Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

We finally got some snow, on 12 and 13 January. I don't have official totals (the National Weather Service site said we had 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) of snow cover after the snow went through, which is as close as I can get to an actual number), but after the wind drove it into drifts, some parts of the yard had no snow cover at all, and others had about 36 inches (0.9 m).

I'd like to have quite a bit more snow than this. I'm not particularly confident about my numbers here, but based on what I could find on the net about how much snow is normal vs. how much has actually fallen, it looks like most of Iowa has gotten 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) less snow than normal so far this year. Which, eight inches is the sort of amount that could come from a single decent-sized winter storm, and maybe I've been spoiled by several snowier-than-usual winters recently. But still. I'll feel a bit cheated if we don't get at least one good, heavy storm like we did last year.

Sheba's coat doesn't seem to me like it could be that warm, but I always want to come in before she does, so I guess it must be warmer than it looks. It's also possible that tennis-ball-chasing takes priority over all other considerations.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Music video: FAROFF "Orinoco is in the Heart" (Enya / Dee-Lite mashup)

Continuing the trend of posting mashups from unlikely artist combinations (previously: Celine Dion / Radiohead; Justin Bieber / Slipknot), we have "Orinoco is in the Heart."

Enya doesn't get mashed up very often: I'm not sure if this is because it's technically difficult or because nobody cares enough about Enya to try. But I have a huge soft spot for Dee-Lite, so I'll blog pretty much anything anybody does with them. (I should look again for the mashup that got me interested in mashups to begin with: it was the instrumental from Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart" combined with the vocals from Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," and it was awesome, but I've never been able to find a video.)


Random plant event: Nautilocalyx forgetii

I mentioned a while back that the Nautilocalyx forgetii was beginning to produce something that looked like branches, coming out of the leaf axils, and there was some speculation that they might have been flower buds instead of branches. It's taken a couple months to find out, but it turns out I had both -- branches down low, around the base of the plant, and flower buds up higher.

I tried in multiple lighting conditions and on multiple occasions, but wasn't happy with any of the photos I got, so you may have to use your imagination a bit.

The flowers aren't especially ornamental, and are actually pretty difficult to see at all, because they form underneath the leaves. The color is a light, buttery yellow that I sort of feel doesn't look quite right with the dark green, glossy leaves. The texture is decidedly unbuttery --

-- and doesn't really look right with glossy leaves either.

Individual flowers don't seem to last very long, but the plant's been producing new ones continuously since at least late December, maybe mid-December. (I'm not sure precisely when blooming started.)

The plant had been drying out too quickly, so I repotted it in November; it's now in a 6-inch (15 cm) pot. That made it too big to fit into its spot in my office, so it got moved to the basement. I don't know whether the move or repotting have anything to do with the timing of the flowers.

Shortly afterward, the new leaves started coming in with dead patches or distorted shapes. I don't know what caused that, either, though my best guess is that the new location was too close to a shop light, and the leaves were getting burned as they developed. I relocated the plant, to a shelf with a bit more clearance, but it's too soon to tell whether that's going to stop the leaf problems.

I intend to try to propagate some of these eventually, though I'm not sure whether I'll have any ready by spring/summer. If you're in the U.S. and think you might be interested, let me know, so I'll know whether and how many to attempt to start. Aside from the leaf issues, I've found it to be a very easy houseplant (under fluorescent lights, temp above 65F/18C at all times, moderate humidity, water when slightly wilted, feed lightly year-round); however, it's not widely grown, and other Nautilocalyx species are apparently fairly difficult outside of terrariums. So I can't promise that it'll be equally easy for anyone else.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The View From Barnes & Noble

So, for Christmas, my sister-in-law gave my husband and me each a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble. I haven't been a habitual Barnes & Noble shopper since . . . well, actually, I'm not sure I've ever been a habitual Barnes & Noble shopper, now that I think about it. Whenever I go into any of the large bookstore chains -- and we're talking about, like, in the last 20 years or so -- I find myself unable to find anything to be interested in. Not that I don't sometimes buy things anyway; it's just that when I do, odds are that I've grabbed it more or less at random because I want to get out of the store, and I have no idea if it's a book I'm going to like. Often, it turns out that I don't, and then I feel bad for wasting the money on a book I don't like, which is why I'm not in the habit of shopping at Barnes & Noble.1

The point being that it'd been a long time since I was in a position to check out the gardening section of a large bookstore, and, as there has been some recent talk about book-writing, I figured this would be an excellent chance to check out the situation on the ground, as it were.

And the situation on the ground is this:

Ten shelves of gardening books, each roughly three or four feet long (0.9-1.2 m). So go ahead, open 'em in a separate tab and find the indoor plant books. I'll wait.

No, really. There are two in there. Take your time.

Give up?

The shelves in the other photo have none at all.

To make this all slightly worse, the book on the lower shelf, The Indoor Plant Bible, is spiral-bound. It doesn't look like it in the photo, because there's like a plastic spine attached to the loops to make it look more substantial, but if you open it up, the pages are threaded onto wire loops. It's heavier paper stock than usual, but still -- how long is something like that really going to last a person?

