Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday morning non-domesticated animal pictures

I will get back to Sheba eventually, I promise. But first: a report on the state of the local wildlife.

I usually get one hummingbird sighting every year, and that happened earlier this week. It flew away before I could adjust the camera settings, but the pictures would have been shaky blurs photographed from a distance anyway, so you're not missing much. However, I have a picture of a white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), which hovers in air sort of like a hummingbird and is therefore, to my mind, every bit as good as a hummingbird.

This particular individual was hiding in one of the plants on a day when I had to bring them in for the night, and then I got to chase it around the plant room, kitchen, and living room for what felt like a very long time, before I managed to catch it and take it outside. It then hung on the mouth of the container for quite a while, having exhausted itself trying to fly through windows and clear plastic walls for fifteen minutes. Which meant I got some more or less decent pictures.

The green tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) continue to appear all over the property; 2013 is definitely the Year of the Green Tree Frog.1 There was also, briefly, a pickerel frog (Rana palustris), who lived in the Portulaca / Tagetes bed for about a week and then moved on.

Rana palustris.

There is also a strong case to be made for 2013 as the Year of the Wasp,2 the Year of the Caterpillar, or the Year of the Black Bees, but the frogs feel a lot more noteworthy. Or at least a lot more suddenly abundant, at least.

And yes, this is the same species as the solid-green frogs in the earlier posts. They can apparently choose to be solid green or gray-and-green. So that whole spiel from Kermit about how hard it is to be green: bullshit. He could just be gray, if green is so tough. What a whiner.

It's also been a good year for jumping spiders, though surprisingly light on any other spiders. Usually by this point in the year, I've seen a few black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia), but this year there's nothing.

Arachnophobes should start scrolling down really quickly . . . NOW.


(Oh, it's over here? Okay then.) RAWWWWRRRR!

This is the most adorable spider I have ever seen. It's even better in the full-size version.


I've seen a few butterflies around, though most wouldn't stay still long enough for pictures, and it hasn't been anything very interesting. Mostly blues this year. The dill we planted failed to attract any swallowtail caterpillars, and very few butterflies of any kind, which was disappointing, though it may be that the cool, wet early summer depressed the numbers of butterflies in general.

I think this is a pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos), though there are so many small orange and brown butterflies out there that I'm not confident about it. The plant is Haworthia limifolia var. ubomboensis.

I did manage to get a couple pictures of one swallowtail, though, at the ex-job.

Female eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)? Plant is some Echinacea variety; I didn't check the tag.

Great year for bees, though. Lately I've been seeing mostly bumblebees, but I've seen at least four different species of bee over the course of the summer, and I'm probably forgetting a few.

Probably the less said about caterpillars, the better, but there is one that I thought was interesting. I found it on the Portulaca in early July.

I spent a long time at What's That Bug?, looking through their butterfly and moth caterpillar archives, but didn't see many pictures that were substantially similar, and the few that were similar were for caterpillars not actually found in Iowa. So I have no idea. (I considered submitting the photos to WTB, but they sounded kind of swamped with submissions already, and it's not like this is an emergency or anything.) But it's kind of cool-looking, as caterpillars go.

Finally, yes, there are grasshoppers (most likely the differential grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis) around as well. They seem to be particularly fond of the Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla 'Bright Lights'). Which is good, I guess. I mean, something ought to be. We tried sauteeing it with some other greens, early in the summer. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't leave us with any particular desire to do it again. So we designated it an ornamental and haven't touched it since. And it's doing a great job being ornamental.


1 Why? Well, it was an unusually wet spring, which I'd think would have to be good for frogs. There's also been some habitat disruption in the area -- some kind of pond or sewage lagoon or something got filled in. Though I don't think that was this year. I'm pretty hazy about the details.
It could be helping, too, that when the rain stopped falling in early August, we let the grass go dormant and stopped mowing. In previous years, we have watered parts of it instead. And I think we've always mowed, until this year. Which if you think about it has some implications for the frog population. (CUT TO: Miss Piggy, crying "KERMIEEEEE!!!!!!" as she sinks to her knees.)
2 To a disturbing degree: there is often a crowd of them gathered on the light fixture above our front door. As we don't use the front door very often, this hasn't been dangerous yet, but it's unsettling, like driving past a convenience store and seeing a crowd of high-school boys loitering in its parking lot. There are also a lot of wasps between the back door of the house and the garage during the day. Again, they've never actually attacked us, but surely it's only a matter of time before I come whipping around the corner of the house with a huge plant and upset somebody. And they've even shown up in the house once, which was a fun day.
That said, if you can observe them at a remove, like in photographs or something, they're kind of neat. Though that's true of a lot of things.

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pretty picture: Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel

Am I getting used to my LCD monitor, or is this two not-bad pictures in a row?

A good background really does make a huge difference.

Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel = Paphiopedilum rothschildianum x Paphiopedilum stonei

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pretty picture: Aphelandra squarrosa

I hear they're not particularly satisfying houseplants, in the long-term, but I do sometimes feel mildly bad about never having tried an Aphelandra squarrosa. This one was at the ex-job, quite a while ago.

I'm not sure exactly why I feel like I should have attempted it -- it's not as though there's a list of Houseplants You Must Try If You're Going To Be Into Houseplants. (And if there were such a list, Aphelandra probably wouldn't be on it.1) But that's sort of what it feels like.

So what about it, readers? Have I been missing out on something awesome? Or is A. squarrosa as disappointing as I've heard?


1 What would be on that list? Well, pothos, obviously. Codiaeum. Sansevieria trifasciata. Dracaena fragrans and D. marginata. Schlumbergera? African violets? Peperomia obtusifolia. Araucaria heterophylla / A. columnaris. Dieffenbachia. Phalaenopsis. Crassula ovata. Spathiphyllum. At this point I suppose I'm just listing plants I see for sale a lot. And some of those wouldn't actually be fair to inflict on someone who was new to houseplants. (Codiaeum wouldn't be fair to inflict on someone experienced, as far as that goes.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Random plant event: Eucodonia NOID

I got this plant from a reader (who can choose to reveal him/rself in the comments if s/he wants to), in the form of tubers that were just beginning to break dormancy, and it's been a very up-and-down kind of emotional experience thus far.

It grew fine throughout the early summer, and produced its first bloom in mid-August.

(17 August.)

Which was nice. And even the buds are kind of attractive. Or at least I think so.

I tried to get a decent picture of the whole plant, but the lighting wasn't great, so it didn't completely work.

A few days after that, I had the photo-taking area set up, and tried to get a better picture of the whole plant, with partial success. Though the color was still not quite as accurate as it could have been:

The close-up pictures were way better, though.

Then as I was bringing the plant back inside, I dropped the whole box of plants I was carrying (described here), and the Eucodonia got knocked out of its pot. I scooped everything back up as well as I could, but it seemed like it never fully recovered from being dropped. The problem is that for all I know, it might have peaked in late August anyway -- most of what I've read about Eucodonia on-line suggests that they do start to go dormant pretty immediately after blooming. So I don't know if it's just doing what it's supposed to do, or if I actually hurt it somehow. We'll have to wait until next year, to see what happens when it doesn't get dropped. (Assuming that I can refrain from dropping it.)

I don't have a picture, but the Amorphophallus konjac leaf has yellowed, and has almost fallen off, as of the last five days or so. I don't know if this is when that's supposed to happen or not, since I apparently didn't bother to record the event last year. I'm worrying less about the Amorphophallus these days, and the Clivias almost not at all, so apparently I can learn to be less anxious about plants that have winter dormancies, given a few years of things working the way they're supposed to. May the Eucodonia live so long.