Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Plans for Nina's new place, mentioned in last week's SMSA/ONP, are coming together much more slowly than I'd hoped.

I have purchased a couple plants specifically for Nina, things I would never have bought without a terrarium to put them in. I'm not going to tell you what they are, because that's Monday's post, but I'm sort of pleased (maybe) about trying a couple new things. Planting them is a ways in the future, still.

The aquarium was dirty when we got it (mostly mineral deposits in rings around the tank; it might have been used for salt-water fish, or it might have just been used somewhere with really hard water), and some of the spots don't come off with just soap and water. There's also a bit of tape residue involved, it looks like. I intend to try cleaning it with vinegar when I get a chance, and maybe acetone or rubbing alcohol if the vinegar doesn't work, but I've been too busy watering, writing, shopping, or lying around with a headache (Tuesday was a bad day) to get to that yet. I also can't plant right away because I haven't chosen all the plants -- I still need at least two more, maybe three, and I don't know what they're going to be, so I don't know where I want to put the ones I have already.

Even once we have the plants in place, Nina can't move in for a while: lid and lights were not included, and we have to figure out what we want to do for those. I asked at the pet shop where we get Nina's crickets, and it looks like a new lid is roughly $20-25, which seems excessive for something that's basically just a wire screen with a hinge in it. And then a light fixture, plus special UV-producing bulbs, adds however much more. So we're at least going to shop around for a little while, if not try to improvise one or both items.

Which all means that Nina's stuck with her ratty old cricket-chewed Vriesea for a bit longer. But maybe I can make up for not getting her anything last Christmas by presenting her with a new apartment this Christmas.

Knowing her, she'll focus on the lack of a formal dining area and stainless steel cricket warmer, and complain anyway. But we'll see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Quad City Botanical Center, Part 1 of However Many

As I mentioned a while ago, there's a Botanical Center in the Quad Cities, the "Quad City Botanical Center." (Whimsical!) Somehow I'd never heard of it before the husband told me about it this past summer. And I know you would expect me to be bouncing off the walls until we were able to visit, but I actually forgot about it for several months, and only remembered I knew about the place when the husband raised the subject a couple weeks ago.

Botanical gardens are strange mixes of things I like and things I don't. On the one hand: plants. Plants are good. But then there's the part where you don't get to take home the ones you like. Even if you offer to pay for them. It took an enormous amount of focus and self-control, for example, not to leave the QCBC with a couple of Begonia leaves. Also, I'm fairly convinced that I will die, or at least become gravely ill, if I do not very soon get a variegated Callisia fragrans like the ones they have there.

Variegated Callisia fragrans.

Botanical centers are also weird places for me because I have so many plants, and have seen so many others, that my perspective is very warped about what counts as a cool plant. A gigantic, healthy Monstera deliciosa like this one --

Monstera deliciosa, split-leaf philodendron.

leaves me kind of cold. You know, big whoop, I have three of those at home. (Not as big or as nice. Not by a long shot. But a plant I'm very familiar with, even so.) I'm not saying this is desirable. It's just, you know, over time, it takes weirder and rarer things to get me excited.

So I don't know whether my opinion on the place can, or even ought to, matter to anybody, but having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by the QCBC. Part of the good thing about botanical centers, as opposed to retail, is that retail is fairly homogenized. No matter where you go, you find more or less the same set of plants over and over, and ordering is constrained by what's available and what will sell (jade plants, peace lilies, Dracaena marginata, pothos, lucky bamboo) than what the person doing the ordering finds interesting. On the other hand, botanical gardens, like home gardens, can cater a little more specifically to an individual's tastes and whims, which I suggest is a Good Thing, even if you aren't the individual being catered to.

So my guess is that someone at the QCBC has a special fondness for shrimp plants (Pachystachys, Justicia), plants in the Maranta family (Calathea, Ctenanthe), and . . . well, I'm not sure what you'd call the third category. We'll get to it.

I saw at least three shrimp plants, but only two were identified.

Pachystachys lutea, lollipop plant.

I was familiar with P. lutea from the garden center where I used to work. We never had any that were that big, though, and I was never that impressed with them. I get the appeal more now.

