Saturday, December 8, 2012

List: Missing From Retail, Part 3 of 5

The explanation and background for this post can be found here, at part 1. (Part 2) (Part 4) (Part 5)

Gibasis geniculata. My photo.

Gibasis geniculata (Tahitian bridal veil), honestly, is kind of annoying, and I don't blame any retailer for not stocking it if they don't want to. We had a few hanging baskets of it at the ex-job when I started working there, and they were forever getting tangled in one another, or other plants. The stems broke easily but remained tangled, so unless we put a lot of very careful, nitpicky work into it, they'd always have dead stems running through the mass of foliage, which didn't look good. The flowers were fine, I guess, and it was actually a pretty easy plant to grow, but it was messy, inconvenient, and not nearly pretty enough to make up for the hassle.

Gloriosa rothschildiana. Photo by Jean-Jacques MILAN, originally posted to Wikimedia Commons.

Is the problem with Gloriosa spp. and cvv. (glory lily) that they're super-poisonous? Maybe. They're in a lot of the books, but I've never seen one for sale up here. Perhaps the growth habit is awkward: it's hard to tell from the photos I've seen (which are mostly close-ups of the flower, for obvious reasons). Maybe they don't flower reliably indoors. Maybe the United Nations is using their black helicopters to keep them out of the state of Iowa, because something-something one-world government.

I don't have any idea. It seems like if it had ever been a good idea to grow them in the house, it would probably still be a good idea to grow them in the house. And certainly the flowers are lovely. I'm baffled.

Grevillea robusta. Photo by Forest & Kim Starr, found via Wikipedia.

In each of the lists so far, there's been a Big Mystery plant, a plant that's widely described among houseplant books of a certain age, but has completely disappeared from the houseplant trade (at least in my personal experience). In the first list, it was Aucuba japonica, which turns out to be widely available, just not where I am or for the uses I would put it to. In the second, Geogenanthus poeppigii. My questions about that one were met with utter silence, so I conclude that either no one cares, or no one knows (perhaps because no one cares).

That plant for this list is Grevillea robusta (silk oak). Where did they all go? And why? Were there ever very many in the first place?

I know there are Grevilleas still being sold for outdoor use. Danger Garden grows a few of them (G. juniperina, G. lanigera, G. victoriae, etc.), and I'm pretty sure Far Out Flora has at least mentioned them once or twice as well. So it's not like the genus has suddenly gone extinct.

I've seen some references to G. robusta having skin-irritant properties similar to those of poison ivy, which could something to do with it. (The older books don't mention this, though.) Though that doesn't seem to be stopping anybody from growing them outdoors. Maybe they're another victim of the changing standards in new-home construction? If they can be grown outdoors in the Northwest U.S., that suggests that they probably don't mind cold too much. I don't know.

Haemanthus albiflos. Photo from a PATSP reader; addressed in this post.

Haemanthus albiflos (elephant's tongue, shaving-brush plant) and other Haemanthus spp. are probably not helped by their slow growth rates, but by most accounts H. albiflos is pretty easy to grow,1 and the flowers may not be gorgeous but they're at least interesting. If there's a market for Philodendron hederaceum, I'd think there would be a market for Haemanthus.

The only guess I can come up with is that maybe it's not sold very often because it's a passalong?2 That's how I wound up with mine; maybe that's how everybody gets them.

Heliconia psittacorum 'Bright Lights.' My photo.

I've seen Heliconia psittacorum 'Bright Lights' for sale a couple times at the ex-job, and I assume other Heliconia cvv. (lobster claw, false bird of paradise) are probably available further south. (The main appeal of H. psittacorum is, I think, that it's relatively small for a Heliconia; many of them get big.) Both I and WCW3 have tried them indoors, and neither of us was particularly satisfied. We both got spider mites; my plant also seemed to want more humid air than it was getting, and was either getting underwatered or overwatered but it would never tell me which.

So I wouldn't try this again, but it did do surprisingly well for several months after I first got it, so Heliconia might still work for some people. Even if it isn't a great choice for your average plant-buyer, the inflorescences can last for a long time, so I'd think retailers might still be able to display them profitably. I don't have any guesses as to why they don't.

I could find plenty of copyrighted photos of small container-grown plants, or I could find Creative Commons photos of full-grown adult outdoor plants, but I couldn't find any pictures showing a small containerized plant that I was legally able to reuse.

