Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dog Hair as a Rooting Medium


Dog (Canis familiaris) hair is cheap, abundant, renewable, and produced in such vast quantities that one feels mortally certain that it must be good for something besides canine thermoregulation. Furthermore, most existing rooting media are dependent on the destruction of natural ecosystems (peat moss), require a large amount of energy for production (perlite), or pose a health hazard to the producers and users (vermiculite),1 so finding a more renewable medium would be a boon to both plant-loving dog owners and the environment.

As canine hair has some qualities in common (holds water, fibrous texture) with other substances used in rooting media and soilless potting mixes, it was evaluated for its potential as a rooting medium.


The floor of a home containing a dog ("Sheba," Fig. 1) was swept, and the sweepings collected into a pile. (Fig. 2) The sweepings were then separated into hair and non-hair, with the latter discarded. (Fig. 3) The material which resulted was fibrous and mostly dark gray in color, with inclusions of lighter matter.2

Fig. 1 ("Sheba")

Fig. 2 (material collected by sweeping)

Fig. 3 (collected material post-purification)

The hair was then added to a plastic pot, 7 cm in diameter. Non-hair material was left out of the pot when it was feasible to separate it. Once the hair had been placed in the pot, it was rinsed with water several times to remove water-soluble contaminants. (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4 (rinsed hair in pot)

Next, the cutting to be rooted was prepared. We selected Plectranthus verticillatus (Fig. 5) as a test subject, because P. verticillatus is known to root readily under a large range of conditions. A cutting approximately 7 cm in length was taken from a plant (Fig. 6), and the lowest pair of leaves was removed.

Fig. 5 (the stock Plectranthus verticillatus plant from which cutting was obtained)

Fig. 6 (Plectranthus verticillatus cutting before removal of lowest pair of leaves)

After making a hole in the dog hair at the center of the pot, the end of the cutting was placed into the hole, and the hair packed around the stem to ensure contact between the rooting medium and the cutting. The pot was then placed in a brightly-lit but sunless location. Moisture level was monitored, and water added when it would have been added for a cutting rooted in soil.


During the first full watering, a considerable amount of dark brown material washed out of the rooting medium. Chemical characterization was not performed, and the identity of the substance is unknown. Similar but lighter yellow material was washed out of the medium following some but not all subsequent waterings.(Fig. 7) Rooting medium had no discernible odor.

Fig. 7 (drainage water containing uncharacterized yellow contaminant)

The experimental pot retained water much longer than a comparably-sized pot of standard potting mix. However, the distribution of the water was quite different. The upper half remained relatively dry, even immediately following the addition of water, while the lower half stayed very wet. This made it difficult to determine when to water the cutting.

The oldest pair of leaves wilted significantly after three or four days. No new leaf growth was observed; a few small (< 2 mm) roots had formed by four weeks (Fig. 8). This is significantly less root growth than would have been expected from potting soil or water after an equivalent length of time.
Fig. 8 (roots formed after four weeks in rooting medium)

After five weeks, the cutting remained alive but wilted, and had produced no new growth. (Fig. 9)

Fig. 9 (cutting after five weeks in rooting medium)


Though root development suggests that canine hair may be capable of rooting plant cuttings under some circumstances, development was slow compared to standard media, probably due to the different water-absorbing abilities of canine hair, and it is likely not an acceptable substitute for potting soil.

This experiment also demonstrates that Plectranthus verticillatus, contrary to popular perception, is not in fact capable of rooting in any material, merely in most of them.


1 Large-scale production of canine hair also results in the indirect destruction of natural ecosystems and consumes considerable energy, in addition to generating significant amounts of ecologically problematic waste. Objective observation of human behavior to date with respect to animal companions leads us to conclude that humans simply do not give a shit about the ecological impact of their pets, and would continue to attempt to keep domesticated dogs, cats, hamsters, etc. even if forced to live in a poisoned, radioactive, waterless hellscape as a result, because they are adorable and precious, whoosa good dog, whoosa good dog yes you are. If humans are to keep animals as pets in any case, we may as well figure out how to do so in as minimally disruptive a manner as possible.
2 The inclusions were primarily composed of household dust, lint, fragments of potting medium from indoor plants, and the fallen leaves of said plants.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pretty pictures: Phalaenopsis OX Golden Apple

This is the first of five Phalaenopsis from the 2014 orchid show that were varying patterns of pink-purple on white. There's nothing wrong with pink-purple on white; I'm just not sure why I was so drawn to this particular color combination that I had to take pictures of all of them.