The second shrimp plant was one I hadn't heard of before.

Pachystachys coccinea.

Pachystachys coccinea inflorescence, close-up.

It might impress you more if it had been blooming as heavily as the P. lutea, but you get the idea from the close-up, I'm sure.

The picture of the third shrimp didn't turn out well; I was having to fight screwy afternoon light, shaky hands, and a lens that kept trying to fog up. So maybe next time on that one.

The Marantaceae plants were mostly Calatheas, with just one Ctenanthe I remember --

Ctenanthe lubbersiana.

-- but they made up for it by including two Calatheas I'd never seen or heard of. The QCBC gets big, big points for C. majestica:

Calathea majestica.

though they lose some points for making me look up the ID. (ID signs were sort of inconsistently placed, and often covered by the plants they were supposed to identify, which I suppose is the sort of problem botanical-garden-type places would have a lot.) There was also a large, sort of plain NOID, which didn't photograph well:

Calathea NOID.

And another one I had to look up, which I think is Calathea 'Wilson['s?] Princep.'

Calathea 'Wilson['s?] Princep.'

Unfortunately, there weren't any very large specimens of 'Wilson Princep,' and the ones that did exist were in weird, hard-to-photograph locations underneath lots of other plants, so I'll have to try again on this photo, maybe.

The final group of plants I want to cover for this post are all commercial plants, things I mainly knew from ingredient lists. The QCBC had several of them. They weren't nearly as pretty as the shrimps and the Calatheas, but I at least have mental images for some of these plants that I didn't have before.

First up, annatto (Bixa orellana). I realized while there that I knew the word, but had no idea what annatto actually is, or is used for. (Probably you know already, but if you're like I was: it's both a spice and a yellow to orange food coloring, particularly common in cheese, says Wikipedia.) The plant itself wasn't terribly impressive, though with a lot of these plants, I have no idea whether the specimen at the QCBC was particularly large or healthy.

Bixa orellana, annatto.

They also had vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), coffee (Coffea arabica), and sapodilla (Manilara zapota, which used to produce the base for chewing gum: gum is now, wikiposedly, mostly produced from artificial polymers), which I didn't take pictures of: I have a Coffea, the Vanilla wasn't that impressive and anyway I've seen them before, and for some reason it didn't occur to me to take a picture of the Manilara, though I remember thinking about it. Supposedly they had allspice (Pimenta dioica), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and bay (Laurus nobilis) too, though I don't remember seeing any of them.

I did get a picture of cacao (chocolate; Theobroma cacao), though I was a little let down; I expected more:

Theobroma cacao, cacao (chocolate) tree.

And the papaya (Carica papaya) was respectable, I guess. Only one I've ever seen in person, anyway.

Carica papaya, papaya.

Finally, they had a couple smallish ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) plants. Fairly nondescript,

Canana odorata, ylang-ylang.

though there was one flower. (I think it may have dropped off the stem already, and just happened to catch in part of the plant, but if it was a dead flower, it still looked pretty. I couldn't detect a smell, which supports the dead-flower theory.)

Cananga odorata flower.

In the next couple posts, I'll take a look at the really big plants they had, some oddities which pleased me, and a few really impressive specimens of plants I already knew about. I'm tentatively planning Part 2 for 7 December, though that depends on me being able to write and sort pictures and etc. a bit more quickly than usual, so try not to be too disappointed with me if I make you wait a few days longer than that.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Other: Menards Parking Lot

Events lined up for me yesterday such that the plants were all watered and the husband had a free day, so we went to Cedar Rapids so he could watch me buy plants. Except he didn't even do that, because he stayed out in the car with Sheba, so really it was more like, he drove me to Cedar Rapids and then watched me bring plant-containing bags out of stores. It's apparently more fun than it sounds like.

Sheba, meanwhile, threw up twice during the trip and then once again after we got her back home, which hasn't happened in a long time, and we're all a little confused about why it would have happened on this particular trip. She'd been doing so well with car rides previously. Sheba never seems particularly disturbed about throwing up, but she's also never really happy about it either, unlike some dogs. Mostly, yesterday, she just seemed kind of tired. (In fairness, the trip was cutting into her nap time quite a bit.)