The other book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, is better, or at least isn't constructed so as to fall apart the tenth time you pick it up, but still. Only two houseplant books. (And I actually didn't realize The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual was there until I got home and was looking through the photos.)2 Even the people who want to grow marijuana have more options on the Barnes & Noble bookshelves, by like, a 2-to-1 margin. (Which, hey, I'm not judging, and I recognize that however illegal growing marijuana might be in the state of Iowa, reading a book about growing marijuana is still legal. I am nevertheless still surprised at the amount of shelf space devoted to an activity no customer could legally do.)

There are two basic emotional responses an aspiring writer of houseplant books can have to a situation like this, and I have been having both of them. The glass-half-empty response is to conclude that Barnes & Noble doesn't believe that books about houseplants sell well enough to devote any shelf space to them, which goes along with what I've been told elsewhere. The glass-half-full response is to notice the almost total lack of competition and conclude that if I could just get a book published, I could have the whole topic almost completely to myself. My brain has synthesized the two responses into the uninspiring conclusion that if I tried really hard and approached the right people in the right ways, over a long enough period of time, I could totally be the biggest, most important authority on a topic about which nobody gives a shit. Which is sort of how I've felt in the garden-blogging community already, so I suppose I could get used to it easily enough.

As for the gift card, I did wind up buying something plant-related from these shelves, though doing so also required the husband's card.3 I'll review it relatively soon (the tentative plan is to post it on 26 January), but I'm not going to tell you which book right now.


1 One of the stranger examples of this is Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public, Ted Koppel's memoir. In hardback, no less. I read it once, have no memory of anything in it, and have packed and unpacked it through three moves now even though I know I have no interest in reading it again. But it seemed like a good idea in the store, apparently.
Nothing against Ted Koppel, by the way. He seems like a decent enough guy.
2 It's also probably true that the two (?) books on orchids are primarily written to people who are trying to grow them indoors, and therefore sort of qualify as houseplant books. Likewise, some of the container-gardening and herb-gardening books (So many herb-gardening books! Whyyyyyyy?) probably at least address overwintering plants in the house, if not growing them indoors year-round, and as such might almost count as houseplant books. There are also a couple books about succulents, which it's not clear just from looking at the books' spines whether they might cover indoor culture or not, but one might give the benefit of the doubt and say that those could also qualify as houseplant books, On the other hand, looking at books about orchids, container gardening, herb gardening, or succulents is not going to help you if you have questions about why your peace lily is going black at the leaf tips,a so those other books only count for just so much.
     a (It's too wet, most likely. You're welcome.)
3 (He volunteered his card before we even left the house, so it's not like I was preventing him from getting something he really wanted, just FYI.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pretty picture: Dendrobium Pixie Princess

This doesn't look very appealing, but I suspect the photography, not the flower, is at fault, since there are all sorts of neat pictures of this plant in Google Image Search.

Also, once again, the label at the show was misspelled -- it's Dendrobium Pixie Princess; not, as the tag had it, Pixy Princess.

It's like they're not even trying.

But the flowers are nice regardless. Look 'em up in Google yourself, if you don't believe me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Brick Joke

Mr. Subjunctive's Bucket List

1. Go to Siberia and play with the tame foxes.
2. Hang out and drink with Jo "Supernanny" Frost until she starts swearing.1
3. Get self kicked out of a garden center. DONE!

There is a type of gag that comedy writers call a "brick joke." The basic form of a brick joke is that you tell one (sometimes deliberately unfunny) joke at the beginning of the set, episode, season, or whatever, and then an incidental and/or unresolved detail from the first joke returns long after everybody's forgotten it, at the end of the set/episode/etc., to pay off the last joke. TV Tropes uses these as an example:
First joke:
Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to build a house. But, being a little eccentric, he wanted to build the house using only 99 bricks. So he went to the hardware store and said, "Hello, I'd like to buy 99 bricks."
The owner of the store told him, "I'm sorry, we only sell bricks in quantities of 100."
"Can't you cut me a deal or something?" the man asked.
"Nope, sorry," replied the owner. So the guy bought 100 bricks.
He took the bricks back to his lot, and he built a house using 99 bricks. Now, if you do the math, 100 minus 99 is 1, so he had one brick left. And he took that brick, and he just chucked it, way up in the air!

Second joke:
A guy was riding on an airplane, and he decided to smoke a cigar. Unfortunately, he was sitting next to a woman with a dog. The dog began coughing, so the lady said, "Excuse me, sir, but could you please put out your cigar? It's really bothering my dog."
He angrily replied, "No, I won't! You shouldn't have a dog on this flight anyways!"
"This is a non-smoking flight! You need to put that cigar out!" she said. They argued back and forth... get rid of the dog, put out the cigar, and so on.
Finally, the man said, "Look, I'll compromise with you. If you get rid of your dog, I'll get rid of the cigar." HE was thinking, "She'll never want to give up her dog." But much to his surprise, she agreed to the deal!
The lady opened the window (amazingly, without causing the air pressure inside the plane to drop) and threw her dog out. The man, thinking that he had another cigar anyways, threw his cigar out the window, thinking that he had won.
However, the woman suddenly reached out the window, and grabbed her dog's leash! As she pulled the dog back in, she was thinking that she'd won, but do you know what the dog had in its mouth? A brick!
I apologize for neither joke being especially funny, but that's the general shape of a brick joke: the punchline for one joke comes from a mostly-forgotten detail in the other.

