Saturday, January 15, 2011

Music Video: Titus Jones "I Wanna Bulletproof Dancer" (Taylor Swift / Whitney Houston / Robyn / La Roux mashup)

This one's a bit clubbier than the others I've posted so far, so it's less weird, more throbby/thumpy, and about a minute longer than it needed to be, but I like it anyway. Robyn is like ketchup: put enough in and anything becomes palatable. Even Taylor Swift.1


1 (No, I am not suggesting that anyone eat Taylor Swift. Or Robyn, for that matter. You knew what I meant.)

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Oy. Not my best week. Stupid Google. (Though: without Google, this blog wouldn't exist at all, so that complicates the emotions.)

On the up side, we got snow on Monday and Tuesday. Not very much, and it came with a blast of cold, but any snow is good snow as far as I'm concerned. I probably do need to work on my ice fort / igloo / ice wall / whatever this coming week if I'm going to build one. So far, I've been having trouble coming up with an appropriately-sized, smooth, rectangular or cylindrical container in which to freeze the water: it's not hard to find something of the right size, but it is difficult to find something resilient enough not to crack after the water in it expands. (Ideally, I'd also need lots of identical containers, in order to build as fast as I could.) And the container would have to be something we have already. I'm looking into plastic clamshell containers like I use for Begonia propagation, because I have a lot of them saved up and don't care if they're ruined, but they're still problematic because they're not very deep: I'd wind up with a lot of wide but short blocks. We'll see how it goes, I suppose.

The photo for this post isn't from the most recent snowfall, but pictures of snow all tend to look the same anyway. Sheba's expression here is roughly the same as the expression I had in the Times article (I only have about five decent fake smiles in me on any particular occasion, and the picture they went with was shot number 25 or so), which makes me wonder if there isn't something to the observation about people looking like their pets.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Music Video: G3rst "Bloom to Me" (Koop / Nirvana mashup)

Can I claim this as being in honor of tomorrow's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day? Probably too much of a stretch. Anyway. Nirvana's "In Bloom," reinterpreted through a Swedish jazz duo I'd never heard of, which somehow produces a swing version of Nirvana. The video doesn't change, but the photoshopped image of Kurt Cobain is amusing, so. Enjoy. (?)

I don't know why Nirvana gets mashed up so much. I figure it's got to be either especially easy (could all the individual tracks have been released to the public at some point?) or especially rewarding (whether they want to or not, everybody is familiar with Nirvana to some degree, so playing with their music might get you more attention).

Random plant event: Kalanchoe millotii flower

This took a long time to go from bud to flower. I was surprised. (The post about the buds was 24 November, which was more than seven weeks ago.) On the other hand, it looks like the blooms are going to be spread out over a long period, so the plant will be blooming for an unusually long time, too.

If only the flowers were, y'know, pretty. Not that they're hideous; they're just not really big enough to be noticeable. Oh well.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

List: Plants for Offices

I've been asked by a reader to suggest some plants that would work well in an office setting. Unfortunately, the list I came up with is kind of boring, because offices, taken as a group, present a very specific kind of unnatural environment. Generally, one is talking about low light, very low humidity, and occasional drought (if the office is closed on weekends and holidays, as is typical). Occasional cold may also be a problem in some places, because not all businesses bother to heat buildings which aren't in use, like on weekends, nights, and holidays. It's not a combination that's good, or even tolerable, for very many plants.

Obviously people whose workspace has a window, or who can add a small desk light, have more options to consider, but for purposes of this list, I'm assuming you can't add a light.

Chinese evergreen, Aglaonema cvv. (shown: 'Maria') Some varieties are better with cold than others, and there's no easy way to tell which are and which aren't, so this isn't a great choice for offices where the heat is turned off on the weekend, but they're good with drought, low humidity, and low light. They typically need to be cut back every couple years, and they're slow to resprout, so this may not be a good choice if you're looking for a plant to stay in the same spot for years and years.

Shoebutton tree, Ardisia elliptica. Very well adapted to office conditions in general, though drought may result in some leaf drop. The biggest drawback to Ardisia as an office plant is that they're very fast growers: they need frequent repotting, and the growth habit becomes less compact once they hit maturity, though they remain easy to care for.

Cast-iron plant, Aspidistra elatior. Sort of the opposite problem from Ardisia: Aspidistras are very slow-growing plants, and take a long time to get around to doing anything. On the other hand, low light, low humidity, occasional cold, and occasional drought are all taken in stride. Hot, dry offices may encourage spider mites, but that's about it for cultural problems. Aspidistras tend to be hard to find, and are more expensive than most other plants of the same size when you can find them, though.

