Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. I've tried, of course, to be conscientious about hand-washing and so forth, but as many Euphorbias as I have, and as long as I've had them, I was going to get Euphorbia sap in the eye eventually. So here's my report about that.

What happened: On Wednesday night, our weather forecast predicted a low of 58F/14C, which was probably warm enough that I didn't need to do anything -- the plants are all either right next to the house or right next to the garage, they're packed fairly close together, and most are sitting on or near a good-sized slab of concrete. So they're in a relatively warm microclimate to begin with, warm enough that 58F/14C shouldn't be that big of a deal.

But I decided to move the ones that were easiest to move anyway, because an extra layer of protection couldn't hurt. So I intended to wheel the sets of plants that are on carts into the garage. (A couple big plants also had to be moved before I could move the ones on carts, but that's not really relevant to the story.)

One of the carts had a Euphorbia lactea next to a Euphorbia tirucalli 'Firesticks.' I'd been keeping them outside because I've been stupidly hoping that being outside would do something to clear up their fungus problem -- which is still going on, and has been going on for at least a year now.

Back row, L-R: Euphorbia milii, Pachypodium lamerei, Pilosocereus pachycladus. Front row: Euphorbia tirucalli 'Firesticks,' Euphorbia lactea, Euphorbia milii.

I'm not sure what's going on with the E. lactea: it's gotten wobbly in the pot. Kept falling over into the E. tirucalli, as I rolled the cart over the rough surface of the concrete. So I kept picking it up again. I noticed that the lactea thorns were stabbing the tirucalli stems here and there, but this isn't the first time that's happened, and I didn't think it was terribly significant. I tried to keep my hands out of the little pinpricks of sap, and pressed forward, because it was already 8:30 PM and I had other stuff I was hoping to get to before bed.

Got everything in the garage, rolled the door down, turned out the light, went in the house, and sat down at the computer to do stuff. Got about half an hour into that when I absent-mindedly rubbed my left eye.

What it was like: Initially, it just felt like there was something in my eye; it was irritating, but not unusually so. So I rubbed harder, to get whatever it was out of my eye. As you do. And that didn't make things any better, so I got up and went to the bathroom to rinse it out in the sink. And that's roughly the point when I realized that this was no ordinary foreign-object-in-the-eye situation.

For one thing, it felt hot. And it was much more irritated, much faster, than if I'd just gotten a piece of dirt in my eye. I could still see through the eye fine. I found the husband and asked him to look at the eye in question and tell me if he could see anything in there; he couldn't. And that's about the point when I thought of the Euphorbia tirucalli I'd just moved, and put things together.

(So how was the pain? Once when I was about 19, I angrily opened a heavy wooden door, while barefoot, so it swung directly into my big toe, not only stubbing it but also ripping off the toenail. It hurt about that much: bad enough that it took some concentration to think about anything else, but not so bad that I completely lost control of my faculties. This, remember, is from what was probably a single pinprick of dried sap, though. Having experienced that much, I can totally believe that getting a squirt of sap directly to the eye would be completely incapacitating, and probably would involve a good bit of writhing on the floor and/or incoherent screaming.)

So. What you're supposed to do for Euphorbia tirucalli sap is, you're supposed to run cold, clean water on the affected eye(s) for 15 minutes, seek medical attention, and then (optionally) run water on the affected eye(s) for another 15 minutes. I didn't do that.

Why didn't you do that? I didn't do that because, although it felt considerably better with the water on it, and almost immediately so, even, I was having a difficult time keeping my eye open while running water on it, because . . . I don't know. I may have an overactive blink reflex, or something. It should also be noted that what my right eye was doing while this was going on was, it was getting to look at the inside of the kitchen sink. Which is not that interesting, so it's not like the time was passing quickly or anything either.

So what wound up happening was, I'd run the water for like 30-60 seconds, feel better, get bored, and start getting annoyed at trying to keep my eye open when every instinct was telling me to close it. So then I'd get up, try to locate the husband, discuss the situation with him, and then eventually run off to rinse the eye again.