Aglaonema NOID, thought to be 'King of Siam.' Purchased January 16, 2008; photo is from July 2011. For reasons to be explained, photos for this post are plants I bought from Pierson's, and still have.

Why do I bring it up? Well, do y'all remember a post I wrote in October 2010 about Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses, in Cedar Rapids, and how I was going to stop going there for a year or two because I was so disgusted with how crappily-maintained the plants were?2 Well, that was a brick I threw fifteen months ago. I never forgot about the post, but it also wasn't something I thought about a lot, either. Whenever Pierson's came to mind, my thought process usually didn't go any further than calculating how long it had been since I was last there, and whether or not it was time to go back. Last Monday, I decided that enough time had passed, I wasn't upset with them anymore, and I was ready to go back and see if things were any different now. (I'd assumed no one at Pierson's would see the post in the first place, and if someone did, they wouldn't take it seriously. But I figured there would be some kind of changes after more than a year and was curious about what they'd be.)

So we went. And I was surprised: one of the very first things I saw in the store was a sign they'd printed up listing their plant prices. This was a big deal to me. Previously, they never had anything priced, and it used to drive me nuts. I mean, sure, I could hunt someone down and ask. When I saw something I found especially interesting, of course I did hunt someone down and ask. But it was still irritating to have to go to the extra trouble. This was one of the things I'd griped about in the Open Letter post in 2010, so I was like, holy crap, they finally did that, good for them.

And then I wandered around a bit in the greenhouses, and saw that they had separated the small plants from one another, so you could pick one up without spending half an hour untangling it from all its neighbors. That had been another one of my complaints. The cacti were on tables in the brighter greenhouse, instead of drowning in no-drain trays in the dark greenhouse. There weren't any weed-filled pots lying around taking up space, the place was noticeably cleaner than it had been before3 -- basically everything I'd critiqued before was much better than it had been.4 I didn't even spot any bugs, on anything, which if you're in the business, you know that's awfully close to miraculous.

So it wasn't all perfect, but noticeable changes had been made, the place looked a lot better, the price signs alone made me nearly giddy, and a lot of things seemed to track my specific critiques kind of suspiciously well.

Chamaedorea metallica. Purchased February 16, 2007. Photo from January 2011.

They even had a plant I wanted to buy (Pellionia repens), which seemed to be in decent shape, and that never happens to me anymore.5 But first there were plants to photograph, and there was at least one other garden center to visit before going home, so I basically decided that I'd get pictures at Pierson's, then we'd get in the car and go to Frontier, the other garden center I like in Cedar Rapids,6 and if Frontier didn't have anything I was interested in -- which seemed probable -- then I'd go back to Pierson's and buy a Pellionia repens on our way out of town. This would also slightly reduce the amount of time the plant would have to sit out in the car in the cold. (Pellionias dislike cold.) So I was in a fairly good mood. I found an exceptionally large Polyscias crispata and was snapping pictures of it when two employees came in the greenhouse. And we had this conversation:7

Employee 1: You getting some good pictures?
Me: Maybe; I never know until I get 'em uploaded.
Employee 1 or 2:8 Is this for a blog?
Me: Yeah.
Employee 1 or 2: Is your name [my actual name]?
Me: Yeah.
Employee 1 or 2: You can't be in here, then.
Me: [stops taking pictures, looks at Employee 2]
Employee 2: I'm supposed to ask you to leave. No pictures.9
Me: Oh. Okay.

And then, WHAM! I get hit smack in the mouth by this brick! It just came flying out of nowhere!

Aglaonema 'Gold Dust.' Purchased March 2, 2009. Photo is as of April 2010.

Well, no. Not really. Actually I just went to the parking lot, and the husband and I drove off. Then began a whole afternoon of trying to get my brain around what had just happened, because this seemed pretty extreme. The Open Letter post was the only one I've ever done that could conceivably have gotten this sort of reaction, and it's also more than a year old. Even when it was new, it didn't attract a lot of traffic, and I'd never noticed it getting many hits, so I'd never had any reason to think anybody much had ever read it. So this didn't quite add up.

Once we got home and I started working on writing a post about this -- because of course I'm going to blog about this; how could I not blog about this -- I looked for Pierson's with Google. Maybe my post showed up really prominently in searches, and I'd just not noticed people coming to the blog to read it. But it wasn't in the top three pages of Google results for "Pierson's Flower Shop" or "Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses." So this was probably not a Google problem. I checked the Google reviews page: nothing there either. I clicked on, which was low on the first page of one of the Google searches, and . . . there was my blog post.

Or at least most of it. Someone had copied and pasted about 2/3 of my post to Yelp, the day after I put it up on PATSP. They included a link to the original PATSP post, and gave Pierson's a one-star (out of five) rating. But it gets worse, because this "review" also happened to be the first one for Pierson's on Yelp, and stayed the only one they had from October 2010, when the Open Letter was posted, until May 2011, when someone else gave them a five-star review, bringing the average up to three stars. So for seven months, they had the lowest possible rating in Yelp, and another eight months had only brought them up to average.