Clivia miniata. Wasn't sure whether to include Clivia on this list or not: though dry air is well-tolerated, and they actually require cooler temperatures and drought for part of the year in order to bloom, light is potentially a problem. Ideally, these need bright indirect light, though plants can survive in less. In an office setting, you should probably not expect flowers, though they could make perfectly fine foliage plants.

Pothos, Epipremnum aureum. (shown: 'Marble Queen') Dry air and occasional missed waterings aren't problems. Low light is fine, though variegated varieties like 'Marble Queen' may revert to all-green if the plant is in too dark of a spot. Cold below 50-60F (10-16C) will slow or stop growth, and prolonged cold can damage or kill plants, depending on how cold and for how long, but most people, in most offices, should be able to grow pothos. May need to be cut back every few years for best appearance.

Heart-leaf philodendron, Philodendron hederaceum. Fine with low light, low humidity, occasional drought. Somewhat more cold-tolerant than pothos, but otherwise very similar in form and care.

Snake plant or mother-in-law's tongue, Sansevieria trifasciata. (shown: NOID birdsnest-type) Very tolerant of drought, though if you have helpful co-workers who water it for you, it may not last long, especially in combination with cold. Low light and low humidity are fine. In darker locations, leaves tend to become weak and floppy. The shorter birdsnest types seem to be touchier than the versions with longer leaves, particularly when it comes to overwatering.

Strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera. Extended drought is a problem, but dry air and low light are tolerated well, and cooler temperatures don't appear to be a problem at all, at least not the degree of cold one would expect in a reasonably large, insulated building.

Peace lily, Spathiphyllum cvv. Boring, boring, boring, but cold-tolerant into the 40s (F; 4-9C), low-light-tolerant to make you weep, and unbothered by dry air, whatever people will tell you. The only thing is: they don't allow a lot of margin for error when it comes to watering, and either you know how to water one or you don't. (The answer, for the record, is to wait until the day the leaves first start to droop, then water thoroughly, drain off the excess, and then do not water it again until you see the leaves begin to droop again. Letting the plant get too dry between waterings will cause some older leaves to drop, and not letting it get dry enough will lead to dead leaf tips and margins.) Flowers are most likely following a dose of fertilizer, but can happen at any time.

Arrowhead vine, Syngonium podophyllum. I'm not a huge fan of Syngoniums, because it's been my experience that unless one goes to a lot of effort, the best they're ever going to look is the moment when you buy them. Once they start to vine, which is usually within a few months, the new leaves get smaller, the plant's form gets stranger, and then you either learn to live with it or you cut back the vining bits to the base and hope they resprout in a timely manner. However, Syngoniums are still technically suitable for office settings, being fairly tolerant of missed waterings (or excessive waterings, for that matter, unlike a lot of the plants on this list), dry air, and low light. Cold may slow Syngonium down, but is unlikely to kill them.

For the recommends, well, these are all pretty sturdy plants, so doing recommends is kind of unnecessary. I've personally had the most positive experiences with Aglaonema, Ardisia, and Philodendron, and the most trouble with Sansevieria. Your results may vary.

Not pictured:
  • Ardisia crenata (coral berry) As for A. elliptica.
  • Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant) Best in offices that never get cold and have pretty good light. Minerals, especially fluoride, can cause leaves to get dead tips. Keep away from heat / air conditioning vents.
  • Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash' (Fire Flash, Green Orange, Mandarin plant) As for C. comosum; keep out of direct sun.
  • Dieffenbachia cvv. (dumb cane) Warm, bright offices only. (Doesn't need sun, just bright indirect light.) Grows fast and needs to be cut back regularly; the larger varieties seem to be easier on all counts.
  • Dracaena deremensis cvv., including 'Janet Craig,' 'Warneckei,' 'Lemon-Lime'/'Goldstar,' 'Art,' 'Janet Craig Compacta,' 'Malaika,' etc. Not good for offices with helpful watering buddies. Mineral buildup or overwatering can lead to dead leaf tips and margins. Also not good for offices which may go below 60F/16C.
  • Dracaena fragrans (corn plant) As for D. deremensis cvv.
  • Dracaena marginata (Madagascar dragon tree) As for D. deremensis cvv., plus overhead light is much preferred to light from the side -- side-lit plants tend to look droopy, as the leaves adjust their position to take advantage of as much light as possible.
  • Dracaena sanderiana ("lucky bamboo," ribbon plant) Ugh. If you really have to. It's probably best to grow this in soil, rather than water, and if you do grow it in water, you'll need to do regular complete changes of the water, and add a little fertilizer from time to time. I don't think they're particularly good about cold, but they'll survive dry air, drought, and low light just fine.
  • Radermachera sinica (China doll) Generally tolerant of dry air, temperature extremes, and low light, but an aggressively fast grower, likely to look gangly once the dwarfing hormones wear off, and somewhat fussy about water, so definitely not ideal.
  • Rhapis excelsa (lady palm) Mineral buildup and dry air can cause burnt leaf tips, so these are also not ideal office plants, but they're flexible on temperature, drought, and light. They do need to be repotted every couple years, at least, to avoid root rot.
  • Sansevieria cylindrica ("wisdom horns") Tolerant of office conditions generally (though don't push it on cold unless you can also keep it pretty dry), though it would be happier in direct sun. Almost certain to be slow-growing in an office setting.
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant, eternity plant) Another one to avoid if you have helpful co-workers or if the office is ever unheated during cold spells. Otherwise very adaptable but slow-growing. Plants grown in very low light will produce weak, pale, stretched leaves.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pretty pictures: Rime

