Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Sheba was limping a little bit early in the week, and then again on Tuesday or Wednesday, but neither the husband or I could see anything wrong with her foot -- there were no cuts or puncture marks or anything. So it could have been a joint issue, rather than a foot issue. We may never know, because she'd stopped doing it by Thursday.

Other than that, nothing big going on with Nina or Sheba.

I checked on the barn swallows about a week ago -- I've been trying hard not to disturb them, so this is only the third time I've so much as looked in the nest. The parents were kind of freaked out anyway. They flew around me for a little while before settling on a power line and watching intently:

I couldn't get a terribly good photo, because of the way the nest is positioned, the camera quality, lack of light (overcast that day), and so forth, so I'm not sure if both of the eggs hatched, but I think the photo shows one in the back left corner of the nest, with its head pointing to the left, and a second one sort of across the middle of the nest, with its head pointing to the lower right. Hard to be sure, though. I'll have to check again in a week or two.

I know the nest is still being used, though, because when I sit on the couch in the living room, I can see the parents occasionally flying in and out, particularly around 6-7 PM.

Finally, if you didn't know already, the New York Senate voted late last night to approve gay marriage for New York. The other chamber of the NY legislature had already voted on this and passed it, and the governor signed it immediately after, so it's a done deal. The Empire State Building was lit up in rainbow colors last night, to mark the occasion:

Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colors last night. Photo from Twitter User @ComfortablySmug. (Link to original version.)

This more than doubles the number of Americans who live in a state with gay marriage. (NY - 19.4 million; MA + IA + CT + VT + NH + DC combined - 15.7 million) It's still only 11% of the U.S. population, but progress is progress.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Random plant event: Chlorophytum 'Charlotte' seedlings

Last November, I posted about my Chlorophytum 'Charlotte' forming a seed pod. This was exciting, because I'd had the plant for a couple years by that point, and had never seen a seed pod, plus it meant that maybe I'd get to propagate it. (I don't know anything about 'Charlotte's ancestry, but it could be a hybrid, in which case I'll get seedlings with varying traits, and most of the seedlings won't be as cool as 'Charlotte.')

I don't remember exactly when the first pod split open, but the seeds weren't very promising-looking; they looked basically like very tiny black raisins, and there weren't many of them: only three to a pod, if I remember correctly. I had a lot of space devoted to propagation at the time, and didn't have room to start these, so I wound up throwing them back in the pot with the parent.

And for many months, nothing happened, and I forgot that there were even seeds still in the pot. Then a few days ago, I went to water it and noticed sprouts:

This is something that happens with Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash' as well; I tried to start some seeds of it a long time ago, and nothing happened, so I gave up and reused the soil. And then everything I repotted with that particular batch of soil had 'Fire Flash' seedlings coming up in it. Chlorophytums are apparently just very slow.

I don't know if anything interesting will come of this, but it's sort of interesting in itself, I suppose.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Question for the Hive Mind: Is it cyclamen mites?

How does everyone feel about an afternoon post that isn't related to Lady Gaga?

I said on Monday that I've been having some weird things going on with my Saintpaulias, and suspected cyclamen mites. It's possible that I'm so anxious to get rid of the Saintpaulias -- and I am highly motivated either to make them shape up or to make them go away -- that I'm leaping to the worst possible conclusion, though. It's not like I have first-hand experience with cyclamen mites.

So I present the readership with the best images of the situation I was able to get. They're still not very clear, but I'm working from the assumption that people who have experienced African violet problems first-hand will recognize what's going on even if they're not the best pictures.

So. Photos will enlarge considerably if opened in a separate window.

New leaves are various combinations of cupped, stunted, and twisted.

Scarred leaf in the lower right; new leaves slightly wavy/twisted.

Stunted and twisted leaves, mildew or something resembling mildew, widespread tan scarring on one leaf.