It is entirely possible that I see Howea forsteriana (kentia palm) for sale all the time and just don't realize it. I can't really distinguish between Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, Howea forsteriana, and Chamaedorea cataractum, in large part because I've never been able to directly compare all three. In fact, I've only actually seen Howea forsteriana tagged as Howea forsteriana once. This is despite several books' claims that they're either the best or second-best palm to have indoors. (Chamaedorea elegans generally being the other one.4)

The reason is that they germinate and grow so slowly that it's not really cost-effective for growers to produce them. People will buy the much faster-growing Ravenea rivularis (majesty palm) just as readily, so Ravenea can be sold for less than half the cost of Howea. Raveneas are also, of course, very poorly suited to indoor conditions, but the long-term fate of the plant is irrelevant to the growers (they already have your money either way), so they don't factor it in.

I don't know how to fix this situation. I can recommend that people ask for Howeas specifically, but I don't have first-hand experience that they're any better than Chrysalidocarpus or Chamaedorea, and I don't know how to tell the difference anyway. I could get first-hand experience, and learn how to tell the difference, if any producers ever sent them to the stores for me to look at, buy, and grow, but the producers can't do that because the consumers wouldn't buy them. The consumers might buy them, if only they knew that they wanted them. I could tell the consumers they wanted to buy them, if I were able to distinguish between the three species and had first-hand experience growing them. Wheeee!

Jatropha multifida. My photo, taken at the Quad City Botanical Center.

I've seen Jatropha podagrica (Buddha belly plant) at Wallace's once; we never got any Jatropha spp. at the ex-job, though they were on the availability lists occasionally. Pretty sure I've never seen Jatrophas for sale anywhere else, though the QCBC has J. multifida (coral plant, Guatemalan rhubarb), as you can see in the above photo, so I've at least seen the two most cultivated species.

I've never grown one personally; I understand they probably need more sun than I could offer. Other than that, I really don't have much to go on. As far as I can tell, temperature wouldn't be an issue. Maybe slow growth? Unappealing form?

Lachenalia aloides. Photo by BotBln, from Wikimedia Commons.

Holy crap, some Lachenalia spp./cvv. (no common name?) have some damn beautiful flowers. (There's a red one! And a turquoise-blooming one! And one with four-colored flowers!) And although one of the books which mentions Lachenalia has been in my possession for about a quarter-century, I had somehow never been consciously aware of them before now.

Now that I've noticed them, read up on them, and come to appreciate how pretty some of them are, I will have to forget them all again. Both books that mention Lachenalia agree that they need temperatures much colder than I'd ever be able to provide in the house (60-65F during the day, 40-45F at night). Which is a pretty obvious explanation for why I never see Lachenalia for sale.

Lapageria rosea. Photo credit: KENPEI, at Wikimedia Commons.

Lapageria rosea (Chilean bell flower) is another plant I know only from the Kramer book. Or almost, anyway -- Talking Plants did a post about Lapageria not too long ago as well, though he doesn't mention it being cultivated indoors.

Kramer calls it "a challenge," but doesn't include many specifics about the ways in which it might be challenging, and says it's "difficult to bloom," but also says "can tolerate abuse if necessary and still bloom." So no clues there. It's another climber, which is possibly significant: beyond that I don't even have a guess.

Manettia luteo-rubra. My photo.

I've seen Manettia luteo-rubra (firecracker plant, candy corn plant) for sale here as an outdoor annual, but not very often, and I didn't find them very impressive. I don't know of anyone who's tried to grow it indoors. The two books that mention it don't agree on the care it needs, though neither one makes it sound particularly difficult. Maybe it's just not interesting enough for people to care?

I understand Haemanthus is pretty easy indoors, and although I never did it personally, I'd bet Gibasis is very easy as well. I might be interested in Jatropha, in theory, even if I probably don't have the light it wants. And I would really like to try Howea at some point, if only to see what all the fuss is about, but it looks like the only way that's ever going to happen is if I start them myself from seed.