So then my banishment made a lot more sense. I don't know if a lot of people actually use Yelp when shopping around for services, or if that's how Pierson's became aware of my post -- Yelp is still relatively new, and there are lots of competing websites -- but Yelp is big enough that I've heard of it, so maybe having a one-star rating could hurt.

So. Gentle readers, we should probably talk.

Abutilon 'Bella Red.' Purchased May 20, 2010. Photo is also from May 2010 because, frankly, this one's not doing so well for me indoors. But it is still alive.

This is not something that should have happened. I didn't post this to Yelp; I don't know who did; I didn't recognize the name or location attached to the review; I wasn't asked for permission; I wouldn't have granted permission had I been asked. Furthermore, I actually have a policy about people re-using my text, which is spelled out down toward the bottom of the sidebar and has been the same for virtually the whole lifetime of PATSP:
all rights reserved. Text may not be duplicated by any means without permission of its author, who is actually pretty easygoing under most circumstances and will probably say okey-dokey if you ask to reproduce something (but you still have to ask, and credit mr_subjunctive as the author of the excerpted part).
Now. I understand why someone might have thought that this was okay -- I put the original post on the internet, in public, so what could be wrong with making it more public, by copying it and posting it somewhere else? I mean, we'll get to why it's wrong in a bit, but I do understand how a person could not see the problem. So I'm not exactly mad at the person who did this (and if you're reading this, please, do not under any circumstances apologize to me about it, 'cause then I'll know who you are, and I Don't. Want. To Know.), but I did have a guideline about this, which should have prevented what happened here.10 It's all fun and games until somebody can't buy a Pellionia.

I went ahead and did the obvious thing, and sent a message to Yelp explaining that the review in question used my words without my approval, asking if that was good enough, legally, to have the review pulled, and within about 36 hours,11 I had a message back saying that the review had been removed. So that much has been dealt with, and I'm really sorry that I couldn't have done that sooner.12

I realize I'm still probably not Pierson's favorite person. That's okay. I'm not really trying to be. I don't necessarily want to be allowed back -- I stayed away for fifteen months voluntarily and didn't really miss it, so staying away involuntarily probably won't tear me all up inside either. Plus, even in the best-case scenario, I can't imagine a way to go to Pierson's again that wouldn't feel incredibly awkward. On the other hand, if they're to hate me, I'd prefer they at least hate me for the asshole I meant to be, not the asshole I accidentally became.

Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial.' Bought March 2, 2009; photo from August 2011.

This whole story sort of begs for a concluding moral of some kind, like and that's why you should never write anything mean about anybody on the internet. I'm not sure any moral is available, though, since the results are so mixed. I mean, in one sense, saying mean things about people on the internet worked out great for me: I got what I wanted, plus quite a bit more than I expected. The price signs are up, the cacti are getting better treatment, the 3- and 4-inch plants are more accessible, the greenhouse is cleaner, etc. I'm not the one to ask about whether it's good for Pierson's, but I figure it's probably not harming them significantly. On the other hand, I lost unexpected things as well: I don't get to go there anymore, and now there's all this new bad blood between us.

So maybe not a moral. Perhaps a lesson?

Ennh. Probably not that either: given the chance to go back in time and do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd probably write more or less the same post (though I would maybe call special attention to the text-reuse policy, and skip the Pedilanthus). I don't apologize for, you know, noticing things. Especially noticing things about retail establishments that are open to the public. And I figure, also, the way you know you can trust me when I say Pierson's has improved is because I didn't pull punches saying they sucked.

So I guess let's go with cautionary tale. Words left on the internet can travel to other places, can go wandering around in bad neighborhoods, can stay out too late, can come home at 3 AM via police escort, stinking of booze, with a big infected-looking gash across their cheek that they don't remember getting and a misspelled tattoo just above their butt ("Momm"). And it's all the more likely when they're not nice, wholesome, milk-drinking words to begin with.

It could happen to you.


P.S. I have every reason to believe that representatives of Pierson's will read this post, since they started checking PATSP several times a day right after the whole throwing-out incident happened and I assume this is what they've been waiting to read. I mention this for two reasons:
1) Regular PATSP readers should be aware that Pierson's will probably see your comments. I don't foresee any problems, and probably don't need to say anything anyway, 'cause you guys are nice people, but, you know, just a reminder that this is public. (In case the post itself wasn't reminder enough.)
2) If someone representing Pierson's wishes to respond to any of this (and you don't have to, obviously -- it's just if you want to), it's possible to leave a comment anonymously, without being signed in to Google/Facebook/Wordpress/etc. Scroll past the footnotes and you'll see something like this:

Click on the word "comments." A new page will open, with all the comments so far on the left and a blank white box on the right. Below the blank white box will be radio buttons for "OpenID," "Name/URL," and "Anonymous;" select Anonymous, write your comment in the white box (if you're writing as a representative of Pierson's, please say so somewhere in the comment), and click the orange "Publish Your Comment" button when finished. You should see the same page come up again, with a note at the top saying "Your comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval." I'll approve pretty much anything that 1) isn't spam, 2) doesn't reveal personal information about me, and 3) isn't abusive towards another commenter. Comments left during the day are almost always approved within an hour; it may take longer before 7 AM or after 4 PM.