I should also mention that one of my plants did a thing where the growing tip, and all the developing leaves, seemed to die all at once last winter, leaving a bare little nub surrounded by old leaves. This isn't necessarily related, but since I don't know what's related and what's not, I'll mention it. (Apologies for not having a photo; I thought of it too late in the post-writing process.)


Care history, if necessary:

Affected plants have been at least 65F/18C the whole time, save for possible occasional brief blasts of colder air last winter when they were in the plant room (they were sort of close to a door, though they were far from any windows or drafts, and there were other plants between them and the door). They were moved a while ago to the living room, which is perhaps still colder than they'd like, but it's 72-74F/22-23C in there around the clock, as far as I'm aware.

Light in the plant room was mainly supplied by a desk lamp with a compact fluorescent bulb in it, though they were on a metal table, and got some indirect and a little bit of direct sunlight on days when we had sunlight. In the living room, they're on shelves in front of a large, unobstructed east window.

I have changed the soil since noticing the problem, but when it started, I was still growing them in the soil they were in when I bought them. (Not to bias the opinions, but one expert suggested by e-mail that the soil was the likely cause for the one that dropped all the new leaves and left nubs.)

I'm not great at keeping them watered, at least not considering what they'd prefer. They do dry out pretty regularly, and always have. They never stand in water for long periods of time, though I do water them from the bottom by standing them in saucers for short periods. I have been able to keep one plant going and blooming for two and a half years, though, with similar treatment, so it can't be too far from what they'd like.

I've used different fertilizers at different times; 14-14-14 Osmocote w/o trace elements for the first couple months, then 24-8-16 Miracle Gro with trace elements for the last four months. The problems started at about the point where I began using the Miracle Gro (Februaryish), though I think that's coincidental: the long-lived, established plant hasn't shown any changes since I switched fertilizers.

Humidity level is higher than the average home, but variable enough that I can't provide actual percentages. Air circulation in both locations has been fairly strong (ceiling fans).

I have never seen bugs of any kind on them, and I at least know what mealybugs and aphids look like on African violets.

Pretty picture: Phragmipedium Fox Valley 'Fireball'

Another orchid from last March's orchid show.

The ancestry is Phrag. Barbara LeAnn 'Select' x Phrag. Rosalie Dixler 'FV.' I couldn't find much else about this particular flower, partly because most of the more promising Google search results redirected me to pages that had nothing to do with orchids. (No clue.) But with a flower like this, words are a bit superfluous anyway.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unfinished business: Justicia scheidweileri

Just a few little things connecting to this particular plant, which seems to keep drawing my attention lately.


Last fall, I asked the hive mind for an ID for this plant:

It was on behalf of a reader, who'd written in to ask me. The plant turned out to be a Euphorbia leuconeura, and I expressed an interest in getting some seeds from the reader, the next time the plant produced some. S/He then sent me some. They didn't make it through the postal system intact, unfortunately:

But I went ahead and planted the pieces anyway, on the off chance that something might happen, and much to my astonishment and delight, something came up:

Which made me very happy. I mean, I didn't know what E. leuconeura seedlings were supposed to look like, but I knew they were supposed to have green leaves with silver/white veins, and this did, and I hadn't planted anything else there, so what else could it have been?

And so I persisted in this belief until some point last week, when I noticed that the Euphorbia was blooming. Very exciting stuff, except . . . uh-oh, that's not what Euphorbia blooms look like.

Which is how I came to realize that my Euphorbia leuconeura was actually a Justicia scheidweileri. I should probably have figured this out before now, but you know how it is. I knew it didn't look like I was expecting, but the only seeds I remember ever planting are the Euphorbia ones. I'm almost positive that the parent Justicia never lived in the basement, but that's where the seedling showed up, and although I suppose I might have planted seeds on purpose and then forgot about doing so, I don't think I knew what Justicia seeds even looked like, or had thought to try to collect them, until last week. Kind of a lot to forget, there. So you can't really blame me for assuming that the seeds I planted were the seeds that sprouted.

