Friday, September 27, 2013

Six Plants I'm Not Currently Mad At / Poll for the Hive Mind

Oh, Mr. Subjunctive, you silly goose, why do you have to be so negative all the time? Why phrase it as "plants I'm not currently mad at," instead of "plants I love," or "plants that are doing well," or something along those lines?

That's . . . a really good question. I'm pretty sure some of it is just that I'm a relentlessly negative person.1 And there's also the issue that lots of other blogs use phrasings like "plants I love," and I'm trying to be different.

But there's also the issue of plant betrayal. In the seven or so years I've been doing this, I've been deliriously happy with any number of plants that later turned on me. Euphorbia trigona, once a darling, is now a constant struggle with fungus. Hoyas always seem to succumb to some kind of dramatic and sudden collapse.2 Cordyline fruticosa never quite shook the spider mites. I miss one watering and the Episcias all collapse on me, or get devoured by caterpillars, or turn brown and dry out. That sort of thing. And I occasionally wind up looking at one of those older posts, where I'm talking about how delighted I am with a plant, and feel stupid, because I know that a few months or years later, I couldn't stand that plant anymore, or it was dead, or whatever.

Therefore, it needs a qualifier. I'm not mad at them at the moment. Three months from now? Anything could happen. This is a terrible attitude to have, but . . . .

I guess I have no conclusion to that sentence; it's just a terrible attitude. (I never promised to be inspirational.)

These six plants are also the leading candidates for the next plant profile, by the way. I have no strong preference about which I want to write about, so I figured I'd put it up for a vote. So be ready for that, at the end of the post.

Here we go. In no particular order:

1. Breynia disticha 'Roseo-Picta'

Breynia disticha turns out to be a very different plant if you let it spend a summer outside than it is if you make it stay indoors all summer taking violin lessons, or whatever it is you make your Breynias do. It's not that it was growing poorly for me inside, exactly, but it wasn't getting enough light to produce any variegated leaves, the branches were flopping over into all the plants around them,3 and it wasn't branching very much.

Once it went outside for a summer, though, all that changed. Faster growth, all sorts of color, branching -- almost everything turned around. The floppy branches are apparently just Breynia's thing, because that part didn't get any better. But still.

It had been a pretty good plant for me before this, too, as far as that goes. Aside from a brief and easily-won bout with spider mites, there have been no pest problems, and although it wilts dramatically whenever I'm the slightest bit late with the water, it always bounces right back once I give it a good soaking. I've propagated from cuttings a few times (difficult, but doable), humidity seems not to be a big issue, and it's even flowered for me once, not that the flowers are a particularly big deal.

2. Philodendron mexicanum

My original cutting of Philodendron mexicanum got too long to be manageable, so I chopped it up into two-node cuttings and rooted them in water. They all got busy building roots immediately, so now I have a pot with three plants in it, which is the one in the picture.

Like some other vining Philodendrons, P. mexicanum is maybe a little too enthusiastic for its own good (I'm already contemplating chopping up the original cutting again, and it hasn't been that long. A year, maybe?), but the leaves are really lovely (I neglected to choose a photo that shows the red-brown undersides, though if you're interested you can check out this post.), and it's easy to grow, as far as I can tell. Fairly weak artificial light, normal indoor temperatures and humidity, water every two to four weeks.

My only problem to date has been with thrips, of all things. They weren't that hard to get rid of, but they were surprisingly fond of the plant, and apparently used it as a species headquarters, from which they launched expeditions to the neighboring plants.

3. Beaucarnea recurvata

This is probably the most unexpected plant to land on this list. It's not that it was ever doing poorly, exactly; it's more that it's never done much of anything at all. The reason turned out to be pot size and light intensity: after five and a half years of leaving it alone, I repotted it and gave it some direct sun, and bam, new growth. Quite a bit of it, even. (I'm sad to think of how disappointed it will be this winter: I doubt I'll be able to spare a direct-sun spot once all the plants come in from outside.4)

Even without new growth, though, it was one of those plants I could depend on not to give me any drama. It was fine with the variable temperature in the plant room, it never got any pests, and if it was unpropagatable, it was at least durable.

The propagation thing is likely to continue to be a problem in the future, but otherwise, I feel like I may finally have figured Beaucarnea recurvata out.

4. Polyscias fruticosa

And then Polyscias fruticosa is probably the most obvious plant to go on the list. I've even been publicly happy with it in the past. I have some pretty serious concerns about it for the future,5 but right now, at this particular moment, all is well, and it's been thriving. I'm also pretty pleased with the cultivars I have ('Elegans' and 'Snowflake,' which is just variegated 'Elegans'), and have managed to propagate 'Elegans' a few times, albeit with some difficulty. They're all perfectly happy, and even pest-free (knock wood), so long as I give them some direct sun every day and don't get too unpredictable with the water (both too much and too little leads to defoliation, though too little seems to be worse).

