to the marketing: it's fine to wish someone good luck. In a lot of situations, there isn't anything else you can do. Wishing someone good luck in a more tangible way, by giving them a plant, doesn't bother me. On the other hand, buying a plant for yourself, with the expectation that it's going to be magical and turn your whole life around, is asking the plant to do things it's not capable of.

But this is a slightly different case. It's all well and good to give a gift plant as an expression of "good luck" or "hope your new business makes lots of money,"7 but a gift plant that says, "hope you stop being stupid" is awfully backhanded, don't you think?8

There's also the matter of the bald-faced lie in the ad copy here. Nobody has eeeeeevvvvvvvveeeeeeerrrrrr thought that this plant captured wisdom (whatever the fuck "capturing wisdom" would even look like, or accomplish) until BDK came up with this particular marketing campaign. There is no wise Buddhist monk meditating on a Japanese mountain who believes this. There are no African tribes that have passed this idea down through the generations.9 There is no Biblical story of King Solomon, famed throughout the world10 for his wisdom, involving a Sansevieria cylindrica. This is a marketer knowingly lying to you, in order to get you to buy a plant s/he thinks you would not otherwise buy, and so you'll pay twice as much as the plant is worth.11

As good as my S. cylindrica photos get: it's not what you'd call a hugely photogenic plant.

Which is all very sad, because Sansevieria cylindrica isn't a bad plant. I mean, it's not a great plant, either, but no plant deserves to be saddled with all this nonsense.12 "Charlatan"13 is therefore unfair of me -- the plant itself hasn't done anything wrong -- but I couldn't think of a word that more closely paralleled the Sansevieria-BDK relationship.14

I've had my personal specimen since June 2008. It was more or less a work rescue: when I started in the garden center in August 2007, they had a bunch of S. cylindricas in 6 in (15 cm) pots. By June 2008, not one of these had sold, and we had decided that they weren't going to, so I divided a couple into several small pots, and combined others into two huge pots. My plant was one of the divisions, and was judged too small to sell, not worth the space it would take on the table, so I got it.

It's never lost a leaf, or had any bugs, but it's an amazingly slow grower, for me: it had two leaves when I bought it. It has two leaves now. They're the same leaves.

My own personal plant.

My understanding, from looking around on-line, and from the behavior of the plants at work, is that this is unusually slow growth, and that they're normally faster than this. Infer what you will about my wisdom,15 but it probably has more to do with how I've been taking care of my plant.

So what are you supposed to do for them?

LIGHT: The tag says low light is tolerated, which is true: mine's been in low light for some of the time I've had it, and it hasn't complained.

This is also, though, a likely explanation for why it hasn't grown much. Like with the related Sansevieria trifasciata, low light won't kill the plant, but in low light, growth is likely to be slow, weak, or nonexistent. They can take full sun just fine, too, and will grow better and faster that way, so my advice is to go with the brightest spot you have available. The plant will find a way to cope with whatever it is.

WATER: The thing I like best about Sansevieria cylindrica, as compared to the much more common S. trifasciata (snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue), is that it seems to be much harder to overwater. Not saying it can't be done, but I routinely lose S. trifasciatas in the winter (to the point where I'm not going to buy them again for a long time, maybe ever16), yet S. cylindrica has overwintered for me fine, and we never lost any at work either.

I recommend a clay pot, both because clay dries faster and because clay is heavy. (You're going to want a low center of gravity. I'll explain later.) Let the soil dry out to the point where you can't feel any moisture with a finger, as far down as you can go, then water thoroughly. During the winter, you may want to wait a few days after that, even. Never never never never never let the plant stand in water.

TEMPERATURE: Advice on-line varies; the gist seems to be that they'll survive down to freezing but won't make it through a hard freeze, and are best kept above 50F/10C if you want it to do anything. If you keep your house cool during the winter (below 60F/16C, say), cut way back on the watering. Like, maybe don't water at all in the winter.

HUMIDITY: Whatever.

Developing flower bud on a work plant.

PESTS: Also pretty close to a non-issue; there don't seem to be any pests that really love S. cylindrica. That doesn't mean you shouldn't still check for scale and mealybug before you buy one, though.

PROPAGATION: To propagate, cut through the rhizome between the parent plant and an offset with a clean sharp knife. It's probably good to let the cut dry before repotting, but I didn't at work when I divided plants, and we didn't lose any of the divisions.

Leaf cuttings also allegedly work, but I tried once: I waited a year and nothing had happened, at which point I gave up. I'm patient, but I have limits.