Not pictured:
  • Hedychium gardnerianum (kahili ginger, ginger lily): have never seen.
  • Hoya australis / bella (wax plants): I'm pretty sure I've seen H. bella around here occasionally; I don't recall H. australis, though.
  • Ixia spp./cvv. (corn lily): have never seen.
  • Ixora (West Indian jasmine, jungle geranium): the ex-job has them occasionally, I think. I have trouble distinguishing between Ixora and Pentas, for some reason, but I'm pretty sure they've had both.
  • Justicia brandegeana and carnea (shrimp plants): I've seen J. brandegeana once at the ex-job; not sure if I've run into them elsewhere or not.
  • Kohleria cvv. (kohleria): have never seen in retail. The ones I've tried to grow haven't done well.
  • Limonium (sea lavender, statice): the ex-job had one once, as an outdoor annual (?), but I think that was the only time I've seen any for sale at all, much less as a houseplant.
  • Liriope (lilyturf): sometimes available around here as an annual or tender perennial. One from the ex-job survived for me for a while indoors, but it never grew much, and spent its last year or so looking decidedly unhappy.
  • Lycaste spp. (lycaste): have never seen.
  • Malpighia coccigera (dwarf holly, miniature holly): may have seen as a faux bonsai, but the pictures that come up in Google don't look particularly familiar.
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (turk's cap mallow, nodding hibiscus): have never seen.
  • Masdevallia spp./cvv. (masdevallia): have seen at Orchids and Moore, the specialty orchid-seller in Iowa City, and possibly at the Quad Cities orchid shows (can't remember if any of those were for sale or not), but that's it.


1 I've only just gotten one myself, so I'll let you know eventually, I suppose.
2 (A plant that is so easy to propagate that offsets or cuttings or whatever get distributed from gardener to gardener directly, without ever being part of the commercial trade.)
3 (Remember her? I haven't seen WCW in forever, sadly.)
4 Which has not been my experience -- my best palm has been either Chamaedorea metallica or Rhapis excelsa, depending on the criteria you want to use for "best." But that's off-topic.


Ivynettle said...

My usual mile-long comment ;-)

Gibasia: I’ve seen some hanging baskets of these this year, but they were too expensive for me to be tempted.

Gloriosa: One store always has seeds, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant.

Haemanthus: We had some at the ex-job, but as mentioned previously, those plants weren’t for retail (they might have come from the botanical garden). I don’t think I’ve ever seen one flower, and without flowers, they’re pretty boring.

Howea: not sure – I never really pay attention to palms. I’m pretty sure the bloody huge plant that resided in the ex-job greenhouses for a while was a Howea, but that was not for sale, so it doesn’t really count.

Jatropha: I see these occasionally, but never really wanted one.

Hedychium: seen at the botanical garden, and possibly in the ex-job greenhouses during the winter. It was bloody huge.

Hoya: I have a H. bella, but never even seen H. australis

Ixia: might have seen bulbs

Ixora, Justicia : seen occasionally

Limonium: Had them as outdoor annuals/cutflowers both at the ex-job and the current one.

Read-about-but-never-seen: Grevillea, Kohleria, Liriope, Masdevallia

Never-even-read-about: Lachenalia, Lapageria, Manettia, Lycaste, Malphigia, Malvaviscus

nycguy said...

Gloriosa is sold as a tuber by bulb companies, and isn't hard to find. It isn't exactly seasonal, it pops up a growth whenever it feels like it. It goes dormnt a lot, but it's very showy, not to say brash, when it flowers.

Some of your other examples show up occasionally in the bulb catalogs too.

Unknown said...

We get a crapton of lilyturf here in Virginia. Usually sold as an outdoor plant, though.

CelticRose said...

Grevillea robusta (silk oak): Maybe people think of them as a tree and not a houseplant? We had one growing in our front yard when I lived in Tempe, AZ, and it was a huge tree -- it would never occur to me to try to grow one indoors. I don't recall anyone in our family getting any skin irritation from it, and I'm sure my brother and I handled the leaves constantly when we were kids.

Anonymous said...

Lol @ Jatropha spp. I'd worry that my busybody neigbours would get a glimpse of it and call the RCMP if I had it growing in my apartment!

Pat said...

Grevillea was sold by every supermarket houseplant section in the UK when I was a lad. I can't remember seeing it for the last 20-25 years, though.

Anonymous, look up pictures of Vitex agnus-castus. I just gave one away to a community garden because I have moved to a room at the front of a house that can be seen from the street.

Tom said...

Gibasia - Every single big box store here has a boat load of it and they can't get rid of it. Home Lowes has them on sale for $.99 right now. Ex job always had them too, they sold so well in the summer (as something a little showier than ferns for a shady porch) but never sold at all in the winter.