But so anyway, the point is that I didn't have time last night to get a post together, by the time the plants all got unpacked and photographed and added to the spreadsheets and stuff. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have gone out without having a post ready first, 'cause I'm all responsible like that, but I've been working for a couple weeks now on a post about the trip to the Quad City Botanical Center, and it hasn't been going well. Also it might want to be three posts. I don't know. The upshot is that I've been running around a lot, and this could pay off in the form of all kinds of really cool posts about all kinds of great stuff at any moment, so be ready.

Meanwhile, for today, you get a photo from the Menards parking lot in Iowa City, which isn't plant-related but has to do with a plant-buying trip so it's, like, plant related by association, or something.

There's a pretty substantial Amish and Mennonite community around here, mostly south of us, in and around Kalona. And sometimes they need to go to Menards.

This is something one sees occasionally in the area, especially near Kalona, though it's fairly unusual to see horse-drawn carriages as far north as Iowa City. Too much traffic, I suspect, to be horse-friendly. I saw plenty of people doing double-takes in the parking lot. One couple even whipped out a camera and got a photo with the horses in the background. (Yes, I was taking pictures too. But it's different: I'm a blogger. I have to.)

If I can get one together, there will be a plant-related post this afternoon, but I also have to start watering again today, and there are a ton of pictures to sort, so that might happen, and it might not. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random plant event: Mimosa pudica flower

I'm not a fan of sensitive plants. I know, I know, I'm a grumpy old man with a shriveled black heart who will never know the true meaning of Christmas. But it's just -- they always look kind of scruffy and weedy and miserable. (They actually are weeds in warmer climates than Iowa's.) And then if you touch one, it'll wilt and then look even more miserable. As novelty plants go, it's kind of a dumb trick, though I concede that even a dumb trick is better than no trick, like most plants.

Anyway. So this isn't one of my personal plants: I took the pictures at Pierson's, in Cedar Rapids, in October.

That said, the flowers would be sort of pretty, if there were more of them and/or they were larger. And even as the solitary small things they are, the flowers are interesting, I suppose. Different from the usual flower.

I dunno. I was basically neutral about Mimosa pudica until I worked with them at the garden center. So much time spent trying to separate plants that had grown into one another and tangled; so much angst about germination until we found the secret (hot water + overnight soak + bottom heat). I never hated them the way I hated some plants, but I can't imagine ever wanting to own one, either.

'Course, there are other schools of thought.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random plant event: Hoya lacunosa 'Royal Flush' blooms

Goodness. It really is going to be like last year, when all kinds of random plants started blooming at once. I noticed buds for this plant maybe three weeks ago, and saw the flowers open last week.

H. lacunosa 'Royal Flush' has leaves that are similar in size to the species, but they're flatter -- they don't have depressions between the main veins like the species does -- and heavily speckled with gray/silver. Also in bright light, new growth of 'Royal Flush' is dark purple: the species will bleach out to a yellow-green in strong light.

In certain conditions, the flowers will be tinged with pink; you can see a picture of that at this page. (I'd tell you if I knew what the conditions were, but I don't. Sorry.) The fragrance is basically the same as for the species: that flower-cooler smell, which is very faint for most of the day and then becomes very strong at night.

I got this plant in a trade earlier in the summer, and it bloomed once almost immediately then, but then it was quiet for several months. All of a sudden, it's decided to go again, and I'm not sure why. With the species, giving it a lot of light, to the point where the leaves yellowed, triggered blooming, and then the plant kept on blooming for months. That's not what happened here: it hasn't been moved and I haven't done anything differently. Plus, this plant is in the basement, which is probably the least variable of the various places we have plants, though a couple times during the basement being torn down and rebuilt, the husband has had windows open down there, even though it's cold out. The plant's close enough to the floor that a bit of cold shock might explain why it's flowering again.