GROOMING: The natural form of the plant is: long, heavy, more or less unbendable leaves, in a fan shape. If the plant's dry and in a plastic pot, it has a high center of gravity. This is really inconvenient, sometimes. At work, I was forever trying to arrange the pots so that the leaves from one plant weren't knocking over five other plants. This is actually the main reason why I took home my one, pitiful little two-leaf dude: so far, both leaves are pointing more or less vertically, which is a lot easier to fit on the shelves with the other plants than a full, two-foot-diameter fan would be.

Also, occasionally plants will flower. The flowers are white, and not terribly interesting. I was never able to detect a scent from them, but if memory serves, S. trifasciata flowers don't have a particularly intense odor until about 6 PM, at which point they smell like a hundred funeral homes, experienced all at once. If/when you get flowers from S. cylindrica, then you'll have something to clean up eventually, though if cleaning takes you more than five minutes, then you're doing it wrong.

That's pretty much the only issue with these, though; they don't drop leaves all the time or need to be dusted or pruned or anything, and the center-of-gravity thing is fixable if you have a heavy pot.

FEEDING: Nobody really addressed this specifically, but I'd assume it's rarely an emergency, and not necessary in winter. Stab-in-the-dark guess: half-strength with every watering, but none in winter.

As far as available varieties, I found a few people venturing names ('Skyline,' 'Patula'), but I couldn't see any difference in the plants that were so named. One does occasionally run into plants that have had leaves braided together, which seems a little . . . I don't even know. Maybe I want to say "desperate?"

"Please buy me! I'm braided!"

There is a minor point of scientific interest: S. cylindrica is notable because its leaves are truly cylindrical, in a botanical sense. Botanists say that leaves, even more or less cylindrical leaves like Peperomia ferreyrae's,17 are usually "dorsoventrally differentiated," which means that the leaf has a top side and a bottom side, and the cells are different depending on which it is. In S. cylindrica, this differentiation doesn't happen: there's no top or bottom of the leaf as far as the cells are concerned, just a base and a top. It's not really a big deal; it doesn't have any real-world consequences as far as I know, and you don't have to be impressed, but it's unusual.

Anyway. I don't think this is ever going to be a big, popular houseplant in the U.S., despite BDK's efforts. It's not lush and leafy, and it doesn't make pretty-colored flowers or pretend to be pebbles or something. It's boringly odd. So I sympathize with their desire to dress it up a little, try to make it more interesting. (Even when people try to praise the plant, it comes out sounding kind of pitiful. Jon VanZile damned S. cylindrica with faint praise at by saying ". . . the Sansevieria cylindrical [sic]18 has all the ease and durability of the popular snake plant and the appeal of lucky bamboo." Well holy crap, it's more durable and appealing than that, Jon. Jeez.) It's a shame that they couldn't come up with any ideas that were, you know, honest.

But, you know how it is. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim.


Photo credits: all my own.

1 The greatest word I've learned in my thirties. (Turns out it describes a lot of my twenties. I'd read it well before the last couple years, but it didn't stick in my brain until recently.) Wikipedia defines it thusly:
Weltschmerz (from the German, meaning world-pain or world-weariness) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. . . . It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world—compare empathy, theodicy.

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances. Weltschmerz in this meaning can cause depression, resignation and escapism, and can become a mental problem (compare to Hikikomori).

2 Of course they're not inhuman. Most places won't even read your application, unless you're a human.
3 Though Mother Theresa wasn't exactly Mother Theresa either, it turns out.
4 Though one could argue that "happy grass," as a concept, was taken decades ago.
7 Though "hope you get enough money to pay for that operation / bail your son out of jail / keep your home from being foreclosed" is not okay with me. If they need money that badly, you should skip the plant and just give them the money you would have spent buying it.
8 One of the first-page Google hits for "wisdom horns" mentions the plant in connection with National Boss's Day, which I find adorably backhanded:

It's almost enough to make me wish I had a boss.
9 Though Africans would be slightly more believable, at least. According to GRIN, S. cylindrica is native to Angola, in Southwest Africa.
10 (Or at least the tiny portion of the world the ancient Israelites were aware of at the time. Not their fault: they didn't know.)
11 I'm estimating. The plant in the first photo above was priced at $20, which is maybe approximately fair considering the cost of the decorative pot and pebbles and stuff, but of course if you want the plant to grow well, you're going to have to take it out of the pot and chip away the (glued-together) decorative pebbles, put it in good soil, and so forth. The plant itself is certainly nice, but without the lies, pot, glue, and pebbles, it'd sell for maybe $7-10.
12 Well, maybe poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). But poinsettias already suffer the humiliation of glitter and spray paint, so any reasonable person would agree they've clearly been punished enough.
13 Wikipedia again: "A charlatan (also called swindler or mountebank) is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception." Which I think is basically what we're talking about.
14 That's technically not true, that I couldn't think of a better parallel. Arguably "Ho" would have worked, making BDK the "Pimp," but I'm uncomfortable with the sex worker stuff. I've been feeling bad for years now about using "Hooker With a Heart of Gold" for the Anthurium andraeanum profile, and if I'd had more time, I would have rewritten it long ago. As it is, I just feel mildly guilty every time I link to it.
15 For what it's worth, the plant is growing; the newer of the two leaves is still getting taller, even after growing for two years, so the plant hasn't bothered to start a third leaf yet.
16 The problem is that my usual method of watering is no good for a snake plant in winter. Normally, when it's time to water, I soak the soil well, let the excess water drain away, then wait for the soil to dry out again. Sansevieria trifasciata in winter would be better off getting watered more like most people do, a little bit at a time, just until water starts coming out of the drainage hole.
The reader might reasonably wonder why I don't water this particular plant more like most people do, then, if I know that that's the problem. Well, I'm trying to get better about it, I am, but I have this whole system set up, and giving certain plants different treatment complicates the system. If I stop losing them for a few winters, I may resume buying them: if nothing else, I'd really like a nice S. trifasciata 'Black Gold' again.
17 Peperomia ferreyrae's leaves are more cigar-shaped, I suppose, but I'm trying to make a point here so please let that slide.
18 Auto-correct is a horrible thing for those of us who write with scientific names a lot.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pretty pictures: Mandevilla cvv.

All my experience with Mandevilla/Dipladenia cvv. to date has been work-related. I haven't tried growing one at home because the experience has also all been neutral to negative. They entwine themselves in support beams, neighboring plants' hanging baskets, and one another; they get bugs (especially spider mites) really easily; the spent flowers are always falling off (awkward, for hanging baskets); customers ask for one or the other and won't believe you when you tell them they're the same plant. (According to GRIN, "Mandevilla" is the correct one at the moment.) Things like that.

But they are pretty, in the right circumstances.

I seriously doubt that I'll be trying a Mandevilla anytime soon, at least not indoors. The shelves are already pretty full of plants; there's nowhere to put a new one. Worse, Mandevillas grow fast and grab on to anything they touch, which means that I'd have to try to untangle them every time I did a round of watering. That doesn't sound like a good time at all. And then there's the spider mite thing, which, I already have enough trouble with spider mites.

On the other hand, when you search for Mandevilla on-line, you find frighteningly enthusiastic praise. A lot of it. I don't get the impression that the Mandevilla enthusiasts are trying to grow it indoors, aside from maybe a couple months here or there during cold weather, but maybe I'm wrong. Have any readers tried a long-term indoor Mandevilla? How'd it go? Should I reconsider my position?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unfinished business: Abutilon 'Bella Pink' seedlings

I'd hoped to have the Sansevieria cylindrica profile up today, but, alas, it was not to be, so now we're aiming for Tuesday. (UPDATE: Yup, it was posted Tuesday.)

Just to catch everybody up: I had a seed pod on my Abutilon 'Bella Pink' in September. Collected the seeds from it in late September and planted 41 of them in early October. The first seedling came up within I think two or three days. And this is where we've gotten with that so far:

I count 29 seedlings (one of the two on the left is something else, not an Abutilon), which gives me a germination rate of about 71-73%. (I'm not sure which because I counted 40 seeds when I started planting, but had somehow managed to cover 41 cells in the tray when I was done, so it's likely that one of these never actually had a seed.) And that took about six weeks. It's still possible that more of them will sprout, but 29 seedlings is a respectable number, considering that the plants may or may not be worth growing: crosses between two different hybrids won't necessarily keep any of the desirable characteristics of the parents. At least we'll have the chance to meet the offspring, it looks like.

The seedlings haven't had any cultural problems so far; the seed coat for a few of them stayed on the developing leaves instead of falling off the plant and was attacked by fungus. The plants themselves were unhurt, though, and they weren't using the seed coat anymore anyway. Other than that, it looks like everything's working like it's supposed to.