Saturday, September 3, 2011

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

It's been a busy week for all of us.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Name That Mutant!

The husband and I went to see the rabbits on Tuesday. Mostly the trip was disappointing -- I really only saw a handful of plants I was at all interested in buying, and couldn't afford the one below, which is the one I wanted the most.

I know it doesn't look like much. It's mostly interesting because of who it is, not what it looks like. Can you guess the species? I'll give you one hint: it's the subject of one of the plant profiles. (Not much of a hint, I realize, since there are now 100 plant profiles as of a few days ago. But that's all you get.)






The answer: it's Schefflera actinophylla 'Renegade.'

This is the first one I've seen in person. From the (small, low-resolution) pictures I saw when I was working on the S. actinophylla profile, I couldn't figure out how 'Renegade' worked: the leaves appeared to stick out of the main stem directly, instead of being multiple leaflets on a long petiole, the way the species usually works.

(A normally-shaped but poorly-photographed S. actinophylla leaf.)

Having now gotten a close look at 'Renegade,' I understand a bit better. The plant still has petioles, they're just . . . um . . . well, I thought of phocomelia.

The petioles ("Petioles" might not be the right word for it, but I am confused about the difference between "petiole," "petiolule," "pinna," "rachis," and "rachilla," and was unable to figure out which was which on my own. So I'm just going to call them all "petioles" until somebody can explain to me what the correct terminology would be, at which point I'll change it. Is there a botanist in the house?) are extremely short, and abnormally thick, but produce the same number of leaflets. Instead of pointing in every direction, the leaflets wind up all pointing away from the main stem. I also noticed when I got home and was looking at these pictures that 'Renegade' appears to do something I've never seen on any other Schefflera: it has a third layer of petioles, in spots.

The regular "petiole" is considerably shortened, and indicated by the pink line. Then there are the "petioles" which connect to the individual leaflets, as in the normal plant (orange). Except that even the petioles' petioles have petioles, on the far left and far right (yellow). This is cool, but more or less impossible to describe without a visual aid.

So I find myself both attracted and repulsed by 'Renegade.' On one hand, it has going for it that it'd make a much tidier plant: it won't take up as much floor space as one of the more standard varieties, and the overall shape of the plant is a bit more defined. On the other hand, it's kind of a monster and will probably scar the fragile psyches of children with its grotesque deformities. So.

What does everybody else think?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More corrections

Readers have alerted me to two more errors on PATSP, having to do with one of the profile posts and one misidentified plant. Then I ran into another thing all on my own, where something in one of the profiles needed a bit of clarification. So here we are again.

1. Ficus elastica and isoprene

In the Ficus elastica profile, I sort of implied that the people making natural rubber extract isoprene from the sap of Hevea brasiliensis and other plants, then polymerize it into natural rubber. This is not the case.

Model of isoprene. Black balls are carbon atoms, white are hydrogen, and the gray connectors represent pairs of electrons. This is my own photo: I would have used it in the Ficus elastica profile, except that I'd forgotten I owned a molecular model set.1

Straight-up, pure isoprene can and does exist. It's a colorless, low-boiling liquid which is mostly obtained either as a byproduct of oil and naphtha refining, or by heating natural rubber until it starts disintegrating into smaller molecules. The isoprene so obtained can then be polymerized into a substance with properties very close to natural rubber.2 Readers who collect oxymorons will be pleased to know that the term for this artificially polymerized, artificially obtained polyisoprene is "synthetic natural rubber."

However. Natural natural rubber polymerizes within the plant, forming small globs of polyisoprene that float around in the sap. When the sap is collected from the plant, these globs are then coagulated, washed, filtered, pressed, and stretched to form blocks of rubber. So it's still technically correct of me to say that isoprene is polymerized to form natural rubber, but the polymerization has already happened by the time the sap is collected.3

2. Persea americana toxicity

Next up, in the Persea americana profile, I devoted footnote 2 to the toxicity of the plant, saying that all parts of the plant except the fruit should be considered toxic, particularly to pets. Then Poor Richard's Almanac had to go and spoil that one for me by writing a post about the culinary use of avocado leaves.

My Persea americana, as of yesterday morning. I had two plants to begin with, and planted them together in this pot to try to make it fuller. That's mostly worked, but the two plants together seem to dry out a lot faster than they did when separated, so there have been more dropped leaves and

This sent me deep into the bowels of the internet to do research. I won't bore you with all the twists and turns, but the gist is:

Yes, people really do cook with avocado leaves.

