Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Six Plants I'm Currently Mad At

This turns out to be a pretty competitive field (wait'll you see the Dishonorable Mentions), but I've narrowed it down to six. By "I'm Currently Mad At," I mean "the idea of throwing the plant away entirely and never attempting it again has crossed my mind," though that's only a serious possibility with three of the six plants on the list.

1. Phalaenopsis NOID

I am so tired of orchids and all their fucking orchid bullshit. I'm not even exaggerating for comic effect. I know I've said this before, but this time I'm telling you -- I'm telling you -- orchids and I are never ever getting back together.1 Remember how cautiously excited I was two months ago?

Yes, well. I really should have known better. Here it is now:

And here's the end of the spike:

Yep. Just fell right off, the whole top of the spike, including all the flower buds. I have no idea what happened to it -- it's conceivable that the top of the spike got caught in the shelves when I took the plant off to water or something, but I feel like I would have remembered that. It can't really have been chewed off by an animal -- Sheba would have said something. So I'm thinking it just dropped the top of the flower spike as a way of giving me the finger, because it's an orchid, and orchids are fucking assholes.

The Phalaenopsis is being permitted to stay, for the time being, but the very first excuse I have to throw it out, it's going out. (Even if it calls me up and it's like, "I still love you.")

2. Furcraea foetida 'Medio-Picta'

If my fury at the Phalaenopsis is white-hot,2 then with Furcraea I'm only a dull red. The plant's done well outside this year, and has grown some really nice, broad leaves, enough that I'm thinking the current pot is probably way too small for it. And for most of the summer, this was making me happy.

But I found a scale insect on it a week or two ago. So far, it's just been the one, and I did give the plant a pretty thorough inspection so that might be the extent of it, but what are the odds that it's really only one scale insect? Is it ever just one?

Et tu, Furcraea?

3. Polyscias balfouriana (variegated)

The Phalaenopsis is being spiteful, the Furcraea is disloyal, and the Polyscias balfouriana is catatonic. It's never been one of my best plants or anything, but when I got it, in July 2010, it looked like this:

And now, after growing for three years, one of the plants in the original pot has died,3 and the other looks like this:

Weak stem (it periodically leans over enough to throw itself off the shelf it lives on), not much foliage (that's actually the most it's had in a very long time, in that picture), regular spider mite infestations, which it passes to other plants -- P. balfouriana is another one that's probably going in the trash as soon as I have any kind of excuse. Considering its history, I should maybe not wait for an excuse.

4. Synadenium grantii

It was bad enough that Synadenium grantii caught the fungus that's been infecting all the Euphorbias.4 I moved it outside, in the hope that this would help it shake the fungus, and that actually seems to have worked.5 The problem is that it's not happy with being outside, either. Although when I did the research for the Synadenium profile, I found information telling me that they could survive temperatures down to about 20F / -7C, leaf damage apparently begins somewhere in the high 50s F, or about 14C, and takes the form of broad tan patches on exposed leaves:

I suppose this is my own fault, for not figuring out sooner that I was seeing cold damage. (I'd thought it was sunburn.) The plant could maybe have explained itself better, though.

5. Eucharis grandiflora

So I have three pots of Eucharis now. The one that's stayed in the house is doing fine. Not blooming or anything, but it's doing fine. The two that are getting to summer outdoors, on the other hand, started looking really ratty almost as soon as they went out. Well, I thought, that's to be expected -- probably it's a combination of sunburn and getting thrashed around by the wind. The replacement leaves will be better. But the replacement leaves were not better. And then, one day, I lifted up one of the pots for some reason and there was this fat, gray-green caterpillar underneath it. I picked it up and flung it into the yard, hoping the birds would deal with it. Then a few days later, I was watering, and I saw a similar-looking caterpillar, curled up, floating in the water inside the pot. So I picked it up and threw it out onto the driveway (figuring that the birds would be quicker to spot it on concrete than they would on grass). I haven't seen any caterpillars since then, but it almost doesn't matter: the replacement leaves are coming in slowly, and the older leaves are trashed almost beyond recognition. So the Eucharis won't be going outside next year either, even if they beg and plead and claim that that's the only way they'll ever flower.