The best part is that as it ages, the plant is developing a sort of Cousin Itt (or possibly Gossamer?) look, which I enjoy.

5. Scindapsus pictus

I have one main problem with Scindapsus pictus, which is that I tend to forget that it exists. Which is to say that whenever I'm listing plants in my mind, in whatever category, I never remember to include it.

It's a perfectly nice plant, as plants go. I treat it horribly: it's on a shelf a couple inches below other plants, which block most of the light. It gets air-conditioning blasted directly at it during the summer. I'm pretty sure the soil hasn't been changed since I bought it in July 2008. But no worries! Scindapsus just keeps plugging away, slowly building leaf after leaf, without complaining or getting bugs. It's the damnedest thing.

I've had an S. pictus many years ago that wasn't nearly as forgiving; this is far enough in the past that I couldn't guess what the problem might have been. So it's possible that I've just been bizarrely lucky for five straight years.

I have yet to attempt propagation, because it's not necessarily a plant I want more of. Maybe someday.

6. Stromanthe sanguinea cvv.

Finally, I continue to be impressed with Stromanthe sanguinea. I have two varieties of it, 'Triostar' (shown) and 'Magicstar,' both of which are much easier to grow than anything from the Marantaceae ought to be.

It's not perfect. There's an unfortunate tendency to develop spider mites, and there are limits to how large of a pot I can use here in the house, because the root systems are relatively shallow and rot-prone, so I can only up-pot for just so long before it's time to start over again with a freshly-propagated plant. Even so, being able to grow something this attractive at all is awfully cool. And when I need to propagate, it's always been game, which is a definite bonus.

So see? I can say nice things about the plants sometimes.


1 No. Really. I am. It's okay. I don't mind. Usually.
2 Though it's possible that I'm on the verge of figuring that one out. All the Hoyas that have succumbed to Sudden Hoya Death Syndrome were also not getting any direct sun at the time of death. The cause-and-effect relationship is murky, but in the absence of any other leads, I'm thinking this must be the key, somehow.
3 Which was a problem, because the plants around the oldest and largest Breynia were mostly Euphorbia trigona. Top-heavy thorny plants shouldn't be placed next to floppy-branched leafy plants, as a rule: you wind up losing hours of your life trying to untangle them from one another.
4 Next summer, though: look out! I'm putting the Beaucarnea outside, and fully expect it to grow substantially before autumn arrives. A friend in town has a Beaucarnea that she puts outside every year, and it is amazing. (Had I been thinking, I'd have gotten a picture for you, but I wasn't.)
5 It's 1) a very big plant, with 2) brown, woody stems and 3) lots of delicately-cut leaves, living 4) in a room where scale has recently been discovered. If scale decided to take up residence there, I stand very little chance of catching the infestation early. I've added some pre-emptive imidacloprid to the soil, as well as to the soil of some of its neighbors, but if you look closely at the photo, you may be able to make out a faint aura of doom around the plant.


nycguy said...

Have you tried growing your episcias enclosed? not hermetically sealed but in something like the bottoms of two large take-out containers, one underneath and the other up-side-down on top. they generally appreciate higher humidity than most house-plants.

Ginny Burton said...

Wonderful post! Am I correct in assuming that you have a personality picked out for each one? And therefore we're likely to get a plant profile on each one eventually? Be still my heart! Your plant profiles are always marvelous.

mr_subjunctive said...


Sort of. I've got one ('Coco') in Nina's former terrarium right now, which has waxed and waned as I remember and forget to water it. It's not doing badly at the moment, but neither are the 'Coco' specimens in the basement; the complaints in the post apply mostly to a set of plants in the plant room (which were staying wet longer than usual, so I didn't water them one week, and then they imploded and are only now starting to come back) and my office (which I've already told you about the caterpillars).

Ginny Burton:

I only have possible "people" picked out for Polyscias and Scindapsus, but usually one comes to me sooner or later as I write, so having a person in mind or not doesn't really have much of an effect on how long it takes me to write the profile.

Of the group of six, Polyscias fruticosa is the most likely to become a profile soon whether or not it's chosen by the vote, because it's one of the short list of plants that comes up on every possible-profile list I've written since the Ficus elastica profile. Though "soon," in that sentence, could mean next March.

Anonymous said...

Here in Southern California we have a lot of Beaucarnia recurvata growing outdoors in our UV index of about a zillion, either in containers or right in the garden. They get to be MASSIVE. I wouldn't skimp on the full sun exposure, even if you can only put them outdoors seasonally where you are.