I don't know. I'm just happy it is. I enjoy the smell tremendously.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Site-related: Ads


I don't know if this is necessarily going to be permanent, but I've added Adsense ads to the sidebar to give it a try. And I feel kinda dirty so far, alas.

I am actually not permitted to click on the ads (Adsense is trying to prevent people gaming the system by clicking on their own ads, so not clicking your own ads is something one has to agree to before putting them up.), and in fact may not even see them, so if there's something objectionable in an ad, if it takes you to a site that looks shady, etc., please let me know. I have some power to remove particular ads if they're a problem, though I'm not sure how much.

If you are browsing with Firefox and would prefer not to see any ads at all, there's a plug-in called AdBlock Plus which will remove them for you; I've been using it myself for quite a while without problems, and like it. I assume there are similar plug-ins for other browsers, but I don't know what they are.

To make some room for the ads in the sidebar, I've moved the blogroll and the plants-I-want list to their own pages under the header. That'll probably stay whether I keep the ads or not.

Feedback on the ads is welcome up to a point. I do kinda need some source of income, and although I don't anticipate the ads paying enough to make up for me not having an actual job, the blog might be able to buy itself the plants and plant accessories it needs. Which would be something. However, I get really tired of being advertised to everywhere I go, and I'm sympathetic to anybody who feels the same way, so if the ads are really bothersome, this would be a good time to say so. Something else could be tried. (I don't know what, but I'm sure there must be something.)

So, a poll. You can choose more than one, if more than one applies:

If none of them apply, leave a comment. I'm seriously fishing for feedback here. A decision about whether or not to keep them will probably come next Sunday or Monday, and will be somewhat-but-not-totally influenced by whether or not it seems to be paying off for me financially.

Zombie (Crassula rupestris and C. muscosa)


You know how sometimes you get a plant that never seems to do any more than just barely stay alive from one week to the next? I had a Crassula rupestris2 that was like that, from June 2007 until November 2009.

It's not that it didn't grow. It did. But branches also kept drying up. I'd snap them off and throw them away, and then a couple weeks later, there'd be more dead branches. The plant seemed to be able to produce enough new growth to break even, but still: it was annoying, and messy. Finally, one day in November 2009, something amazing happened: I tugged on one dead branch to snap it off, and the entire plant lifted up out of the soil cleanly, like a toothpick out of a cake. No roots at all. Checked the other plants in the same pot, and they didn't have roots either.

Crassula rupestris, before the long slow decline.

Now, I'd gotten it originally as unrooted cuttings, and hadn't messed with it much after sticking them in the pot, other than to water every couple weeks or so. It seemed to be okay with me not paying it a lot of attention. I mean, new leaves were forming. It was getting taller. So I thought we were fine, and it was just not a terribly impressive or interesting plant.

When I found out that these cuttings survived for two and a half years without ever even getting roots, it became much more impressive and interesting, in the way that you'd find your next-door neighbor more impressive and interesting if you discovered that s/he was missing all his/r internal organs or wanted to eat your brains or something. By which I mean that it kind of creeps me out. Plants are different enough from people that "undead" doesn't exactly apply here -- it can still be alive without roots -- but even so, alive without roots for more than two years is a pretty extreme situation, even by plant standards.

[no comment]

Upon making the discovery, I threw the plants away. My logic in the heat of the moment was that if they hadn't grown roots after two years, clearly they were never going to do so, and I needed the space for other, more appreciative, plants. The space part was true, but the rooting part probably wasn't. Maybe something could still have been worked out.

But I doubt it.

Crassula muscosa. This is the first one I tried.

This is sort of the way it goes with all my "stacked" Crassulas, like C. rupestris and C. muscosa.3 I really like the look of C. muscosa,4 and have bought it repeatedly, but basically the same thing happens with muscosa that happens with rupestris: a long, slow decline that eventually ends with the stems dying, one by one, from the soil level upwards. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes slowly, but inevitably, the plant dies. Some of this may be the fault of the sellers: I bought one muscosa that probably shouldn't have been sold until it was quite a bit better established, because it didn't have much for roots.