1 C'mon, there's no way anybody who spends that much time around that many children doesn't swear.
2 No? Well here's the link: Open Letter to Pierson's Flower Shop and Greenhouses
3 Still not clean in any kind of absolute sense: I think we arrived while they were in mid-clean, because I saw piles of dead leaves on some of the tables, and an employee was going around picking them up. Clearly they were being dealt with, though, so this also counts as an improvement over the last visit.
4 One exception: they still have the fungusy Pedilanthus that pushed me over the edge in the first place. They get a pass on the Pedilanthus, though, because 1) everything else was so much better, and 2) I've seen the same Pedilanthus varieties in other stores since then, and they are apparently just enormously susceptible to fungus. One place has managed to keep one specimen looking nice (the ex-job, though they also have two or three other specimens that look less nice), but Pierson's probably did me a favor by scaring me away from them. This still doesn't excuse setting them under hanging baskets (and they still were, as of last Monday), but fungus-free Pedilanthus was possibly an unattainable goal in any circumstances, so . . . Whoops. Sorry about that.
5 It was overpriced ($7.99 for 4-inch pot), and not terribly full, but I've never seen one for sale anywhere else around here, it appeared to be in good shape, and Pellionias fill in quick and propagate easily, so it was probably worth it anyway.
6 There's also Peck's, which is, like Pierson's, both a flower shop and garden center. I don't hate Peck's, but they're not a must-visit destination like Pierson's was and Frontier still is. I'm vaguely aware of another place, Culver's, but I don't think they deal in indoor plants at all, so I've never been there.
7 I wrote the conversation down about thirty minutes after it happened, while it was still relatively fresh in my mind, so although the dialogue may not be entirely exact quotes, I think most of it is.
8 I was looking at the plant and/or camera for the middle part of the conversation, so I don't know which employee was talking.
9 Which is why I'm not using any of the pictures I'd already taken in this post; I'm not sure how to interpret "no pictures," after I'd taken some already.
10 Copying to a review site is, admittedly, not a form of text-copying I'd anticipated. It's not even a form of text-copying I could have imagined before this month. So the all-rights-reserved policy wasn't really built for this kind of situation, but it still ought to have worked.
I also feel like possibly I should explain why it makes a difference where the words are posted, since they're the same words in both cases and it may not be obvious how the two situations differ.
My view is that blogs are an ongoing conversation about specific things; review sites like Yelp are one-time advice about an entire business. If I'm exasperated with a particular person, I can go to the husband and rant about how frustrating said person is, and we both understand that although I'm ranting, the person hasn't always been doing the annoying things I'm complaining about, and won't necessarily do the annoying things in the future. I've mentioned Pierson's on the blog several times, sometimes positively, sometimes not, but the point with the Open Letter post was not Pierson's sucks and all their plants are crap so much as Pierson's sucks and it's driving me crazy because all this sucking is so totally unnecessary and avoidable.
On a review site, though, that progression of time is lost. Yelp does permit a person to re-review places they've already covered: the star ratings of the new review replace the star ratings of the old one (I think), but both reviews remain visible, so in theory it was possible that the person who'd put the Open Letter on Yelp might add a more favorable review afterward, if I put up a more favorable post later. But of course I couldn't rely on them to maintain a Yelp account, and they wouldn't automatically add a new post of mine to Pierson's Yelp page even if they were maintaining an account (they could have stopped reading PATSP, or stopped reviewing things at Yelp, etc.). And even if they were still on Yelp and did add a new post to their review page, the old post would still be visible and capable of doing damage.
So as far as some random person looking through Yelp -- or any other business review site -- is concerned, the message of the Open Letter post is not Pierson's, you don't have to suck so much but instead everything about Pierson's sucks. And if you're looking for a florist, whether there are more positive evaluations of Pierson's at Yelp or not, you're probably going to steer clear of any business where everything sucks, especially since there are other choices available.
I'd also like to note, for the record, that even at the time I wrote the previous post, when I was maximally frustrated with them, I wouldn't have rated Pierson's one star. Two, probably, but not one.
I have a feeling that I'm still not explaining this well, and it's possible that my logic is faulty besides, but this is as good as I can do for right now: the Open Letter wasn't meant to describe the business as a whole, as a review would do; it was intended to compare the business to older versions of itself.
11 (I contacted Yelp late on Monday night; they replied at 1:22 PM Wednesday afternoon.)
12 As far as it goes -- I looked at other sites to see if the same thing might have happened anywhere else, and didn't see anything like that, but if anybody happens to run across anything similar, about Pierson's or anything else, of course I want to know about it. Just for future reference.
I also wish that Pierson's had contacted me about Yelp when they first encountered it, or had contacted me about the post, period. I mean, I know I don't sound particularly interested in a conversation, in the post, and I don't blame them for not doing so or consider it necessarily their responsibility to do so, but nevertheless, I wish they had.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

List: Houseplants Native to the Southern Pacific Ocean

One of the things I did in October / November that led me to the point of burnout by November / December was, I spent a lot of time trying to track down the native ranges for a bunch of different houseplants. This was a lot more complicated than it might sound, because there doesn't seem to be any central authority for these sorts of questions, so I had to refer to multiple sources of information, and different sources occasionally contradict one another, and on occasion it's tough to find any source that will hazard a guess at all, so the whole thing wound up taking a good chunk out of my November and I'm not even confident that the information I gathered is correct. I mean, it should be mostly correct, but there will be occasional errors. So I probably won't be any more error-prone than any other sources, but it may be important to keep in mind that this list, and the others like it, may contain errors, so you shouldn't use it for any work where getting a plant's native range wrong might result in someone's death. For example.

