Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Disturbing Sheba development this week: last Saturday she growled at three little girls who were trying to pet her, and snapped at one (no contact, fortunately), and then on I think Monday, she growled at a little boy who was trying to pet her too.

This is not good. It's also more or less new: the husband tells me she's growled at people when he's taken her on walks before, but they were adults, and she didn't try to bite them. I personally had only ever seen her growl at people while in the car before, and I didn't worry about that much because obviously she wasn't going to bust through the window.

Now, okay, we wanted a dog that would do a little light house-guarding, if necessary, but a dog that bites children isn't good. We can't afford obedience classes, and although one of our neighbors has lots of kids and probably wouldn't miss one if we were to borrow one for an afternoon to practice with, it seems like that would probably be wrong or rude or something, so . . . what's left, besides Cesar Millan?

It's worth noting that the situations were unusual; as far as I can remember, Sheba and I haven't interacted with any kids on walks before. She's been okay with my niece, who's more or less the same age. So it might have been more the novelty of the situation than a thirst for the blood of the innocent. But still. Suggestions?

Meanwhile, it's been a long time since we've had a picture of Nina, and Sheba's been bad this week, so let's have a picture of Nina:

She bites too, though not lately.

Friday, April 15, 2011

List: The Best Houseplants You're (Probably) Not Growing

This list isn't intended to be taken very seriously. It's subjective, and even where it's not, we're only talking about my personal experience, over a pretty limited amount of time;1 the plant might be completely different for you. Having said that, these are the plants that:

1) have performed well for me for a long time,
2) aren't already common in stores (at least not the stores I visit),
3) typically do well indoors for other people too, as far as I know, and
4) have that special something that makes me want to recommend them to everybody.

This is slightly self-interested, as a few of these are plants I will have available for trade or sale at some point,2 but it's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem. I have them to sell because I like the plant, and in a lot of cases I like the plant because it's easy to reproduce for selling. The main point of the list is not to promote plants because I'll have them for sale, I swear, it's to say nice things about plants that have been making me happy lately. Because there are a lot of plants that don't.3 (Including some of the plants I want to sell or trade away.)

Agave desmettiana. Fairly rapid growth, as indoor Agaves go, interesting color (on the variegated variety), and so far it doesn't seem especially needy or buggy. If you have full sun and can water thoroughly and regularly, you can grow this.

Eucharis grandiflora. Beautifully fragrant (if short-lived) white daffodil-like flowers up to three times a year, large, glossy green leaves the rest of the time, cold-tolerant, and I've never had problems with bugs. Needs some light (filtered sun or bright indirect), and don't overwater. May go dormant if too dry or dark.

Gasteraloe x beguinii. (Aloe aristata x Gasteria batesiana). Nice form and color, tolerates fairly low light for a succulent, resilient as hell, offsets are easy to root, never a bug problem. Probably won't flower indoors, but it's my favorite foliage Aloe/Gasteria/Haworthia, easily. Give it at least some sun indoors, or else bright artificial light, and don't overwater.

Hatiora salicornioides. Only minor bug problems so far (spider mites, surprisingly), and the flowers aren't the glamour bombs that Eucharis's are, but the form is interesting, and it's easy to grow with full sun to bright indirect light. Fertilizer seems to be more important than I expected: some of mine have only started putting out new growth since I started using the Miracle Gro.

Hoya lacunosa. Easily brought into bloom (it basically just takes lots of light + fertilizer), and can be more or less continuously in bloom year-round. Neither the flowers nor the leaves are much to look at, but it's fairly non-demanding, and the scent is nice.

Pachypodium lamerei. Less easy than most of the other plants on the list -- it's obviously a pain to repot, and it's inclined to winter spider mite infestations and/or dormancy, plus they'll rot if you get them cold and wet at the same time. But they're still fairly easy to grow, and they're tough enough that I've never actually seen one rot from being too wet: I've only heard about it.

Selenicereus chrysocardium. You're probably never going to see the large, overwrought flowers, but with stems like these, who needs flowers? It's fast, it's huge, it's easy to grow (you need only regular watering and a sensible amount of light), I've never had pest problems, and it's just so weird.

Synadenium grantii. I praise Synadenium pretty much every chance I get, but it's difficult to articulate why I like it as much as I do. I like the textures, both visual (red-speckled green, or plum with specks of green) and tactile; I like that they grow fast and can be endlessly duplicated. I love that I've never had a pest problem on a Synadenium. Just a good, vigorous plant for someone with bright indirect light or brighter. They will occasionally drop lower leaves, for reasons I've never been able to figure out but suspect is water-related.

Vriesea splendens. I've always loved the way these look, but it took me a long time to decide to buy one, because all the books warn about them being fussy and difficult. They're not. I've had no pest problems, they seem perfectly happy under artificial light, bright indirect light, or filtered sun, and recently one has even decided to rebloom for me. Occasionally I let them get too dry, and then leaves curl and yellow, but that's been about it for problems.

