Monday, October 15, 2012

A Final Six Plants I'm Not Currently Mad At (Po through Z)

And now, the thrilling conclusion of the plants-I'm-not-currently-mad-at series. (A-G is here; H-Pn is here.)

1. Podocarpus macrophyllus

Podocarpus has died several times under my care already, and may again, but we're getting along for the moment. This one's my longest-lived yet. (Two and a half years!)

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 4.5" / 11.5 cm?

The problem is always watering: let a Podocarpus get too dry, and you will have an unhappy Podocarpus. My solution to this has been to keep mine in a larger pot than I normally would (I repotted shortly after the above photo was taken, in fact), and to water every time its turn comes around in the watering cycle (i.e. every two weeks), whether it feels dry or not.1

Date: April 2010.
Pot size: 4" / 10 cm.

Otherwise, not that big of a deal. I have a faint recollection of mealybugs or scale in the recent past, but I'm not sure if that's something that actually happened or just something I was dreading really vividly. It's been happy with artificial light so far, and has lived in the basement since its arrival, so the cooler temperature and higher humidity down there may be contributing to its non-death.

In any case, this is a plant that really shouldn't be working out for me, but it nevertheless is. At the moment. We'll see how that goes.

2. Polyscias fruticosa

As nervous as I was about buying Polyscias fruticosa, it's turned out to be a really reliable, good plant. They have a reputation for being temperamental, though this is probably more about them preferring consistency. Don't move it around a lot, and give it dependable water, and it should be fine.

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 12" / 31 cm.

They're also surprisingly fast growers, when they feel like it. This plant has at least tripled in height in the three and a half years it's lived here. (I'm actually starting to worry that it might outgrow its spot!)

Date: May 2010?
Pot size: 6" / 15 cm.

I've had it in an east window for at least a couple years. It's been getting water every two weeks, plus a generous amount of fertilizer (year-round), but that's going to have to change, since I moved it into a larger pot a month ago. Watering will probably be more like once a month now.

It's never had any pests, and defoliated dramatically only once, this last summer. I think that was because it had gotten pretty rootbound, and was drying out too quickly, though it's also possible that the top leaves had just become so abundant that the leaves at the bottom were getting shaded out. Only the bottom leaves dropped, and not terribly many of them.

3. Rhapis excelsa

Rhapis excelsa is exactly the kind of plant I'm wanting to spotlight with these posts. I all but forget that I have it, because it never does anything terribly dramatic. It doesn't even need watering as often as most of the plants. It doesn't bloom, it grows really slowly, it holds on to its leaves, it suckers sluggishly -- there's really no reason to ever notice it. It even looks pretty much the same now as it did when I first got it:

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 8" / 20 cm.

Date: March 2008.
Pot size: 6" / 15 cm.

At the same time, though, this is actually what a lot of people are looking for in a houseplant.2 And even if it's not six times the size it used to be, there's a lot to be said for a plant that will just mind its own business and grow without getting bugs or requiring pruning or whatever.

The only complaint I have about Rhapis is that the leaf tips used to burn on me. They've stopped, since the plant got relocated to a cooler, darker spot, but it's not clear whether the change in temperature and light fixed the tip-burn problem or if it was something else entirely.3 Presently, it's in the basement, on the floor, where it gets heavily filtered light from some of the shop lights (though it doesn't have its own shop light) and some indirect sun, on the days when we have sun. I water it about every 4 or 6 weeks, and fertilize lightly year-round. I've yet to see any pests on it. I would love, love, love to propagate R. excelsa, but it grows so slowly, and propagation is so uncertain, that I haven't been willing to take the gamble yet.

4. Stapelia gigantea

S. gigantea is another plant like Plectranthus verticillatus, that's gotten smaller since I've had it; in this case, the reduction occurred because I cut off a big chunk of it for cuttings. (If I remember correctly, all the cuttings were successful. They're more wrinkled than the parent, and floppier, which is worrisome, but all are still alive, and most are now producing new growth.)