So. Um. If anybody has any Euphorbia leuconeura seeds sitting around that they aren't using, let me know, 'cause apparently I still need some.


I mentioned recently that I've been finding seedlings here and there of plants I suspected were Justicia scheidweileri, but I didn't have any pictures, and said I'd let you know when I did.

So now I'm letting you know.

This particular seedling is in a pot which is ordinarily about six, six and a half feet (1.8-2.0 m) away (the precise distance varies because plants don't go back in precisely the same spots when I take them down to water); in between are a number of tall Synadenium grantii and Monstera deliciosa. So this is very unlikely. I've found another one in a pot two feet (0.6 m) straight up, and several in pots closer to the plant.


After discovering the seedlings so far away from the original plant, I thought well gee, if the plant's throwing so many seeds around that I'm finding seedlings six feet away, maybe I should check and see if I can find the seeds that didn't make it to a pot, 'cause there must be tons of them.

The Justicia is on the same wire shelves as everything else, but its particular shelf has a sheet of clear acrylic on top of it, because there's a heat/air-conditioning vent under the shelves and I was trying to block the air from blowing directly on the plants. Which turns out to mean that I accidentally put a seed-catching tray underneath the plant that shoots seeds everywhere.

It turned out not to be that difficult to identify the seeds and pick them out -- they're heart-shaped, dark brown, and about 1.5 mm (about 1/16 inch) long. Behold:

So to sum up. I understood, when I first looked it up, that Justicia scheidweileri (a.k.a. Porphyrocoma pohliana) had a tendency to spread when outdoors. The surprising part is how intent on spreading it is indoors. I mean it's either 1) spread to rooms it was never even in, 2) convinced me to transport its seeds to other rooms and then wiped my memory after I planted them, or 3) both. It's a little creepy. Does seem to be a good houseplant, though. I mean, other than some wilting when it first arrived (which was fixed by moving it into a larger pot, that stays wet longer), I haven't had any problems with it, and it's bloomed for me in both natural (east window) and artificial light. No bug problems so far, it doesn't appear bothered by the humidity here (even in the winter), and the worst thing I can say about it is that it's kind of messy, with all the seeds and spent flowers everywhere. I have yet to see any of these in stores -- I gather they're considered more of an outdoor plant -- but it's not for lack of amiability on their part.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Music video: Weird Al Yankovic "Perform This Way"

In case anyone thought that Lady Gaga was unparodyable. (Almost, but Weird Al manages it.)

(I kind of love the octopus / Taj Mahal outfit.)

Pretty picture: Chirita 'Deco' flower

As promised earlier, I present to you the first opened flower on my Chirita 'Deco:'

Very frustrated with the camera. I don't feel like it got the colors right, even after I tried to adjust them. This is possibly that thing again where cameras don't photograph blues and purples accurately. I don't know. In any case, it's a much nicer flower than I had been anticipating, it's lasted a long time, and there are more getting ready to open, so I'm pretty happy about this.

The plant's been in the (cool, humid) basement, in what I'd ordinarily call moderate light -- lots of fluorescent lights around, but it doesn't get much light from any of them. I would have assumed that the light it was getting was insufficient for blooming, except that it obviously wasn't.

So here's a question, then -- why aren't Chiritas sold more often, if they're capable of this? There are a fair number of on-line sources, but I don't recall ever seeing one sold in a garden center. Too few flowers? Short-lived flowers? Hard to keep alive in a retail setting? Not attractive enough? Some Eastern-Iowa-specific quirk of the market? What's your guess?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Music Video: Wax Audio "I'm in Love With Judas Priest" (Lady Gaga / Judas Priest)

I'm on the verge of taking back everything nice I ever said about Lady Gaga -- I loved "Bad Romance" (and still do, pretty much), and I don't hate "Telephone" (but I don't love it either), but all the singles since then1 have been . . . well, I sort of feel like she's both trying too hard and like she's not trying hard enough. Like, she's working very hard to be shocking without actually doing anything, y'know, shocking. I mean, this is 2011: it's not enough anymore to go onstage, feign masturbation with a crucifix and call it a day: you have to put in some effort.2

Also. "Judas" particularly annoyed me, because it was not only too long by half,3 it was sort of deliberately harsh-sounding, and it's constructed almost identically to "Bad Romance."4 Plus there's the usual hodgepodge of religious references that don't add up to anything coherent, as last seen in "Alejandro" and "Born This Way," which, again, Madonna got there first.