After hearing that keeping the eye open with the water on it was a problem, the husband proposed that maybe it would work better for me to lie down somewhere, and have him holding the water, that maybe it would be easier to relax that way. So at one point, he'd constructed this whole thing where a couple of chairs were supporting a piece of plywood that stretched into our upstairs shower, tilted slightly downward so the water wouldn't run all over into the bathroom. When tried, that turned out to be considerably worse (cold water all over my back and scalp, a gazillion little jets of water spraying all over my face -- generally much, much closer to waterboarding than I felt comfortable with), so we abandoned that and I went back to the kitchen sink again.

Why didn't you just seek medical attention? Well, we did consider it. Since it was 9 PM or later through this whole ordeal, though, that would have meant going to the emergency room in Iowa City, which is a significant amount of time to spend in the car without any water to run over the eye, plus time spent parking, waiting in the waiting room to see a doctor, explaining the situation, and etc. At this point, I was having to go back to the sink every 3-5 minutes, so that didn't seem workable, plus the last time I went to the emergency room, it was also for something eye-related, and I didn't want the U of I Hospital people to be thinking that I was some kind of eye hypochondriac.

More seriously, though -- there was really no indication that the hospital would have been able to do anything much for me that I couldn't do for myself at home. I wasn't in unbearable pain, I was still more or less able to think, and there's not actually a cure for E. tirucalli sap in the eye anyway, as far as I could find on-line: basically you just flush it with water in the hopes that the sap will wash out (and because keeping the eye cool dulls the pain), and wait to see how bad it's going to be. And we had running water here already. So.

Resolution: At about 9:30 or 10 PM, I took an ibuprofen, because why not, and some benadryl (diphenhydramine), because somebody on-line had said that antihistamines were sometimes helpful. By about 10:30 PM, things had improved to the point where I was able to lie on the couch and watch TV ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") for a while without pain. Don't know if the drugs and the feeling better were related or not, but I suppose it doesn't matter.

Wound up going to bed at about 1 AM, and slept in until 11 AM. I don't know if the sleeping in is related or not either, but that's almost unheard of for me: I rarely sleep in later than 9:30 AM.

It's possible that my left eye is a little more prone to watering since this, but it's also possible that I'm just paying more attention to it. No lingering effects that are at all life-disrupting, anyway -- no pain, no problems seeing, no scarring.

What next? Damned if I know. I've had at least one E. tirucalli at all times since 2001, and this is the first time anything like this has happened. If I don't have to worry about it happening again until 2025, that's not so terrible.

On the other hand, the whole Euphorbia genus has made itself awfully annoying over the last year or so, with the ineradicable fungus problem, and there have been several occasions when I've been very tempted to just throw out all the affected plants1 and start over. Or maybe not start over, even, since I don't know how to rid the house of the fungus. Also, this was likely just a tiny pinprick of sap. Next time it might not be.

A new thing they've come up with to annoy me: this branch just up and turned brown and died after it spent some time outside. Dunno why. But Euphorbia pseudocactus is on my list too.

Maybe I'm just done with Euphorbias. I'm certainly going to be thinking about it pretty seriously.


1 Euphorbia tirucalli, E. tirucalli 'Firesticks,' E. drupifera (deceased), E. milii, E. milii 'Candyland' (deceased), E. milii large hybrid, Pedilanthus tithymaloides, P. 'Jurassic Park 2,' P. 'Silver Star,' Synadenium grantii, S. grantii var. rubrum, E. bougheyi variegata, E. lactea, E. trigona, E. trigona 'Red,' and E. pseudocactus.
All of these are officially Euphorbias at the moment, even if I've written their names as Pedilanthus or Synadenium.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pretty picture: Paphiopedilum Pinocchio

Paphiopedilum Pinocchio is a primary hybrid (hybrid between two species, as opposed to a hybrid of a hybrid) between Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum × Paphiopedilum primulinum. I can't say I see anything particularly Pinocchioish about the flower here, but I gave up a long time ago on expecting orchid names to make sense.