The plants that got to go outside have, as a group, been very resistant to bugs -- the only other cases of visible insect damage outside have happened on two Agaves, and I think are also caterpillar-related. But the Eucharis have taken a real beating. Makes me unhappy.

The only positive note is that I have finally achieved houseplant pest bingo. (That'll teach me not to hope publicly for caterpillar infestations, even in jest.)

6. Epipremnum aureum 'Neon' and 'Marble Queen'

Lastly: I can grow Epipremnum aureum varieties just fine, beautifully even, so long as I avoid anything that they might interpret as transplanting.

Which is to say, I've had no problems water-rooting cuttings. But when I put the rooted cuttings into soil, I lose about two-thirds of them. Every single time, no exceptions. Soil-rooting cuttings is a little better, but even then, I lose about half. And repotting is a disaster every single time, no exceptions. (You'd think I would learn.)

'Neon' and 'Marble Queen' made the list because I've tried to root cuttings of 'Marble Queen,' and I've tried to repot 'Neon,' and both have been calamitous. Here's what 'Neon' looked like before the repotting:

And after repotting, removal of obviously dead vines, and cutting a few back in hopes that they'd resprout:

What did I do wrong? I have no idea. It certainly seemed like repotting was warranted: the plant was always wilted when its turn for water came around, sometimes badly, and it was dropping leaves as a result. Giving it more soil, to keep it wetter longer, seemed the logical solution. But instead, the plant punishes me by committing suicide. What a dick.

I don't have a photo for the 'Marble Queen' cuttings, but you'll have to just trust me that they look even worse. Everybody else in the entire world can do anything they like to this plant and it's fine, but -- I don't think it's for me.

So . . . yeah.

I'll have a post later, about plants that aren't making me angry, but I feel it's important for houseplant "experts"6 to acknowledge that there is no level of horticultural skill that will completely prevent plants from being douchebags.