She can't really be out of ideas already, can she?5

Anyway. So I was sort of surprised that I like this mash-up, because Judas Priest has most of these same problems, but it actually kind of works for me, because it smooths over the lurchiness of "Judas" and makes "Painkiller" (the Judas Priest song) a little bit poppier. Plus I think the whole "I'm in love with Judas (PRIEST!), Judas" bit is a clever bit of editing. Doesn't really make me like either original song any more than I did, and I'm not saying this is the pinnacle of artistic achievement in our time, but this mashup sort of takes the piss out of both songs, so I approve of the combination. If that makes any sense.


1 ("Alejandro," "Born This Way," "Judas," "The Edge of Glory")
2 To the best of my knowledge, Gaga hasn't even done that much: Madonna did, not quite twenty years ago. I will grant Gaga some shock points for the meat dress she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards, but that was last September.
3 It sort of sounds to me like she took the bridges from five or six different songs and threw them all together without even trying to make them flow naturally into one another.
4 The "oooh oooh oooh I'm in love with Judas" is an awful lot like the "whoa-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh, oh-oh-oh-oh, oh, oh, caught in a bad romance;" the "Judah, Judah-ah-ah" at the beginning is more or less interchangeable with "Rah rah, ah-ah-ah, Rama, rama-ma, Gaga, oh-la-la." I don't mind some nonsense syllables in my pop music, but Gaga could branch out, try some other vowels.
The actual melody of the chorus isn't the same as with "Bad Romance," but they're similar enough that when I get one song stuck in my head now, it flows back and forth to the other one -- it's like "I'm just a holy fool / Oh baby, he's so cruel / But I'm still in love with Judas, baby / whoa-oh-oh-oh-ooooooh, oh-oh-oh-oh, oh, oh, caught in a bad romance," lather rinse repeat.
5 (Feel free to use the comments to tell me how you never liked her in the first place, 'cause I know some of you must be dying to.)

List: Houseplants Which Bloom More or Less Continuously

There aren't very many plants which will actually bloom year-round, but there are a few, and there are even more than that with long bloom periods that might as well be continuous bloomers. As always, whether or not you actually see continuous blooming from one of these plants in your home is going to depend on whether or not you're providing the care it needs.

It's a short list this time, because honestly, I had a lot of trouble coming up with much. (It's a valuable characteristic because not many plants have it.) So by all means, if you know of another plant that belongs on the list that I haven't included, leave a note in the comments.

Abutilon cvv. (pictured: 'Bella Pink') have their flaws, but reluctance to bloom isn't one of them. I have three of the 'Bella' series, and 'Bella Pink' is rarely without at least one bloom, 'Bella Vanilla' flowers nearly as often, and I haven't seen a flower out of 'Bella Red' in months and months. Don't know why.

We had Acalypha reptans most of the time when I worked at the garden center -- it wasn't an incredibly strong seller -- and I didn't like it very much, because it was messy, but I don't remember seeing them without flowers very often.

Anthurium cvv. (shown: NOID) I have personally had a single Anthurium plant in bloom for two years straight before. This is at least partly because Anthurium flowers are very long lived: two to three months, on many varieties.

I haven't personally grown a Bougainvillea (shown: NOID) indoors ever, but I'm told that they can bloom continuously in at least some circumstances, and people do grow them indoors, so I think they technically count.