The main source of information, incidentally, was GRIN, which is awkward to use and woefully deficient about certain genera of plants, but which at least tries to provide range information for most of the plants it does cover. I'm mostly using their method of dividing up the globe, as well. GRIN has differing categories for the Southwest Pacific (#45 on the map below) and the South Central Pacific (#44) --

Image credit: GRIN.

-- which I'm combining because I only found two houseplants from the South Central Pacific, so I can't make a South Central post, so I may as well combine Southwest and South Central. What that means is, we're talking about the mess of little islands to the southeast of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia, places like Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Samoa and American Samoa, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and all those other little places I'd heard of before but never really bothered to locate on a map.1

But now I have! Map from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by way of Voice of America.

This is not a particularly good part of the planet to hunt for possible houseplants; out of a 622-plant list, only 23 (3.7%) come from this part of the globe, and only a handful are exclusive: most were also found in India, China, Indo-China, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, or some combination thereof.

Other sources of the information consulted for this list and the ones to follow, in descending order of trustworthiness: Plant List, (not linked because I've been unable to connect to it and am unsure if it still exists), general Google searches, Wikipedia, Tropicos,2 and possibly a few other places I can't remember and didn't write down. I've tried to select plants for the photos section that I'm most confident are native to the South Pacific, leaving the ones I'm less certain about for the end of the post.

The whole native-ranges project should be good for another twenty or so posts like this, though obviously the whole globe won't be represented. Very few houseplants come from Siberia, for example.3

Here we go.

Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island pine) is found exclusively on Norfolk Island,4 which is located a bit to the south of most of the other plants on this list. GRIN considers Norfolk Island to be part of Australia, not part of the Southwest Pacific, but Norfolk Island surely has more in common with New Caledonia than it does with Australia, so I'm saying it belongs here.

Breynia disticha (snowbush), green revert of the variegated cv. 'Roseo-Picta.' This one is from New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and nowhere else.

Codiaeum variegatum (croton), variety 'Petra.' Crotons have a broader distribution than Breynia, but it's still centered on the right general area: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, northeastern Australia (specifically Queensland), plus the Southwest Pacific islands of Fiji and Vanuatu.

Epipremnum aureum (pothos), officially belongs to the South Central Pacific, according to GRIN, because it's native to French Polynesia, which is to the east of most of the other plants under discussion. Close enough, though.

Murraya paniculata (orange jasmine) has a fairly broad range, extending as far west as India, north to China and Taiwan, south through Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia, and east to the Northern Marianas islands in the Northwest Pacific. Also the islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, in the Southwest Pacific.

Pandanus veitchii (probably a synonym for P. tectorius? Common name is screw pine). Nobody seems to have a terribly good idea where P. veitchii came from, but GRIN says Indonesia and the Philippines, south through Papua New Guinea into eastern Queensland (NE Australia), then throughout the Pacific Ocean as far north and east as Hawaii. The germane islands for this list are New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, French Polynesia, and Vanuatu.

Phaius tankervillae (nun orchid) can be found in Fiji and New Caledonia, but also north to China, west to India and Sri Lanka, and south to Australia. The photo isn't of P. tankervillae (it's P. Microburst Octoberfest), and I was unable to locate the parentage information for P. Microburst Octoberfest, but P. tankervillae is the most widely cultivated Phaius, so PMO probably includes tankervillae genes, and as near as I could determine, tankervillae also has one of the larger native ranges, so the odds are that the picture's fairly representative of the species even if it's not actually the species. Especially since it's not a particularly good picture anyway. (It was all I had showing both blooms and foliage.)

Polyscias fruticosa. (ming aralia) Mostly a Southeast Asia species: it's found in Indo-China (Cambodia, Vietnam), northward to China, west to India, and south to Indonesia. Fiji, in the Southwest Pacific, is at the southern tip of its range.

Dizygotheca (now Schefflera) elegantissima (false aralia). Finally another one that's definitely on this list: S. elegantissima is exclusively native to New Caledonia.

Scyphularia pycnocarpa (possum-tail fern) is only found on Fiji.

Now for the recommendations.

I would enthusiastically recommend Pandanus veitchii, because once established they're incredibly easy to grow. (I have lost a couple offsets to unknown causes before, but they're usually easy to establish, too.) Screw pines are too big and prickly to be suitable for everybody, but if you don't mind big and prickly then you should track one down. They don't seem to be bothered by dry air, as far as I can tell they're pretty flexible about watering, I have yet to see any bugs attack them,5 and they'll stay alive in a wide range of light conditions, though some sun is helpful.