The flower looks more or less exactly like most of the primulinum pictures on Google; I can't tell from looking at it what this hybrid is getting from the P. glaucophyllum side.

One last reminder: today is your last chance to enter the drawing for the book giveaway.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Random plant event: Canna NOID

Last year, I saved as many seeds from the Cannas as I could collect, with the intention of starting all of them as new plants. Because everybody -- I in particular -- always needs more Cannas. It wound up being about 150 seeds, which I sanded down and soaked in water for a couple days, as you do, and then I made a bunch of little holes in a bed in the yard and dropped a seed in each hole. Flooded the bed with water a few times, and then . . . nothing happened. There was a long enough delay that I concluded that the seeds had died, and I was really disappointed about that (not to mention all the time I thought I'd wasted on seed collection and sanding and so forth).

But after I'd given up, the seeds began to sprout. I don't have anywhere near the 150 I tried to start, but I counted 22 up five days ago, and 37 yesterday, so we may be getting there.

I can't remember where I saw it, but at some point I was doing research about whether or not Cannas can bloom in their first year from seed, and if I'm remembering correctly, it's possible but not certain. I don't really have any strong feelings either way: I'll have flowers from the parent plants whether the babies flower or not. At this point, all I really care about is that 1) it turns out to be possible to start Cannas from seed, like everybody says, and 2) whether they're going to grow fast enough to shade out all the weeds. (I'm already pretty tired of pulling weeds, and it hasn't even gotten hot yet.)

I should also remind readers that the book giveaway remains open until Friday, so if you missed that post, check it out and leave a comment.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Giveaway: America's Romance With the English Garden (Thomas J. Mickey)

Book Give-away Rules: To be eligible to participate in this Book Give-away for a copy of Thomas Mickey’s book America’s Romance With the English Garden, you must comment on this guest blog entry between 8:00 a.m. (EDT) Monday, June 3, and 5:00 p.m. (EDT) Friday, June 7. LIMIT one entry per person. The name of the winner will be drawn from the list of those who comment. The winner will be contacted on Monday, June 10 to obtain a shipping address, and will receive a free, signed copy of the book. Open to US residents only.

The following post is an excerpt from the book America’s Romance with the English Garden:

How the Lawn Became Essential in the Landscape

Ohio artist and landscaper Frank Scott dedicated his book The Art of Beautying Suburban Home Grounds (1870) to his friend and mentor, America's premier landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Scott saw his task as teaching Americans the principles of English landscape design. He wrote, "The half-acre of a suburban cottage may be as perfect a work of art, and as well worth transferring to canvas as any part of the great Chatsworth of the Duke of Devonshire."

A front lawn scene from Vick's Illustrated Monthly in 1879.

Although Scott recognized that compared to the English "we are yet novices in the fine arts of gardening," along with the English he considered the well-kept lawn as the essential element in the landscape. The lawn, Scott suggested, should be open, so that neighbors and passers-by could see and enjoy it. His book presented plans and also a listing of trees, shrubs, and vines suitable for the suburban home landscape. In his book Scott quoted New York seedsman Peter Henderson for the amount of seed needed for a lawn.

The lawn, as Scott discussed it, connected one house to the next by its placement at the front of the property, along the street. One property seemed to flow right into the next, forming a sense of neighborhood.

Discussion of the English lawn as the basis of the home landscape was quite common in the seed and nursery catalogs. Here is what the seedsman C.A. Reeser wrote in his 1886 catalog: "A beautiful lawn. It is hardly necessary to say, is one of the most satisfactory and pleasing outside adornments that can be procured, and is rightly deemed a most essential adjunct to rural and suburban homes." The home landscape, according to the nineteenth-century garden catalogs, needed the verdant sweep of a lawn. Front lawns first began as a luxury of the wealthy but later in the century they became a symbol of the middle class. The lots in suburban Takoma Park, Maryland, for example, included a large setback from the street to provide front space for a lawn.