No, not any avocado leaf will do: the variety used in Mexican cooking is a specific race of the avocado (according to some sources it's a separate species, Persea drymifolia, but others consider it just a race of P. americana).

Avocado leaves should still be considered toxic to all pets, especially especially especially to birds: ALLLLLLLLLLLL the bird-toxicity lists say Persea fruit or foliage is potentially lethal for at least some species of bird, and they say this over and over again, in extremely shrill and insistent language.

Humans don't seem to be as affected by the toxin in avocado leaves as animals are, and animals aren't all affected to the same degree. Wikipedia's article on persin, the actual toxic agent in Persea americana leaves,4 reports that consumption of avocado leaves produces a wide array of unpleasantness in a whole barnyard full of animals (cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, mice, cows, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, ostriches, chickens, turkeys and fish), ranging from reduced milk production all the way up to asphyxia and death. (Wikipedia's original source is a bit more detailed, q.v.)

The way to tell whether you have one of the cooking-type avocado leaves or the useless and/or poisonous avocado leaves: leaves which are okay to cook with will smell like anise, and the fruits will have much thinner skin. Generally, if you start an avocado plant from a supermarket fruit's seed, you're not going to end up with leaves you can cook with.

So I was partly wrong: a subset of avocado plants have leaves which are not toxic, at least not in the small quantities needed to flavor food. (I don't recommend sitting down and eating ten leaves in one sitting, even if it is the drymifolia variety.) In the context of a houseplant that was started from a supermarket avocado, though, you're better off treating it as toxic. Even if it doesn't hurt you, it's not likely to do anything for your food.

3. Aloe aristata isn't Aloe aristata

Finally, I've found out from Taylor Holzer (a reader) that I've been calling the below plant Aloe aristata when it is in fact a hybrid of Aloe aristata and something else.

My Aloe aristata x whatever, in January 2011.

The most likely candidate, I think, is Gasteria batesiana, which cross is called Gasteraloe x beguinii, but a similar hybrid is formed by A. aristata and A. variegata, and I'll probably never know for sure which cross I have.

A. aristata is apparently distinguishable by the dead tips on the ends of the leaves, and the thinner, less fleshy leaves. (I'd thought that maybe the differences just depended on cultural conditions -- since I'm not growing them outdoors, a lot of my plants don't look quite like they ought to. But sadly, no.) It's also reluctant to offset, is the rumor, whereas my plant offsets more or less constantly. My guesses about the actual ancestry are based both on Holzer's own guesses and on this discussion thread at

Aloe aristata hybrid (L), Aloe aristata species (R). Photo credit: Taylor Holzer. Used by permission.

I will go through the blog and change the name at some point, but I just finished a few rounds of name-changing, and am pretty sick of it, so it might take me a while. (It's bad enough that I have to go change two profiles.) Since some of you got offsets of this plant from me, though, I figured I should let you know that it was half-misidentified.


Photo credits: Mine except where noted.

1 Yes, I am that nerdy. In fact, it's actually quite a bit worse than you think, because I don't just have a molecular model set, I have six, which were purchased between my senior year of high school and my sophomore year of college. (The first one, in high school, was I think actually a birthday or Christmas present from Mom and Dad, but I think I bought the other five. It's been a while; some of the details are fuzzy.) So I can model anything up to about 80 carbon atoms. Here is a short segment of a natural rubber (cis-polyisoprene) molecule, for example:

2 It's not exactly the same as natural rubber because natural rubber contains impurities from the original sap: fatty acids, proteins, inorganic compounds ("ash"), that sort of thing.
3 (If you want to be even more technical: the plants don't polymerize isoprene, but its phosphorylated form.)
4 Regrettably, in the course of editing this post, I lost a "persin"/"person" pun I was very proud of. I could put it here anyway, but it was context-dependent and wouldn't be funny without the set-up. I just wanted you to know.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pretty picture: Phalaenopsis NOID

This orchid picture is not from the Quad Cities Orchid Show last March, unlike most of the orchid pictures I post. It's not that I've suddenly become a fan of Phalaenopsis or anything, but I thought this was an interesting variety, with an unusual pattern to it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Work-related: everybody looks bad

This post is a little over two years old. I ran into it during the recent blog maintenance, and I was initially surprised that I hadn't posted it, because it looked like it was more or less complete: the pictures were already present, the code for the footnotes (usually the last thing I do with a post, because it's awkward to change once in place) had been done. It's rare for a post to reach this stage without getting posted.