Epipremnum aureum and I have had some missteps in the past: specifically, I've lost plants after repotting, more than once, and I'm not sure why. They do well for almost everybody else, though, and I've been doing better with mine for the last couple years. Pothos is likewise fairly flexible about water, light, and humidity, and not overly bothered by any pests.

After those two, it becomes more or less impossible to choose. I adore Auraucaria heterophylla, Breynia disticha, and Murraya paniculata, for differing reasons: Araucaria has been remarkably easy for me, and is one of the plants I've had the longest, though spider mites can occasionally be a problem, and it will do best in a cool, humid, and bright spot without direct sun. Breynia disticha is likewise slightly prone to spider mites, and will drop leaves if allowed to dry out too much, but it's flexible about light, temperature, and humidity, and grows gratifyingly fast. Murraya paniculata will produce lots of small white flowers with a heavy fragrance resembling orange blossoms, which can self-pollinate to form small inedible red fruits. It has no particular pest problems and is very tolerant of indoor conditions, but needs bright light, lots of water, and abundant fertilizer to grow well.


The anti-recommend is Codiaeum variegatum, because the anti-recommend is always Codiaeum variegatum. If you get a nice specimen, in a suitable (very bright, warm) spot, that doesn't have spider mites to begin with, and you don't bring home any other plants that might have mites: then you have a shot, but if you bring in other plants very often or buy your plant from a place that has spider mites anywhere on the premises, I can pretty much guarantee that your plant is eventually going to get covered in mites, defoliate, and die. I don't even consider buying Codiaeums anymore, and haven't for years.

Not pictured:
  • Carmona species (fukien tea) are sometimes sold as bonsai specimens. They're native from Northern Australia, northward through Indonesia and Indo-China, up as far as China and Japan. They go as far west as India and Sri Lanka, and as far east as the Solomon Islands. I've never tried growing one (bonsai, even the fakey mass-produced plants sold as bonsai, are always out of my price range), and suspect them of being difficult besides,7 but the foliage has a strange/wonderful astringent smell to it.
  • Castanospermum australe (lucky bean plant) is one of those plants I have yet to see in person, though I keep hearing about them from elsewhere. Their native range is small: just Queensland (NE Australia), New Caledonia, and Vanuatu. I have no idea what they're like as houseplants.
  • I've never grown a Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); we tried sprouting one from a coconut at work once, but nothing happened, and I think we brought one in to sell once as well, but it sold too quickly for me to get much of a feel for how it worked. I understand they're supposed to be fairly difficult, requiring a lot of light, water, and warmth. Their native range is from Indonesia, south and east through Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, Australia, and Vanuatu, though they've been introduced to basically every tropical habitat in the world.
  • Ficus benjamina (ficus tree) can be found on the Solomon Islands, though it has a range extending north as far as China and Taiwan, west as far as India, and south as far as Australia. Like Polyscias fruticosa, they can alarm the unprepared, but are pretty good houseplants for anyone who can give them consistent care.
  • Ficus microcarpa (Chinese banyan). Pretty much the same range as F. benjamina, though its range extends a bit further to the west and north. The significant part of the range for this list are New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. They're a little less prone to panic defoliation than F. benjamina, though I've had waaaaaaay more trouble with spider mites on my F. microcarpas than I ever dreamed of with my F. benjaminas, so I suppose it's a tradeoff.
  • Several somewhat obscure Hoya species are from the South Pacific as well, according to; the relevant species are H. affinis, attenuata, australis, barrackii, betchei, bicarnata, chlorantha, cominsii, crassior, diptera, dodecatheiflora, filiformis, guppyi, inconspicua, intermedia, limoniaca, marginata, megalantha, naumanii, neocaledonica, neoebudica, pilosa, pubescens, pycnophylla, schneei, trukensis, and vitiensis. I don't know what any of them are like to grow indoors.
  • Polyscias crispata (also P. cumingiana) also comes from the whole Indonesia / Malaysia / Papua New Guinea / Philippines area, plus New Caledonia. I assume its care is similar to that for P. fruticosa, though I've never grown one.
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides (more correctly Plectranthus scutellarioides; less correctly Coleus blumei -- most people just call it coleus) has a wide range from China to India in the north, to the northern coast of Australia in the south, including basically everything in between, as well as the Solomon Islands. It's not difficult indoors exactly, but it wants to be huge, grows really fast, can't dry out for long, and needs a completely unreasonable amount of light. Hard to keep up with; I prefer to treat mine as outdoor plants that just have to come inside occasionally for six-month stretches.
  • Spathoglottis species (ground orchids) are from diverse habitats within the India / China / Australia / South Pacific rectangle that I'm getting tired of typing out. S. plicata can be found in New Caledonia, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga. I don't know whether they make good houseplants.