Zingiber malaysianum. The leaves are pleasantly (if lightly) scented, glossy, and beautiful with light shining through them. It insists on being kept warm (above 50F/10C) and moist, more so than almost any other plant I own (I deal with this by watering every time the watering cycle gets around to it, and if I start finding that it's dry by the time I'm ready to water it, I move it up into a larger pot.), and I suspect that it's probably prone to mites, though I haven't experienced this personally. But I am so pleased with it.

Honorable mentions:
  • Aechmea fasciata -- in the trade for a long time, but I rarely see any for sale that aren't already in bloom, and I don't know why. They're perfectly nice foliage plants, and if you buy one already in bloom then it's just going to die on you. (Granted, that can take more than two years, as it did with mine.)
  • Araucaria bidwillii -- I know why this isn't sold more in the trade. They're kinda ugly, and even the fuller-looking larger specimens are sharp. I love mine anyway.
  • Epiphyllum oxypetalum -- The flowers are pretty, but I'm not sure they're actually worth growing the plant for, since they only last for an evening. I like the plant enough that I'm willing to grow it for the unusual, awkward stems, though.
  • Euphorbia trigona -- One of my oldest and best-behaved plants, not counting a minor pest problem when I first got it,4 plus I like the shape.
  • Haworthia limifolia var. limifolia -- I started out liking other Haworthias more, but this one's grown on me. The color (metallic gray or gray-green, depending on culture) is neat, the texture is pleasant, and it may be the only Haworthia species I've had that's never given me trouble.
  • Pandanus veitchii -- Of course. Minor pest problems (caterpillars or crickets or something, when I had mine outside last summer), painful to move around, and the tips burn if the plant is in the path of a heat vent, but mostly a piece of cake to grow.
  • Polyscias scutellaria -- Polyscias in general have been nice to me, though they do have their moods. P. scutellaria is my favorite of the genus because it's been the most responsive to my care so far (bigger leaves, more leaves), but I also like the look of it.
  • Senecio rowleyanus -- We went through some rough times at first, mostly because I wasn't watering enough, but we've reached an agreement since then, and it's grown a lot in the last year. Haven't seen flowers yet on my personal plant, but I look forward to the day: they smell like Big Red chewing gum.
What plant(s) you don't see for sale very often would you add to the list?


1 The plants on the list have all been in my care for at least 22 months; the most recent addition (Zingiber malaysianum) was purchased in June 2009, and the oldest (Gasteraloe x beguinii) is from November 2006.
2 (I've been having trouble getting suitable photos of the plants in question, among other things. Too bright, too dark, always desaturated: it's frustrating. There's also the issue that some of the plants I had hoped to sell are not looking as good now as I had hoped they would, and it's probably too late to whip them into shape, which is demotivating. I spent the bulk of Wednesday taking pictures, and that set is the set I'm going to use, whether they're good or not. I'm currently planning the official unveiling for April 18, but that may be optimistic, given the number of photos I have to sort through.)
3 [shaking fist at sky:] RADERMACHERA!!!!!!!!!! (Actually, I got rid of the Radermachera a couple weeks ago. I'm still angry, though.)
4 It was either whitefly or scale; it happened long enough ago that I don't have any pictures, and don't remember that well. I assumed they were whiteflies, because they flew, but my memory tells me they looked more like immature scale. They went away, whatever they were.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Random plant event: Pedilanthus 'Jurassic Park 2'

I've had this stupid plant since June of 2008. I paid an average of $26.70 each for five plants from the now-defunct Asiatica Nursery, only one of which (Dracaena 'Indonesian Tracker') was remotely worth that. (Three of the other four are still alive; they're just not meeting expectations.) Which might have something to do with why Asiatica is now defunct.

Anyway. It's stayed alive well, I guess, and all the leaves that were covered in crusty gray stuff dropped off a long time ago, so it's a little shinier than it used to be, but it's only branched once since it arrived, and has been looking more and more like three sticks with a tuft of leaves at the top.

Until now.

It's possible that this is something the plant would have done anyway, just because it's spring, but I'm sort of inclined to credit the fertilizer again, since this didn't happen last spring, or the spring before. (I'm not getting paid by Miracle Gro, if you'd wondered. And I still hate their potting soil, which is part of why I don't expect to be getting paid by Miracle Gro anytime soon. But the fertilizer does appear to be useful, all the same.)

The plant is still, of course, going to look like crap: it'll take a lot more than a branch every three years to make this presentable. (I should probably try cutting it back and propagating some new plants.) But it's progress.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Music Video: Titus Jones "College is Crazy" (Britney Spears / Beyonce / Jay-Z / Gnarls Barkley / Asher Roth)

I'm a little bit troubled by how much I like this one.