Dishonorable mentions:
  • Aloe variegata: overwatered, root rot. Still around. Unlikely to try again.
  • Anthurium crystallinum 'Mehani:' never did very well here, probably due to dryer and cooler air than it would have liked. Was doing even less well this year, which I suspect might have been related to soil breakdown. Discarded. Almost certainly will never try again.
  • Araucaria heterophylla (or maybe A. columnaris): root rot and massive branch drop because I overpotted last winter. Discarded. (This one was really painful: I'd had the plant for five and a half years.) I'll probably try it again.
  • Begonia 'Puffy Clouds:' too much direct sun and/or too hot? Discarded. Unlikely to try again.
  • Columnea microphylla: sudden decline for no discernable reason. Discarded. Unlikely to try again.
  • Cyanotis kewensis: stem dieback, possibly due to underwatering. Still around.
  • Episcia 'Pink Smoke:' Never did well. Discarded. Unlikely to try again.
  • Episcia "prayer plant:" too wet, too dry, or possibly both at once. Still around. Will probably restart from cuttings.
  • Episcia 'Suomi:' slow steady decline that turned into a fast and ever-accelerating decline; reason unknown. (I'm getting pretty fed up with Episcias.) Still around, but only barely. Will probably allow to remain until it dies and then not try it again.
  • Euphorbia milii hybrid with large yellow flowers: I cannot make the fungus go away on the small specimen (indoors); the large specimen got blown over repeatedly so the leaves are all creased/torn/punctured/scarred. Still around.
  • Euphorbia pseudocactus: one tall stem turned brown and rotted away for no obvious reason very early in the summer. A second big tall new branch started growing after that. It managed to hold itself erect for about a week, then flopped over, and has been growing more or less horizontally ever since. The rest of the plant isn't doing anything and never really has. Still around.
  • Euphorbia tirucalli 'Firesticks:' tried to blind me that one time. Still around.
  • Euphorbia trigona: I cannot get rid of the fungus on the cuttings in the basement, though the parents, outdoors, are doing okay. Still around.
  • Euphorbia trigona 'Red:' I cannot get rid of the fungus, but also the parent plants won't branch and sometimes get root rot. Still around.
  • Ficus 'Green Island:' sort of continuously dropping leaves, whether in or outside. Refuses to grow vertically. Still around.
  • Gasteraloe 'Green Gold:' definite severe root rot, due to overwatering. Still around, but unlikely to make it back into the house this fall. Unlikely to try again.
  • Gasteraloe 'Midnight:' has never liked me very much. Probably some root rot. Almost certainly will never try again.
  • Homalomena 'Emerald Gem:' both under- and overwatered, leading to substantial defoliation. And then the bugs (spider mite-like, but I was never sure if they really were spider mites) showed up. Discarded. I'm not desperate to replace it, but I might at some point, if I see one cheap.
  • Kohleria 'Queen Victoria:' (chronically?) miswatered. Discarded. Pretty much certain never to try again.
  • Neoregelia 'Fireball:' never rebounded from a repotting several years ago; I don't know what its problem was. Discarded. Unlikely to try again.
  • Pereskia aculeata var. godseffiana: scale. Discarded. I still have a back-up plant.
  • Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald:' small, weak growth for about a year, year and a half now. Lots of leaf drop. Still around.
  • Schefflera actinophylla: has not performed well outdoors. A tremendous amount of leaf drop, poor color, gets blown over a lot by the wind. Still around. I'll keep growing it, probably, but it's not going outside again next summer.
  • Selenicereus anthonyanus: does not appear to understand how to grow the long, weird stems that are the main reason to grow it. I don't know why it won't and S. chrysocardium will. Still around.
  • Vriesea splendens: flowered, then started to produce a replacement rosette, but the replacement rosette is really struggling for no obvious reason. Still around, but I suspect its days are numbered. The smaller duplicate plant rotted out and died last March.
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia: another one like Epipremnum aureum, that does beautifully until I try to pot it up, at which point it begins falling apart. A less water-retentive potting mix might help, but I'm more inclined to just let it die and never attempt to grow it again: I don't especially like the look of it in the first place. (The leaflet cuttings of 'Zamicro' are doing fine, but I haven't tried to repot them, either. Maybe I never will.)

1 Unless it's one of the blue-dyed Phalaenopsis, because I have a theory about the identity of the blue dye that I'd like to test. So I might buy one of those, but only so that I could grind up the flowers in a mortar and pestle and perform science experiments on them. Which would actually probably be kind of cathartic.
Also: sorry for the earworm. I couldn't resist.
2 Probably more blue-hot, I think. (I feel like most of the energy being given off by my fury is being emitted in the ultraviolet / soft x-ray range.)
3 (I cut it back because it was hitting the lights and scorching, but it didn't resprout. I kept hoping, because the stem was staying firm, even if it wasn't producing a new growing tip, but eventually it went soft and I pulled it out of the pot.)
4 Synadenium grantii is officially Euphorbia umbellata, according to Plant List. The name I learned before that was Euphorbia pseudograntii. I'm sticking with the name I learned originally, partly because the taxonomists don't seem to have made up their collective mind yet, and partly because if I do decide to change it, there's a whole lot of blog posts that'll need to be edited too, and I would prefer not to do that.
5 It worked better on some species than others. E. lactea and E. tirucalli cleared up pretty quickly but weren't that bad off in the first place; Euphorbia milii and Synadenium grantii had pretty serious problems but improved after a few weeks. E. trigona took most of the summer to get there, but is good at the moment, as far as I can see. Pedilanthus 'Jurassic Park 2' may never shake the fungus.
6 (a designation I'm not happy seeing applied to myself, by the way)


Diana said...

OMFSM! My Epipremnum aureum neon also hated being repotted. I had the same problem - it was needing watering too often so I potted it up and half of it died back and the other half looks mostly ok but keeps dropping leaves. I think it'll survive but it may always look lopsided in the pot. Glad I'm not the only one having problems with this plant

Unknown said...

The only thing I hate more than caterpillars is butterflies.

My aralia fell apart. Plants are indeed dicks.

jane in the midwest said...