Borderline cases:
  • GRIN basically punted on the question of where Acalypha wilkesiana (beefsteak plant, copperleaf) is from. They think "Oceania," which is the general area we're considering, but it's so widely cultivated that the actual origin is unclear. I've never grown Acalypha wilkesiana, since it looks to me like another fast-growing, sun-needing plant like coleus, and I have enough trouble with coleus.
  • I wasn't sure whether to include Didymochlaena truncatula (mahogany fern) on the list or not, because GRIN says that it's basically from everywhere. All of tropical Africa, including South Africa and Madagascar, the whole India / Indo-China / Indonesia / Philippines area we've been talking about with everything else in this post (including, relevantly, Fiji), Southern Mexico, and most of South and Central America. This seemed . . . implausible. I mean, it's a fern, for fuck's sakes, how is it going to get from South Africa to Fiji? But other sites backed GRIN up on the claim, so I guess it could be true. My personal experience is that it makes a lousy houseplant: it's way too touchy about missed waterings for this particular house, and consequently mine pretty much always looks like crap. I do enjoy saying Didymochlaena, though.
  • Medinilla cvv. is another questionable inclusion; not only do I suspect most Medinillas being grown indoors are probably man-made hybrids, I suspect that almost no Medinillas are being grown indoors. Not for very long, in any case. (They don't even do terribly well in the ex-job's greenhouse.) They seem to be pretty common in Indonesia and the Philippines, and GRIN lists at least one species as being from Fiji.
  • Musa spp. (banana) is another weird case: the genus is generally within the India / China / Australia / South Pacific rectangle, but they're also widely cultivated and naturalized, so they're pretty certain that some Musa species are from the South Pacific, but I didn't care enough to want to sort through the tangle of species and ranges to figure out which. There's also been some hybridizing going on, too, so the question may be moot for some ornamental types. I have mixed feelings about them as houseplants: mine's been less trouble than I was expecting when I bought it, and has done much much better in the last year than it did when it first arrived, but they're still not a plant I'd recommend to people.
  • The natural range of Paphiopedilums (slipper orchids) stretches from northeast India, east and south through Indo-China (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.), Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Southwestern Pacific, though I don't know specifically which islands. (GRIN was unhelpful on this one.) Virtually all commercially-available paphs are man-made hybrids, though, so this may not be relevant. As for what they're like as houseplants, well, they like to tease me:8 I don't know how they act for other people.
  • Spathiphyllum species (peace lilies) are primarily from Southern Mexico, southward through Central and South America,9 but GRIN swears that there are a few Asian species, and that at least one can be found in the Solomon Islands. This may not be relevant, since I'm pretty sure any peace lilies you can pick up in a store are going to be man-made hybrids anyway, but I suppose it meets the minimum criteria for inclusion, so hey, here it is. They make fine, if generally uninspiring, houseplants.

1 Sorry, Pacific Islanders. It's not personal, it's just that there are so many little islands. If it makes you feel any better, I could probably locate some of them correctly now, after doing this post.
2 Tropicos is tricky, because the locations they name are not necessarily locations where the specimens were actually collected, and it took me a while to figure this out. It's frequently unclear whether the location given is the location where the description was published, where the plant was collected, where a cultivated specimen has been grown, etc. Consequently, I tried to use Tropicos only in cases where there was nothing to be found anywhere else. It's possible that this is just me being stupid, and that there's a perfectly clear reference somewhere on Tropicos that will give me exactly the information I want, but it's the least user-friendly of any of the plant reference sources I consulted.
3 I don't think any of the zones on the map actually came up as having zero houseplant species in them, but that's largely because a few genera are ridiculously widespread: for example, Origanum (oregano), Goodyera (a genus of orchids, containing a few tropical species which are sometimes given the common name jewel orchids), and Drosera (sundews) all came up as being present in Siberia. Which no doubt there are species representing all three in Siberia, but these are almost certainly not the species people try to grow indoors.
4 (But it's not a pine.)
5 Though when I had one outside a couple summers ago, something did cut circular bites out of a couple leaves. None of the usual indoor pests seem terribly fond of Pandanus, though.
6 I'd also like to say that I think the difficulty of Polyscias fruticosa is often overstated on-line. Much like Ficus benjamina, it drops leaves when conditions change in ways it doesn't like. People often see this and panic, thinking that the plant is desperately unhappy, so they try to fix it with more water (because watering is the only thing most people know to do with plants), which leads to other problems. But once in a suitable location (normal indoor temperatures, filtered sun or bright indirect light) and given consistent care, they're really not nearly as scary as people think. One caveat: they are somewhat attractive to spider mites. I've never had that problem with my personal plant, but the plants at work sometimes had trouble.
7 They had a tendency to defoliate on us at work; I never figured out what that was about, but they almost always did it before they sold, so then we had a bunch of naked pretend bonsai sitting around.
8 "Look, look, I have roots! Whoops, now I don't! Hey, now I have roots again! Oh, never mind! Hooray, roots! Ha: tricked you!" The most frustrating thing about my paph is not that it's unhappy with me, it's that it won't just fucking die already. I know it wants to; I'd like to see it happen myself, yet it refuses to just give up and do it. If it survives to spring (it probably will), I'm going to mail it off to some nice PATSP reader via contest or something, 'cause this is getting ridiculous.
9 SPOILER: basically everything is from Central and South America. I expected most houseplants would be from Southeast Asia, but no: if it's succulent, it's from South Africa or Northern Mexico, and if it's not, then it's from Central or South America, particularly Brazil. Nobody would even bother growing houseplants, if we lived in a South-America-less alternate universe. That's how big of a deal South America is.