In any case, I'm probably not the person you want to be looking to for specific, helpful growing advice. Even when my plants survive for a long time, they're not in particularly good shape. Unfortunately, you don't have a lot of other options. I've googled. Lots and lots of sites, but most appear to have copied from the same original source or from one another, and the instructions are mainly for outdoor growing. This is the best I could come up with:

LIGHT: Outdoors, a lot of people say that direct sun all day long is too intense for C. muscosa, and it benefits from a bit of bright shade.

C. rupestris can handle more light outdoors. In very bright light, it will turn yellowish with red leaf edges, reverting to green if the light intensity diminishes.

Indoors, you probably want as much light as you can get, for either plant. When we lived in the apartment, I kept both in an unobstructed south window, and that appeared to be fine, though they both still stretched a little. You might want to consider growing your plants under bright artificial lights, if you don't have reliable sun or an unobstructed south window.5

My third C. muscosa (there are no pictures of the second), not long after I got it home.

WATER: Everybody contradicts one another on watering these plants. A few people even manage to contradict themselves in the same sentence (e.g. "Water sparingly or abundantly."). So I don't know. There does seem to be consensus that you should cut the water way back in the winter, if the plant's going to be at all cold (below 60F/16C). This doesn't explain my plants, though: I don't think any of them ever went below 60F. One of them actually fell apart in the summer, when I know it was never below 70F/21C.

I tried to water mine as I would for a jade plant (Crassula ovata): let it get almost completely dry, then drench; use a gritty, quick-draining soil; and water less in the winter. That doesn't appear to be quite right, but I don't know what I did wrong, exactly. Both species are from Southern Africa, so I suppose if you're in doubt, err on the dry side.

Really big C. muscosa in a garden center.

TEMPERATURE: C. muscosa is said to be able to survive temperatures down to freezing, but that only applies if they're dry. Plants that get chilled while in wet soil are likely to rot.

C. rupestris, in its native habitat, is supposed to be able to go even lower, to 25F/-4C, but I would assume that the same applies, that this is only doable if the plant is dry.

In neither case would I recommend that you actually let your plant freeze just to see how low it can go. If you're growing your plant indoors, then I hope finding out how close your plant can get to freezing without damage is hypothetical anyway.

HUMIDITY: Usually dry air is best, though see PROPAGATION below.

PESTS: I've personally had mealybugs on C. muscosa before; C. rupestris never had any bugs while in my care, but I would assume mealybugs would be the main problem there as well.

PROPAGATION: This may be where I went wrong with my C. rupestris cuttings: both species do best if propagated from pieces of stem that have been allowed to callus for a week (give or take), then stuck into coarse sand or some other very fast-draining mix, with good air circulation, bright light but no direct sun, and -- against all succulent-plant logic I'm familiar with -- misted a few times a day. Rooting is slow, and may take up to three months. Once the plant begins to produce new growth above ground, and doesn't pull out of the soil, you can move it to a spot with some sun.

I have successfully rooted C. muscosa before, both at home and at work, but I didn't have a particularly high success rate. I didn't do anything like the above instructions, though: I just cut (or pulled) a piece off and stuck it in dirt, which I watered occasionally. Better luck at work than at home, probably because of the higher humidity and bright, diffuse light in the greenhouse.

C. muscosa with flowers. They're unbelievably tiny.

GROOMING: I don't really have any grooming stuff for C. rupestris at all. Mine never actually did anything except lose branches.

C. muscosa has bloomed for me, which isn't exactly a grooming issue, but it deserves mention somewhere. I found the smell of the flowers somewhat unpleasant. This was actually PATSP's very first random plant event, and in that post, I initially described the smell as being like a private bathroom someone has just used, then sprayed a heavy, floral aerosol air-freshener around in. Later, I amended that to "a kind of musky, guy-put-on-cologne-six-hours-ago smell." I don't know whether the actual fragrance changes over time, or my perception of it changed as I got more accustomed to the smell. Either way, though. Strong, and borderline unpleasant. It only happened the once, though.

C. muscosa will also trail as it grows; the stems never get much taller than maybe four or five inches (10-13 cm). This is only worth noting because plants are usually sold as small, upright cuttings: if you expect your plant to maintain its upright habit, you're going to be disappointed very quickly.6 Pinching the tips might help induce more branching. I've never tried pinching personally, but Proven Winners suggests it, and pinching usually works with Crassulas.