Titus Jones (of "I Wanna Bulletproof Dancer" and "Good Girls Burn Miami") has done a whole album, Culture Shock (available for download at his website), and of the two Culture Shock songs for which there are videos so far, this is my favorite. It's also one of my four favorite tracks on the album overall (the other three being "Oops I Shot Jolene's Mom," "Pokestar," and "We Love Hustling Drugs"). I cannot figure out why I like it, though; Asher Roth, around whom the rest of the mix seems to be constructed, strikes me as being sort of aggressively and pointedly douchey, the sort of person I would go out of my way to avoid, particularly in the bridge. And yet.1

It might be that I'm liking the way the other songs (esp. the Gnarls Barkley) comment on and partly undercut the Asher Roth. I don't know.

Titus Jones, by the way, will do mixes for hire.2 Were I to win the lottery or something, I think one of the first things I would do would be to contact Mr. Jones and buy a 4-5 minute mashup of the following songs:

"Baby" (Justin Bieber)
"Baby Baby" (Amy Grant)
"Baby Baby Baby" (TLC)
"Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby" (R. Kelly)
"Say Baby" (David Garza)3

Might be one of those things that would turn out more clever than good,4 but if anybody could spin that mostly-shitty straw into gold, it'd be Titus Jones.

Anyway. When there's a video for "Oops I Shot Jolene's Mom," I'll post about that, too. That'll probably be a shorter post, though.


1 There's also the issue of the word "crazy" being repeated over and over. Mental illness advocates, and some people with mental illness, don't like this kind of thing. The word "crazy," they say, is used to stigmatize, ignore, and demean those with mental illnesses, and using it to mean "more extreme than anticipated" or "uncharacteristic" is somehow likewise demeaning to the mentally ill. I can sort of almost see the point, but I think the logic is flawed: I think watering down a slur by giving it additional meanings is the best possible way to take away the sting. Insisting that people not use the word because it upsets you only gives people more power and incentive to upset you by using it, particularly if the word has become essentially meaningless. (Like for example "fucking:" a "fucking good party" is basically the same as a "crazy good party," and in both cases, the only purpose the words "fucking" and "crazy" serve is to intensify the description and convey an attitude. They're not interchangeable in all situations, though: "You're crazy" is obviously not the same thing as "You're fucking.")
No doubt some could make counterarguments, but that's not even really the point: my point is that although some people would be upset by how many times "crazy" is used in the mashup, I'm not one of those people. I have cut certain words from my vocabulary because of arguments like the above ("lame," "retarded," "bitchy" -- though "totally bitchin' Camaro" is still acceptable), but I'm keeping "crazy." I'm not trying to be an asshole, but it's crazy fucking useful.
2 Though they're pricey: the cheapest option is a mashup of three songs to make a new song under two minutes long, and that costs $50.
3 A song which is not on YouTube (except in a really crappy live version) but worth looking for -- I like the whole album Overdub, actually -- and which is primarily about how in order to get played on the radio, one has to write songs that "don't forget to say baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby." I heard the song on the radio about nine years ago, so obviously it worked.
4 I haven't even heard the R. Kelly song: I'm only using it because it was the only song title I could find with more than three "Baby"s. (Oh. Wait. Now I've heard it. Well, maybe Jones could do something with it anyway.)

Pretty picture: Brassolaeliocattleya Goldenzelle 'Lemon Chiffon'

I tried very hard to come up with something to say about this flower, but apparently all my blogging energy for the day went into a mashup post, which will go up twelve hours after this one did. It's not that it's not a nice flower, it's just that after a certain point, one gets tired of frilly Cattleya-type orchid flowers, even if they're sort of unusual-colored Cattleya-type orchid flowers, and I think I'm approaching that point so fast that the blurry spot in the rearview mirror might be it already. I hope someone is making new kinds of orchids.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Houseplant


A piece of furniture, to sit in a particular location and occupy space in an interesting way. Favored by photographers, the wealthy, realtors, TV producers, artists, office workers.


An air-cleaning appliance, to remove chemicals in the air, or chemicals one imagines to be in the air. Favored by the paranoid, the urban, those with multiple-chemical sensitivity, office workers, owners of new homes.


An interloper, which belongs outside, planted in the soil, but is for some reason indoors where it doesn't belong, being all unnatural and stuff. I've only seen this in Amy Stewart and Michele Owens of Garden Rant, though I suppose this interpretation might appeal to people with very rigid opinions about Where Things Go, or those who have previously had bad luck with indoor plants.


Money, or at least potential money. Endorsed by obsessive hobbyists who have reached the point of hoping that the obsession could at least partly pay for itself, or who are trying to convince a family member that it's a good idea to open more space up for plants; also adopted by retailers, wholesalers, and their employees.