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Zinnia 'Profusion Mix.'

Ouch. The first Saturday of May should not be sunny. It brings out too many customers all at once. It wasn't necessarily terrible to be busy, though I did something to my back early in the day, which hurts, and which would probably heal up just fine if I could rest it, but I've got (as I write this on Sunday morning) two more days of work, and then I have to water all the plants at home, so that's not looking too likely.

(Just FYI, though: the first Saturday in May is probably the weekend you want to show up to shop, if you live around here: our actual last frost date is May 15, give or take, but if you want to be able to buy before we're sold out of things, a couple weeks earlier is about ideal. And actually the first Friday is probably even better, if you can manage it.)

For as many as there were, the customers on Saturday were very well-behaved (better than the co-workers, anyway: one of the co-workers is closer than s/he realizes to being beaten to death with a shovel1), with one exception:

One lady waved me over to the succulents while I was watering and asked for a price on a $9.95 Adenium obesum.

I told her $9.95.

Tagetes patula 'Little Hero Yellow.'

Oh, she said, well someone told me it was only $5.99.

I don't know what to tell you, I said back. The prices go by pot size, that's a 4-inch pot, therefore it's $9.95.

CUSTOMER: But someone said $5.99.

MR_S: Well, um, we do have $5.99 plants, but That. Is. Not. One. Of. Them.

[long pause]

CUSTOMER: Okay, well, thank you.

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost.'

So then a couple hours later, one of the front counter people comes back to the greenhouse for something or another, and while s/he's back there, s/he says, so -- what's the price on those plants that have the big bulb thing at the base? Are those succulents or tropicals or what?

MR_S: Which ones? These? [pointing to a Beaucarnea recurvata]

FRONT COUNTER PERSON: Maybe. I'm not sure.

Then it dawned on me why s/he was asking, and I pointed to the Adeniums, and s/he was like, yes, that one. What price are those?

MR_S: $9.95.

Osteospermum 'Summertime Red Velvet.'

FRONT COUNTER PERSON: 'Cause I had a customer insist that somebody had told her $5.99.

MR_S: Yeah, I know which customer you're talking about. I told her $9.95 repeatedly.

FRONT COUNTER PERSON: Wait -- you'd told her $9.95?

MR_S: Repeatedly.


Bracteantha bracteata 'Firey Orange.'

MR_S: Why? What price did you give her?

FRONT COUNTER PERSON: Well she kept saying someone had told her $5.99, so we wound up giving it to her for $5.99. [pause] You know, I don't mean to talk bad about [customer's ethnic group],

MR_S: [cringes in anticipation]

FRONT COUNTER PERSON: but . . . [proceeds to talk bad about customer's ethnic group]

MR_S: *facepalm*

Only 20 days left.3

Osteospermum 'Summertime Sunshine.'


1 Exaggerated for dramatic effect, but s/he has about a 50-50 chance of getting the verbal equivalent of being beaten to death with a shovel, whatever that would be, before I'm done with the job. S/he would be wise to stay out of my way. Tragically, s/he is not a particularly wise person, and probably will not stay out of my way.
2 Also exaggerated for dramatic effect. I don't remember exactly what s/he said.
3 Unless I come back for June. Which I said I might do. Not looking real probable at the moment, though.

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For what it's worth, the one problematic co-worker didn't get beaten with a shovel. Still deserves it, though.

I'm not certain which front counter person was in the story -- my personal journal doesn't record the interaction -- but if it's who I remember it as being, then yes, s/he still works there.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Elsewhere on the Web

Get Busy Gardening! is having a houseplant giveaway in two weeks; details for how to enter are here. Only those in the continental U.S. are eligible to enter, alas.

You don't get to choose what plants you'll receive, and she doesn't say specifically what she's choosing among, even. The pictures she posts with the announcement suggest that it'll be an assortment of fairly easy-to-grow, passalong-type plants. So readers who have large collections already will probably want to skip the contest, but those just beginning to get into houseplants might find this a convenient way to get lots of stuff all at once. Tell her Mr. Subjunctive sent you.