Gloriosa - Home desperate as them sold as a blooming houseplant fairly regularly (at least the one by me does...)

Haemanthus - I got one ONCE at a greenhouse and have never seen it again. I think they're just a bit too odd for most people.

Howea - Every respectable greenhouse around here has them. They're generally really expensive though, my ex job sold 1 gallons for $60 and had a 16" pot for 999.99. They're one of the most tolerant palms but also exceedingly slow growing so they're always pricey.

Jatropha - I've seen J. podagrica (or however the crap you spell it) for sale fairly frequently and J. cathartica as well but none of the others unfortunately.

I've never seen Hedychium for sale but I WANT ONE SO BADLY

Hoya - Home depot frequently has a really wide selection of them oddly enough as do a lot of the independents around here.

Ixia - Seen the bulbs but never plants, same with Lachenalia

Ixora and Justicia are both periodically available from the big box stores around here, much rarer at the independents.

I've tried Mannieta a few times, it was one of my bigger flops. It seems to really hate dry air because it would turn brown and crispy about 10 minutes after being brought inside. Same goes for Malphigia.

Koeleria - Never seen it except at shows but I've had really good luck with it as a houseplant. I think a big problem is that they go dormant if they get to dry so people think they're dead and throw them away.

When I was in school we used to have houseplant sales and we almost always grew a ton of Grevillia robusta from seed. They were super easy to start but I have no idea how they are to grow...something tells me they're too putzy to be worth it.

I've tried Heliconia a few times indoors, it always got mites and was promptly thrown out. I see them from time to time at the pricier nurseries around here.

I've always heard that Lapageria is just a giant pain in the ass so I've never even bothered to try it (and I've also never seen it except as seeds so that has something to do with it).

Anonymous said...

I think "growth habit is awkward" could be applied to gloriosa. Unless they can be grown as trailers, vines are awkward as container plants. I grew these outside in pots and devising something for the vines was definitely awkward. I don't think these would work as a trailing plant. Blooms were plentiful and exotic and the vine's habit was interesting as well.

Liriope is common here as an edging plant. I don't think people acquire it as a house plant at all. I'm surprised it's that tender because this part of Texas commonly reaches the teens and occasionally single digits in winter and I think it survives. At least it did at my brother's home.

Texas anon

Tom said...

I swear I'm not trying to be a troll but I always get a really good chuckle when people mention surprise about a plant being tender because it survives occasional single digits...clearly some people have never been to the upper midwest! When I was out east people were horrified to learn that Liriope and Hakonechloa weren't hardy in MN). Maybe I'm just a plant snob/giant ass?

Anonymous said...

Well, Tom, what you say is probably true. In defense, though, there are a ton of plants that can be killed with hoar frost without the temp ever actually going below 32F and a lot more that can't survive a single killing freeze. I'm pretty sure as a native Texan I have no idea what a Minnesota or N. Dakota winter is like. I expect a lot of year round native flora here would not survive there. But in talking 'houseplants' or 'container gardening', a plant that stays evergreen in the ground year round isn't likely to be found either in the house or in a container very often. Conversely, some of the outdoor flora for you could probably only be grown in a container here and then you might be surprised unless you had first hand experience with the local climate.

Texas Anon

Jean Campbell said...

There may be an entry or two here that belongs elsewhere. I'm not very organized.

Crinums are passalong plants in the south, dear to buy. The roots get huge: football sized and they multiply. I've seen them growing outside in huge concrete planters, but never as an indoor plant. They sulk a lot, probably why they're not used indoors.

Daphne I've seen -- actually smelled -- in a nursery in winter, for outdoor use here. They say it will fall over and die for no reason. I did not invest.

Gloriosa rothschildiana makes a huge vine. I've only seen it growing in gardens.

Heliconia psittacorum did very well for me for a while. I think the problem, as with many other tropicals, the roots outgrow the container. I cut mine back. It put out new shoots. I repotted. The old shoots look terrible. I think it's ready to dump and get another when summer tropicals are in the nurseries.

Justicia brandegeana was one of my mother's favorite houseplants in North Georgia. It is a garden plant here and survives winters very well. Justicia betonica is my favorite, with tiny pink blooms in a white bracts. It blooms in short days, so I only see blossoms in the greenhouse, rarely outside.