A victim, or object of guilt. Popular with beginning indoor gardeners, the very busy, the recently-vacationed, the easily-distracted, the overly-confident, and those who did not do the research before purchasing.


A (hypothetical) weapon. This could be something only I think about, but I've given enough thought to which of my plants could be used in self-defense that I think I make up for all the people who don't think about it at all. People inclined to this stance are obviously paranoid, threatened, inclined to fantasies of themselves being heroic, or some combination thereof.


A chore, a never-ending task, an obligation, a duty. Favored by those who have received plants as gifts, those who thought they'd like a houseplant better than they actually do, those with hectic, complicated lives that mostly revolve around taking care of others, those who have collected more plants than they can reasonably take care of, the dysthymic, the exhausted.


A memento of someone who has died, moved, or otherwise gone somewhere else. Favored by the recently (or not-recently) bereaved, the involuntarily lonely, the sentimental, the hopeful.


Absolution for one's environmental sins. Did you clear-cut a 300-year-old forest to make room for your McMansion and its 5-SUV garage? Buy a couple peace lilies and all is forgiven. This perspective is preferred by those with long, solitary commutes, those who sometimes forget to recycle, and those who don't know how much fossil fuel is involved in making a plastic pot, putting a plant into it, shipping the plant 1500 miles across the country, heating and/or air-conditioning the store, making the plastic bag the plant gets put in, and burning the gasoline in the car to get the plant back to the house.


A magic charm, which attracts luck, wealth, happiness, wisdom, or some other positive, unattractable characteristic. The preferred interpretation of cynical marketers, who are somehow able to ignore the fact that the original ranges of the plants in question are often inhabited by people who are very poor, unlucky, or miserable, by comparison to the intended buyers of the plants.


One checkbox on a long list of plants to be checked off. Favored by hoarders, collectors, competitive types for whom dying with the most plants means winning, obsessives.


An object of wonderment. Preferred by those who start plants from seed, who didn't know their plant could flower, children, scientists, artsy-fartsy types (not as far from scientists as you might think), stoners, the easily impressed.


Nature itself! A small piece of rain forest, brought into one's home! Favored by pretty much anybody who doesn't look at them as interlopers or furniture.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Question for the Hive Mind: Aloe nobilis

I'm wondering if anyone can tell me what's going on here. I'm not sure how to describe it, but fortunately there are pictures.

The plant is the Aloe nobilis I got from Lowe's about a month ago. It's been growing well, and has put on maybe three or four new leaves since it got here. However, the back of one leaf, and parts of the margins of two others, are doing this:

One back, one margin.

The same leaf as in the center of the first picture, viewed from the side.

Extreme close-up of the margin.

When I first saw this, my first thought was maybe Aloe mites, which I knew about only from having read all of Geoff Stein's articles on a while ago (also Dee at A Desert Observer has written about Aloe mites), but when I looked at the photos, I didn't see anything that looked like my plant -- those were mostly singular, rounded, cauliflower-like growths on one particular spot, not streaks of slightly-bumpy stuff.

So my best guess at the moment is aloe mites, but 1) I thought I should get a second opinion, and 2) if it is aloe mites, I'm wondering what I should do about it. I have imidacloprid and a sharp knife, if that helps, and I also have the receipt, so I could take it back to Lowe's for a refund if it's best not to even try messing with this. Recommendations?

UPDATE: I'm getting increasingly certain that this is an aloe mite infestation. First, after much wading through pages about how people can use Aloe vera to treat edema on human and animal body parts, I found a picture of edema on Aloe dichotoma, which presents as irregularly-shaped, slightly sunken, brown to tan patches. My plant has been wet, because it's in peaty soil that I haven't removed yet, but what my plant has doesn't look like Aloe edema, insofar as I can figure out what Aloe edema looks like.

Second, I found an eleven-month-old post at Garden Web, in a thread about an aloe-mite-infested plant that was being sold at Home Depot, in which a representative of Altman's, the wholesale supplier who sold the plant in question to HD (and also the producer of my plant, though I bought mine at Lowe's), showed up to say that 1) obviously Altman's would never knowingly send out a plant infested with aloe mites, and 2) it's sort of an ongoing problem for them because aloe mites are now part of the natural environment where they grow their plants and can wander into the production area, 3) sometimes Altman's plants catch mites from other, non-Altman's, plants in the garden centers where they're being sold, and 4) they're working hard to come up with a way to prevent infestations but aren't there yet.

These all seem like valid points (#3 is maybe only valid-ish), and I'm sure the people at Altman's are as nice and conscientious as any other similarly-sized group of people, but 1) I'm returning the plant to Lowe's on Monday and 2) it's going to be a long time before I feel comfortable buying an Aloe, Gasteria, or Haworthia (which also get aloe mites, BTW) from Lowe's again.