C. muscosa #3, when I first got it. Notice how upright and branched and full it is. That didn't last long.

FEEDING: For both plants, feed lightly (half-strength or a quarter-strength) with every watering, except during the winter.

I've seen variegated versions of both plants. C. muscosa leaves are too small for the variegation to be particularly noticeable, and the plant just winds up looking like a lighter version of the species. Variegated C. rupestris, on the other hand, are kinda pretty, especially if they're getting red margins from being in bright light. (You have to get close to see it, but it's pretty.) There are a few varieties of C. rupestris with different-shaped or -sized leaves, as well, plus a decent number of hybrids with other Crassula species. Some of these can be seen at the link from footnote 3.

I don't like C. rupestris nearly well enough to try it again. I don't think I'd even asked for it in the first place. So no big loss there. I like C. muscosa quite a bit better, apparently, since I've tried it, on purpose, three times, but I don't think I like it four times' worth. There are too many possible good houseplants to keep failing with the same one over and over. At the same time, though, if somebody's got C. muscosa all figured out and wants to let me know what I'm missing, well, I'd be an attentive listener.


Photo credits: all my own.

References: (C. rupestris) (C. muscosa) (C. muscosa) (C. muscosa)
San Marcos Growers (C. muscosa) (C. muscosa) (C. rupestris)

1 I consider C. rupestris slightly easier (3.9) than C. muscosa (4.2), but it screws up the formatting if I try to put more than one difficulty ranking at the top of a post, plus the numbers are only very rough guides in the first place, so that's an average.
2 There's some uncertainty about whether this is C. rupestris, C. perforata, or something else. I sort of had to pick something for purposes of the post, and I found more photos of C. rupestris that matched my plant than I did of C. perforata, so that's what I decided it was. I wouldn't be heartbroken or anything if it turned out to be perforata, though.
3 Those two are the only ones I've tried, but there are a number of Crassulas with this general "stacks of leaves" look. Pictures of several such plants can be found at this post by Palmbob.
4 Sometimes C. lycopodioides; I've seen conflicting opinions about whether lycopodioides is its own, separate species or just an obsolete synonym for C. muscosa. says synonym; I actually can't understand what says but my guess is that they're saying synonym; and GRIN says synonym, so I think I'm on fairly solid ground to call C. lycopodioides and C. muscosa the same plant. In a retail context, you may see either name being used, though, so it's good to know both.
5 Sometimes this is necessary. I've had a few succulents that just weren't happy with me, even when I gave them a really good spot in a really good window, and didn't shape up until they were sitting a couple inches under a pair of shop lights. Sedum x rubrotinctum is one of those: I've had it forever, and it's always looked miserable in the window, but it's doing really well now under lights in the basement.
6 So of course one of the names the plant is being sold under is "princess pine," which to my mind implies an upright, conical plant with needles for leaves, not a trailing, snaky one with leaves so small they're barely visible. [shrug] I didn't name it that.
"Watch chain Crassula" is a much better name; the pattern of leaves does sort of resemble a small, thin chain.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pretty picture: Paphiopedilum delenatii 'Santa Barbara' x Sib

I don't have much to say about this one. I couldn't find any information about it on-line, unless you count pictures, and pictures aren't that helpful on their own (except for confirming the name).

When I see lady-slipper-type orchids, I always wonder how they deal with rainfall. I mean, that big, puffy lip ought to get full of water pretty fast, if the plant got hit with a driving rainstorm. Is there a drain somewhere in the bottom, to let water out? Do they only flower during the local dry season, when rain wouldn't happen? Are the flowers exceptionally short-lived, so a flower that filled with rain would probably have been pollinated and dropping petals anyway? Do the sepals and other petals fold over the lip if it rains hard, turning water away like an umbrella?

Wouldn't say this sort of thing keeps me awake at night, but I do wonder about it. Maybe I'll have to keep wondering until I get a paph I can experiment with.