Euphorbia milii (shown: NOID) does seem to go through occasional brief rest periods for me, but that might have more to do with our weather than with day length. Certainly it blooms a lot of the time even if it does take breaks occasionally.

Hoya lacunosa blooming happens in waves for me: it produces a bunch of flowers about a week after a watering, then takes a break for a week, then flowers again. It's the only Hoya I have that's actually been willing to flower for me, but does so really easily.

Justicia scheidweileri (also still known as Porphyrocoma pohliana and a few other things) seems to be blooming much harder for me now that the days are longer, but it's at least had visible bracts, if not the actual flowers, for most of the last year. It did take a short break in the winter.

Murraya paniculata is another wave-type bloomer, with flower buds appearing in huge numbers about a week after a watering, then opening, drying up, and falling off a few days later. The smell can sometimes be intense. This photo shows only the one flower, but this particular plant can easily produce 50 at a time; I'd apparently caught it at a bad moment.

My personal Saintpaulias (shown: NOID) -- with one exception -- are all ungrateful assholes who haven't bloomed in about four months now, and seem determined to make me furious with them. (The exception is a plant I've had for a long time, which has truly never been completely without flowers in at least a couple years.) See below for theories. But other people, not me, get them to bloom all the time.

Spathiphyllum cvv. (shown: NOID) do have something of a bloom season (roughly February to October), but in good conditions, they can form blooms at any time.

The only two on this list that I haven't tried to grow are the Acalypha and the Bougainvillea, so I can't really speak to how easy or difficult they might be. Of the others, my three recommends would be Anthurium cvv., Euphorbia milii, and Hoya lacunosa, with Abutilon as an honorable mention.1

Anthurium cvv. and I have been friends for a very long time now. I grow mine in a large, east-facing window, so they get morning sun, though the light is somewhat filtered by other plants. Soil choice is very important -- the plant in the photo above was killed by a badly-timed repotting into soil that was too heavy. (I recommend cutting a regular, good potting mix about 50-50 with coarse, unchopped sphagnum, though smaller plants in smaller pots can usually be potted into unamended potting mix.) It's been my experience that keeping them too wet is more likely to be fatal than letting them get too dry, though in an appropriate potting mix you have more leeway than you'd think. A lot of people say they need high humidity and warmth; I haven't found humidity to be that critical with the varieties I have, but temperature is still important -- mine are at about 70-75F / 21-24C, round the clock. They'll bloom without much fertilizer, but blooms are larger and more abundant when they're well-fed. Flowers are unscented.

I had my Euphorbia milii for over a year before figuring out how to convince it to bloom: it turned out to need more fertilizer and light than I was giving it. They're a little more difficult than the average succulent Euphorbia, in that they prefer to be a little wetter than you'd expect, but they're very tolerant of low humidity and fairly resistant to pests. (Mealybugs are always a problem.) The sap is poisonous, as is the case for most/all succulent Euphorbias: definitely avoid contact with eyes, keep away from children/pets, the usual drill. Flowers are unscented.

Hoya lacunosa isn't much to look at, but it flowers freely in bright light (mine didn't start to bloom until I had it almost touching a pair of fluorescent shop lights -- the leaves began to yellow and everything -- but once started, it's never really stopped, even though I moved it away from the shop lights ages ago), if kept well-fed. Some direct sun helps. The flowers have a strong pleasant scent, which to me smells like a florist's display case.

For the traditional anti-recommend, I'm torn between Saintpaulia and Bougainvillea, but I think I have to go with Saintpaulia.

Bougainvillea I mostly dislike because they get big and awkward to move around, plus they have large, sharp thorns. This is why I've never tried to grow one.

Saintpaulia and I, on the other hand, have tried over and over, and with a single exception, it's never gone well. Usually I wind up underwatering at some point and they die, but currently I think the problem might be cyclamen mites. All but one of my Saintpaulias stopped blooming a few months ago; several have been producing stunted, curled or twisted leaves; and one of the ones with the twisted leaves also has weird tan patches on the newest leaves. This could be an indication of cold damage, which a couple people have suggested to me by e-mail, and they were in the (cold) plant room all winter so that's plausible, but I moved all of them into the (warmer) living room a few weeks ago, and they're acting the same or getting worse. I'll try to get some photos up sometime this week, in hopes that someone can confirm or rule out the cyclamen mite theory.