(This was originally supposed to go up this morning, but then I got concerned that it wasn't, you know, planty enough. Thus, the Papaver photo earlier.)

On 27 December, we woke up to a clear, sunny morning where everything that had been outside overnight had turned white. This is called rime (in this specific case, "hard" rime -- there is also a "soft" rime, but it's different), and occurs when fog forms at below-freezing temperatures, and is very pretty.

These pictures were taken in and near Hills, IA, just south of Iowa City.

Pretty picture: Papaver rhoeas

This is terribly out of date, of course. The photo is dated May 25. I had a last-minute change of heart about the post I'd originally planned for last Monday, and changing one thing meant changing other things, so I'm sort of scrambling for subject matter at the last minute, even though I actually have way more stuff going on here in the house than I can blog about already. It's complicated, and would be difficult to explain. Therefore, Papaver in January. Not that I expect many people will complain.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

*sigh* Ads, Again:

UPDATE 5:08 PM CST: I changed the time on this post to keep it at the top of the blog. There is a new mashup below, though.


After reviewing our records, we've determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity. Because we have a responsibility to protect our AdWords advertisers from inflated costs due to invalid activity, we've found it necessary to disable your AdSense account. Your outstanding balance and Google's share of the revenue will both be fully refunded back to the affected advertisers.

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The Google AdSense Team

Yes, this is all the communication I've gotten on the matter: I have no idea what invalid activity they think my account might be at risk of generating, or why they think it might be at risk of generating any invalid activity at all. They don't, apparently, have to tell you.

Yes, I am unhappy and inconvenienced.

Yes, I have submitted an appeal.

No, I am not particularly understanding or cooperative.

Music Video: A Plus D "Standing in the Way of Connection" (The Gossip / Elastica mashup)

Incredibly boring video, but the interesting one I found for the same song was so hyperactive it hurt to watch.

The mix is "Connection," by Elastica, crossed with "Standing in the Way of Control," by The Gossip. I'm not terribly familiar with The Gossip (I know who they are, but they're a little after my time), but I love love love love Elastica's first album. (The second one is a piece of crap, alas, but the first one is great.)

It doesn't hurt that they're one of two band names that overlap with the plant collection: (Ficus) Elastica and (Chamaedorea) Metallica. Though I like Elastica a lot better than Metallica.

Random plant event: Murraya paniculata fruits

This has happened a few times since we've had the plant, but I've never quite been able to figure out how it gets pollinated. I don't remember ever trying to self-pollinate it (which is weird, actually, and unlike me), and most of the time we don't have any insects around which would do it (certainly not during winter). I couldn't find anything definitive on-line as to whether M. paniculata ought to be able to self-pollinate in the first place. I mean, clearly it must -- we only have the one plant -- but it seems like if it's able to self-pollinate then it really ought to be doing it way more often than this.

Ugh. Please kindly ignore the hard-water spots. This suddenly became really extreme and noticeable in the last couple months, and I don't know what to do about it. (Would winter make hard tap water harder, somehow?)

As it is, we see fruits on the plant about once a year, usually in the winter, and generally it's only one fruit per round. This year is special because there are two fruits at once. They look pretty identical in the photos, but there really are two of them.

A reader sent me a M. paniculata fruit quite a while ago (last spring? Summer?). I got one seed out of it, and tried to sprout it, but didn't use vermiculite (I know! What was I thinking?), so it dried out a lot, and may not have even been viable in the first place. I'll definitely try again with these, whenever the time seems right to do it, because nobody sells this here anymore. We couldn't even get it at work, due to the Florida quarantine for citrus greening. So if I want more of them (and I do: oh, my, how I do), I'm going to have to figure out how to propagate them from this plant. Cuttings are said to be possible, but difficult, and the husband discourages me (strongly) from hacking the plant to pieces, so I don't have a lot of opportunities for experimentation. Seeds are my best bet at the moment. Let's hope there are some viable ones in there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Question for the Hive Mind: Weird Philodendron hederaceum gets weirder

Not terribly long ago, I found an oddball Philodendron hederaceum in the grocery store, which had faint dark-green speckling on the leaves, most noticeably on the newest ones. It wasn't dramatic, but it was unusual, plus cheap, so I bought it.