A comment on your zz plant....I've found these grow best indoors in full sun (I live in MN, so days can be short) and watering like a regular houseplant. Don't hold back on the water like the tags suggest. However they grow so fast this way they quickly outgrow their welcome....my one stem turned into a 50 stem, 7 ft monster in 3 years.

Love this post about naughty plants....I've had many a naughty one I've tossed myself!

Martin O. said...


did you do the repotting of the Epipremnum aureum when it was in full growth? Maybe that was the reason it lost so many leaves.

mr_subjunctive said...

Martin O:

"Full growth?"

orchideya said...

That phal spike can still bloom. One of the nodes below the broken tip will wake up and produce a branch, so don't give up on it yet...

Paul said...

With regards to the Eucharis , the moment I saw your pic "insect damage" immediately popped up in my mind. With plants that are "delectable" to caterpillars and such, periodic spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis generally does wonders. Might allow you to have your Eucharis and outside too.

If you hadn't told me that was cold damage on your Synadenium grantii, I would have assumed sunburn as well.

The phal spike -- that definitely looks like mechanical damage. I've grown orchids for more than a decade and while I have had a phal abort flowers or even an entire spike, it does not look like that. Mechanical damage due to a "critter", getting caught in/between something, or smacked with something is really the only likely possibilities, IME. Very real possibility that the spike will send out a branch if conditions are favorable.

mr_subjunctive said...


I thought that might be a possibility, though at this point I'm not sure how much I care.

Any idea why/how it dropped the top of the spike in the first place?

Hoover Boo said...

Broken Phal spike...maybe the butler did it?

theparsley said...

The commercial growers must be doing *something* to make those gigantic pots of Marble Queens and what-not. I suspect steroids. Well, some kind of turbocharged chemical brew meant to promote root growth.

I think the frequent wilting may be a sign that the roots are basically already dead, so innocently potting up or watering extra is just the final death blow. The reason I think that is that I have a Marble Queen which is reasonably healthy, but doesn't grow and looks scanty, and occasionally I root a cutting and stick it back in the pot to try and fill it out. The cutting always dies but not immediately. it just sits there inertly and doesn't grow. At some point I'll notice that cutting wilting, while the rest of the plant is still fine. Extra watering at that point just hastens the cutting's death.

Also, I always forget that the funny-colored ones usually need more light than the equivalent non-colored ones. My Marble Queen is in a spot with little light, surrounded by the regular goldens that grow like mad and are unkillable. I also killed off my Draceana "Limelight" somehow, in a dark window right next to plain old D. warneckii and D. marginata that do fine there.

orchideya said...

Any idea why/how it dropped the top of the spike in the first place?

I would agree with Paul that it looks like mechanical damage. Once I had a case when the very tip of vanda spike rotted (I probably left some water on it), but the whole process took a few days, so you would definitely notice shriveling and decaying buds on the spike before it fell off.
Good luck, I hope you see the blooms soon.

Wade said...

I agree with Orchideya. The spike damage is almost certainly not the plant's fault. If it had decided to change its mind about blooming, the buds would have turned yellow and fallen off individually. The spike should rebloom if you just let it be for a little bit.

Otherwise your plant looks pretty happy. Now quit yer whinin!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Selenicereus anthonyanus:

Apparently the zigzags will wimp-out if the plant is too generously fed.

Katy said...

In my very limited experience with orchids, you must be the first one to say "fuck you, orchid.". I am going to ignore all the standard horticultural nonsense and give you what I think you need. My spider orchids go outside in the summer in zone 8A, as do my jewel orchids and my one slipper orchid. Do you see my disrespect here. I pretend not to know their correct names. I also abuse one small moth orchid in the same way. Burmese humidity, wretched heat, monsoonal rains, fertilizer every week, usually fish emulsion or Dyna Gro bloom booster, lots of sun, except for the one swamp thing. And guess what? They are all gorgeous, lush, flowering , spiking healthy thriving beasts! Take that! I leave them out there until the first hard frost, which means that they did not come inside until well into November. Call the Orchid police! I am not worthy! I love your blog.....