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 6" / 15 cm.

The flowers are certainly interesting, though not necessarily the main thing I like about the plant. It scores points with me mostly for its tactile qualities, not so much its appearance (though the appearance is cool) or the flowers' smell (which is in fact unpleasant, though not as terrible as I'd been led to believe it would be). That, and it's easy to grow.

Date: September 2009.
Pot size: 6" / 15 cm.

My plant has been in a west window since I've owned it, not counting a brief period when it first arrived and I had it outside. (A bad idea: it burned.4) It would probably prefer a bit more light than that, but that's as good as I can do, and it seems to be able to get by on that. The cuttings are all downstairs under artificial light, which is even less bright than a west window, and they do okay, though it's worth noting that they aren't growing very fast.

The parent plant gets watered every time the watering cycle comes around, every two weeks; the cuttings get water more like every three or four weeks, but it's colder in the basement, and they aren't getting as much light, and they're in plastic pots, so that makes sense. I fertilize year-round. Sources elsewhere on the internet tell me not to let the temperature go below about 50-55F (10-13C), but neither the plant room nor the basement normally get that cold, so temperature and humidity aren't much of an issue. There have never been any pest problems; I've been watching for scale lately (because the cuttings are in that neighborhood of the basement), but so far I haven't seen any.

5. Stenocereus thurberi

Stenocereus thurberi was one of the plants I was offering for sale in the spring this year, because even though I liked the look of it, I didn't seem to have enough light to convince it to grow. Nobody was interested, though, so when I ended the plant-selling, the S. thurberi went outside, and once it was out there, it did produce some new growth.

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 4" / 10 cm.

It's not dramatic new growth, of course. You would be forgiven for not noticing that the two pictures were different. But the top two or three areoles on each rib above is new growth as of this summer, and I've had the plant for almost three years. So it's a big deal to me.

Date: December 2009.
Pot size: 3" / 7.5 cm (along diagonal).

Other than its unreasonably high demand for light, S. thurberi has been easy enough to grow indoors: I try to keep it drier and reduce fertilizer in the winter, though I still water about every 4-6 weeks.

I suppose it's a little odd to praise a plant for not growing, but that's basically what I'm doing here: I've thrown out cacti that grew while not getting enough light,5 because the new growth is small, pale, and weak, and even when given better conditions afterward, plants don't necessarily fill in the spindly growth.6 So it's actually good if a plant refuses to grow for three years because it doesn't have enough light. Hopefully it won't keep growing this winter out of some misguided biological momentum or something.

6. Zamia furfuracea (?)

I repotted Z. furfuracea (or whatever it is7) in August, because it had been in the same 4-inch (10 cm) clay pot for a few years. It turned out that it did need to be repotted, but it's also lost a few leaves since then, which is something it basically never did before. It's also growing much larger new leaves now, so it's fine: the point is just that after a long period of being a good, stable plant for me, it's starting to undergo some Changes, and we don't yet know for sure how that's going to turn out.

Date: September 2012.
Pot size: 6" / 15 cm.

That said, though, I have no complaints with it so far. It's been fine close to an east window. It used to get watered every two weeks; I think so far I've continued to do that, post-repotting, but it may slow down to every four weeks in the winter, depending on how quickly it seems to be drying out. Neither temperature nor humidity are likely to be an issue to someone growing it indoors, and I've never had pest problems on mine.8

Date: October 2009.
Pot size: 4" / 10 cm.