This is not typical of most people's experiences with African violets, and it wasn't typical of my experiences until about February, but I'm finding it very hard to come up with anything nice to say about them at the moment.

Not pictured:
  • Begonia cvv. (wax begonias, maybe also Rieger begonias and non-stop begonias)? I saw wax begonias mentioned as constant bloomers on a website or two while I was writing this; I don't know if it's actually true when they're grown indoors.
  • Brugmansia cvv. (reader suggestion)
  • Codonanthe cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Columnea cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Episcia cvv., at least some cvv. (flame violet) My Episcia 'Coco' has been in nearly-constant bloom since I got it last summer. It's been under artificial light, so it's possible it's confused about what time of the year it is. None of my other Episcias are anywhere near as consistent as 'Coco' is, though.
  • Fuchsia cvv. (reader suggestion)
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis cvv. (tropical hibiscus) The ones we overwintered in the greenhouse at work were more or less constant bloomers, though they did slow down considerably in the winter. I'm presently finding it tough to say anything nice about Hibiscus as well. I almost decided not to try to overwinter them last year, because they'd gotten spider mites bad the year before, but I went ahead and saved them anyway. They didn't get mites, but large sections of both plants died; I should have gone with my first impulse and chucked them.
  • Hoya bella (reader suggestion)
  • Impatiens cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Kohleria cvv. (some? all?) Long bloom period but not, strictly speaking, ever-blooming. (reader suggestion)
  • Mammillaria rhodantha (reader suggestion)
  • Mandevilla cvv. Another one that bloomed continuously in the greenhouse at work, but might or might not in the home. They're so prone to spider mites that I would never bring one into my house on purpose, though.
  • Osmanthus fragrans (sweet olive) (reader suggestion)
  • Oxalis cvv. (some cvv.)? Another one I saw on websites but have no direct personal experience with. I know for certain that not all Oxalis varieties bloom continuously.
  • Pelargonium cvv. (geranium) Another one that bloomed continuously in the work greenhouse. I think most people either throw them out in the fall or bring them in and let them go dormant, so I'm not sure how practical of a suggestion this is, but it's at least technically feasible.
  • Psychopsis cvv. (an orchid) (reader suggestion)
  • Rosa cvv. (miniature roses) (reader suggestion)
  • Streptocarpus cvv. (cape primrose) If grown under artificial light. (reader suggestion)

1 Abutilon only gets an honorable mention because they're not without their difficulties. My plants, all three varieties, are extremely messy, dropping leaves and spent flowers more or less constantly, which is annoying. They grow fast enough to replace the leaves they're dropping, but still. They're also inclined to flop over, to an obnoxious degree: I could probably fix this by keeping a fan on them, or staking the stems, but for whatever reason(s), I haven't done that. I also haven't pruned them the way I should -- I don't know what way one should prune Abutilons, but whatever it is, I know I haven't done it -- which means they're floppy, asymmetrical plants that would accumulate a pile of debris underneath them if I didn't move them to water every 7-14 days. (Instead, they leave a trail of debris from the basement, where I keep them, up the stairs and into the plant room.)
They also are extremely intolerant of drought, prone to whitefly, do poorly in heat, and need bright light and a lot of fertilizer in order to bloom, so they're not the easiest plants. For all their flaws, though, they're still one of the best fits for the category, because they really will bloom year-round.
Around here, not all establishments carry Abutilons, and those that do tend to have only the 'Bella' types, and they're only available in the spring at the start of the outdoor gardening season, but it might be different where you live. They can also be ordered on-line from a number of different places, if you're looking for something variegated or whatever.