Then I kind of forgot about it for a while -- it was in a darkish spot in the husband's office, and it wasn't giving me any problems or doing anything very exciting, so I didn't have any particular reason to think about it much.

Then there was a rearrangement in the husband's office, and the plant got moved to a brighter spot, and it responded by producing new leaves, which was a bit more dramatic than the previous growth. (The leaves are too shiny to be able to get good pictures from; sorry.)

Which is all great and everything, but it leaves me wondering even harder what the hell it is I have. I was unable to find any varieties of P. hederaceum like this using Google, so I figure there are only four real possibilities here:

1. It really is a new thing, and I'm the first person to have seen one, which means I have discovered a new variety of Philodendron hederaceum and can now patent it and become rich. Which is not realistic because all indications are that the universe will never permit me to get rich. Plus, someone else obviously had it first, because it was like this when I bought it.

2. It's a newish, named, patented variety of P. hederaceum, which just hasn't shown up yet on-line, or I'm looking in the wrong places on Google, or whatever. Which is unrealistic because . . . how would you create a new variety of a plant without any pictures of it showing up on-line? Why wouldn't you tell anybody?

3. It's a really old, non-patented variety that nobody sells anymore, and I've never seen it anywhere before because when I did, I assumed it was Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen' and didn't give it a second look. Which is kind of implausible because . . . well, I can be unobservant, sure, and I can even be unobservant about plants, but that theory involves me being unobservant about plants for a length of time I consider implausible. If nothing else, I should have seen this variety when I was Googling around for the Philodendron hederaceum profile.

4. It's not a new variety or an old variety, but a regular P. hederaceum that's got a virus or nutrient deficiency or something. But that doesn't really work for me either, since the pattern of speckles is more or less the same as in Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen' and lots of other aroid cultivars. If 'Marble Queen' and the rest were because of a virus, I figure I'd have heard about it by now. And anyway it seems to be growing just fine, same as the other varieties I have.

Can anybody out there explain this, suggest resources to check out, or at least tell me which of the possibilities above strikes them as most likely? I looked at the International Aroid Society's website for a list of possible cultivar names, but nothing useful turned up. (Because I'm not an IAS member?) If I have to, I suppose I can try to track down the wholesaler, by asking the grocery store where they get their plants, but I'm hoping it won't come to that. (I have a guess already, and dealt with them at the ex-job, and didn't like it.) So, um. Theories?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Music Video: Partyben "Single Ladies (in Mayberry)" (Beyonce / Andy Griffith Show theme mashup)

Yes, another mashup. This one is perhaps more clever than good, and as usual the video isn't particularly helpful, but even so, it amuses me, so maybe it will amuse you.

I wasn't originally intending to make the mashups a regular PATSP feature, and I'm still not, not exactly, but I kept finding ones I liked, so I've decided to make January (or what's left of it) mashups month here. There won't be one every single day, but I've got eleven videos scattered through the remainder of the month, semi-randomly. There will still be plant-related content in the mornings: the videos, if they're going to happen, will happen in the afternoon. ("Morning" and "afternoon" meaning 4:30 AM and 4:30 PM Central Standard Time; it will not necessarily be morning or afternoon where you're viewing them.)

Random plant event: Carica papaya seedling

Partly/mostly inspired by the smallish papaya tree at the Quad City Botanical Center, we bought a papaya in mid December, and I scooped out a bunch of seeds and planted them to see how that would go. (The husband ate the papaya. It turns out that I don't like them very much -- not the flavor, the texture.) I planted 144 seeds on 14 December, which seemed like overkill even at the time, but I could have done two or three times that many: papayas have a lot of seeds.

Some of the seeds, after they'd been removed and cleaned up.

Then I put the flat on the back of a light fixture down in the basement, for the bottom heat. The first seedling popped up after just nine days, on 23 December.

Since then, at last count, twenty-two more have sprouted. I'm a little surprised it's not more than that, but I suppose they don't want to seem eager. Or possibly they're disappointed with the light. In any case, more are coming along every time I check, and I already have more of them than I'll know what to do with, once they're transplanted to pots.

I'm not actually sure what to do with them at that point, though. Are they difficult to grow indoors? Anybody who's tried this have some tips?