Also relatively non-upsetting:

Sansevieria cylindrica
Sansevieria hargesiana
Scindapsus pictus
Selenicereus chrysocardium
Stenocereus pruinosus
Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar'
Tradescantia spathacea
Vriesea imperialis


1 Is it possible to overwater a Podocarpus? Probably. I have one houseplant book that says they're prone to root rot if they're kept too wet or left to stand in water. It's not something I've ever seen personally, though.
2 My recollection, from the garden center days, is that the houseplant every customer is looking for:
• has large, shiny, mostly-green leaves, with optional variegation,
• needs almost no light at all,
• produces huge flowers, year-round, in any shade of any color desired,
• is pleasantly- but not overpoweringly-scented,
• never needs fertilizer or repotting,
• is nontoxic to pets and children,
• and will grow to the height of exactly six feet (1.8 m) tall and then stop getting taller.
It takes a few months, but one does eventually get used to disappointing the customers.
3 The old spot was also in the basement, so things like temperature and humidity should have been more or less the same; the main difference between the two situations is that the first location had a shop light directly over the plant. I'm also fertilizing more now, but it would be weird if that was responsible: ordinarily if there's a tip-burn problem on a plant, more fertilizer will make it worse, not better.
4 They can, of course, grow outside in the sun: I just didn't try as hard as I could have to acclimate it gradually. It had most likely been growing inside on someone's windowsill before they brought it to the consignment store, so it would have been accustomed to lower light.
5 Specifically: Parodia microsperma and Echinocactus grusonii.
6 Some do, some don't: I have some mildly etiolated Myrtillocactus geometrizans that grew some weak new growth after arriving here, but they spent the summer outside this year and managed to fill in somewhat. They still don't look quite right: the newest growth is disproportionately big compared to the growth that immediately preceded it --

-- but the stems also thickened up a little bit, enough so that I'm optimistic that the plants will even themselves out eventually.
7 I'm positive that it's a Zamia; I just don't know which one.
8 I know they can get scale, though: when I worked at the garden center, we threw out a batch of Zamias (not necessarily the same species as mine) because they developed a bad scale infestation. Which was depressing: up to that point, I had been considering buying one of them for myself.


Liza said...

I love those Mings and the Rhapsis. Do you remember those huge Rhapsis plants at my bank that I posted photos of for you a couple years ago? They're gone now, and I'm all bummed that I don't know what happened to them. They were healthy and gorgeous one day, then gone the next time I went to the bank.

Anonymous said...

I recently got a parsley aralia in a 6" pot and I love it dearly. There was an initial "Where am I?!" phase where it dropped a handful of leaves after coming home with me, and then I accidentally let it get too dry. But since watering more often it has started putting out new growth, and I really admire its delicate appearance.

I hope the aralias become more common again.

Tigerdawn said...

Re: Footnote 2- So people want a 6 ft. fake hibiscus with perfume spayed on it.

Ivynettle said...

Ah, yes, customer expectations... a few months to get used to them, and then a few more months later, it gets a little difficult not to yell at them, "Stop being so stupid!"

My plants are making me feel a little tired right now. Can we just fast-forward to January, when I can start selling plants at my workplace again? (We're not doing much business this late in the year, and I'd feel bad about taking plants in now and leaving them in the cold shop all winter...)

mr_subjunctive said...



Perhaps they're in a better place now?


That more or less matches my experience. I have four of the "parsley" aralias, one plain green, two rooted cuttings from the plain green one, and a variegated one. They've all been a little more touchy about getting dry than the ming was, but they also all started out as smaller plants (the originals were 4", and the cuttings were started in 3" pots), so that's maybe to be expected. Since the two originals moved up to 6" pots, they've been a lot easier to deal with.


Something like that. Some customers would like the fake perfumed Hibiscus to be attached to an air filter as well.

LarryS said...

Ah Im a plant addict in England and I just found your blog- looks great!!

Paul said...

The Polyscias fruticosa which I obtained from you is -- surprisingly -- still doing quite well. Typically I have trouble keeping them going for more than a year or so.

Anonymous said...

I have tried to grow Rhapsis several times. SEVERAL times. I love the way they look when they are big as Liza said - and then, poof. Dead. I ended up doing this: Cheater, cheater, I know. But the amount of time and money I put into the real ones only set myself up for disaster. These actually LOOK real and I can't kill them!!! *sigh* Of course just the fact that I am reading this blog tells you I may try again!