The seed companies generally sold lawn seed. They were happy to recommend the amount of seed needed for the size of a particular property. Downing wrote: "We advise him who desires to have speedily a handsome turf, to follow the English practice, and sow three to four bushels of seeds to the acre."

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick, in his 1873 catalog, echoed the words of Scott: "No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass."

-This is an excerpt from the new book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press).

UPDATE: The randomly-chosen comment was #8, which was Dave. Dave, please contact me by e-mail (address in the sidebar; please note the instructions) to let me know where to have it sent, as your links do not include an e-mail address.

SECOND UPDATE: Dave didn't respond, so I re-drew. The winner is now comment #2, Paul. Please e-mail me with your address and I'll have your copy sent.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Question for the Hive Mind: Iris cvv.

Three or four weeks ago, I was talking to my Dad on the phone, and he mentioned that the Irises where he and Mom live (fairly close, south of us) had buds on them already, and that they were sufficiently developed that you could tell what color the flowers were going to be.

We didn't have any Iris buds at that point, but about a week after that conversation, I saw a couple stalks were forming.

Whew. What a relief. They're going to bloom after all.

And they did:

Iris NOID blue-violet, 2013.

And then it was over. Two flower stalks, with three or four flowers apiece, both from the NOID blue variety. Nothing from 'Shelly Elizabeth.' The end.

I had been anticipating, you know, more, so I looked for information on-line about non-blooming Irises, and came up with this page at Garden Web, which lists several thousand possible reasons why Iris might decline to bloom, few of which seem to apply in my particular case:

Not adequately established -- well, they were established enough to bloom last year.

Iris 'Shelly Elizabeth,' 2012.

Inadequate sun -- again, it was enough last year, so it couldn't be that they're planted in a part of the yard that doesn't get enough sun. However, it's plausible that the town in general didn't get enough sun this year; the state of Iowa has had its wettest spring in 141 years of recorded history this spring. We even have mushrooms growing all over the yard:

A representative sample of the back yard. Seriously, it's all like this.

So it's probably been unusually cloudy, too. Neither the husband nor I recall seeing a normal number of Irises around town, but it's not really something we have a great sense of in the first place, and we didn't know it was going to be important to keep track, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Nutrient deficiencies -- doubtful; this is only the second year they've been growing in this spot, and the soil contains a lot of compost.

Inappropriate watering -- see above re: wettest spring in 141 years. Though last summer was a significant drought, too, with the lawn cracking and stuff, so if blooms are strongly related to watering from the previous summer and fall, maybe.

Planted too deeply -- don't think the planting depth has changed since last year; we certainly haven't added any soil. They did have some oak and maple leaves on them during the winter, because leaves just accumulate there. I don't recall making a point of removing them (though the husband might have), so this is sort of plausible, depending on how much mulch counts as deep planting.

Overcrowding -- I have no reference points for how close Iris rhizomes should be, so you tell me:

It should probably be noted that the more isolated rhizomes aren't blooming either (though they could still be a little crowded, just not so much by one another):

Weeds -- not among the Irises; there's no room. Everywhere else, sure.

Ill health -- doubtful. If anything, it seems like there are more and bigger leaves this year than previously. True, lots of them are also weirdly sickle-shaped, but they don't seem ill.

Late freezes -- I couldn't tell you for sure. We did have some temperatures near-freezing in early May, but I don't think we were forecast to have an actual freeze. And I'm not sure about earlier than that. Could this cause the sickle-shaped leaves?

Immature rhizome -- nope. Lots of blooms last year.

Irregular bloomer -- I wouldn't necessarily know, I suppose. They bloomed last year. Didn't in 2011 (though they sort of tried). Freshly-divided and immature in 2010.

So . . . is anything jumping out at anybody as being the obvious problem? (Ideally something that's easily fixed?)