I'm personally not that into OX Golden Apple. First, I dislike it on principle because the name implies that the color gold should be prominent, and it isn't.1 But also, this pattern of color doesn't do much for me. Don't mind spots, don't mind streaks, don't mind solid blocks of color, but only one at a time, not all layered on top of one another like this.

Phalaenopsis OX Golden Apple = Phalaenopsis Fusheng Sweet Paradise x Phalaenopsis OX Spot Queen (Ref.)


1 I'd actually been under the impression that that was one of the rules for naming orchid crosses, that you weren't supposed to be allowed to imply colors that weren't actually present. Turns out that that's just a recommendation, not a requirement:
Epithet should not be misleading, e.g. ‘Richard’s Orange’ , for a blue flowered plant raised by someone called June.
And the golden apple is a pretty well-known mythological object on its own, especially with respect to The Judgment of Paris, so I will reluctantly let it slide. This time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Unfinished business: Gasteria bicolor

I realized recently that I hadn't given you any updates on the Gasteria bicolor seedlings in over a year. Considering my track record with Gasterias (in a word: poor), the reader could be forgiven for assuming that they had failed to transplant, or that they'd transplanted and then died, but in point of fact, eight seedlings survived, and seven of those are even doing reasonably well, though two of them have to share a pot with each other, and I worry a little about the plant in the lower right corner: it never seems to be able to keep more than two leaves going at a time.

Pot size: about 2.5 in / 6.3 cm in diameter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Unfinished business: Schlumbergera seedling #49

I guess I'm going to be doing a few unfinished business posts for a while. I keep thinking of things and realizing oh yeah, I haven't said anything about that in a long time.

A reader asked me a few weeks ago if Schlumbergera seedling #49 had continued to grow strangely, which made me realize that I hadn't checked. So here it is now.

The old growth is crinkled and small and weird; the new growth looks normal. It's possible that I may need to restart this one from cuttings eventually: the base looks like it might not be strong enough to support the weight of the branches once they start to fill in a little more.

I'm not sure if I'm disappointed about this or not. On the one hand, it would have been really interesting to have a Schlumbergera that looked really different from everybody else's Schlumbergeras. On the other, if one was to have a different-looking specimen, it might have been nice to have a different-looking specimen that was in some way pleasant to look at.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Unfinished business: Clivia 'Aztec Gold' seedlings

Last summer, I started two batches of Clivia seeds from my 'Aztec Gold' plant. One batch, I put into a sealed glass jar and left them to sprout. The second batch, I just potted up in small pots full of soil like regular plants.

In the beginning, the glass jar seedlings appeared to have a substantial advantage. Not all of them germinated (I got maybe 75% doing something1), but those that did grew well. Only about 40% of the ones in pots of soil did anything, so I concluded that the glass jar was the way to go in the future, should I be fortunate enough to get Clivias blooming again.

There was one significant flaw with the glass jar plan, though, which was that I assumed that the seedlings were fine there, well after it became apparent that they were not. And, being lazy, and having many other plants to deal with, I left them in there anyway.

So then one day, I happened to glance at the jar and saw that some of the leaves were yellowing from the bottom up, and took that as a sign that I should do something quickly. Unscrewed the lid, and then spent about half an hour trying not to throw up. Seriously. It was that bad. Not that rotting vegetation ever smells like roses (not even rotting roses), but this was actually worse than Dracaena marginata with Erwinia rot, which had previously been my benchmark for unpleasant rotten-vegetation smells.2

Not wanting to give up on the two seedlings in the jar that seemed like they might still be alive, I held my breath, reached in, yanked them out, quickly screwed the lid back on, ran out of the room, took a breath, and then ran back in and potted them up in soil as fast as I could.

Alas, 'twas too late. Not only did a trace of the smell linger on the seedlings after they were potted up, but they died anyway, by the next day. So the glass jar approach ultimately resulted in no seedlings, a 0% success rate.

The seeds potted into soil lived in the kitchen all winter, in a cold south-facing window. I had them in trays along with some Salvia elegans cuttings I was rooting, which needed to be watered pretty often during the winter, so the Clivias never got watered directly, but they had chances occasionally to pull water up from the tray. I started five seeds. Two germinated pretty early and grew a leaf apiece; the other three slowly hollowed out and died. Around March, the two survivors started to make new leaves, so the overall success rate there was 40%.

The larger pot has a diameter of 2.5 inches / 6.3 cm across the top.

So. Yeah. Kind of a disappointment overall; I had hoped to have a lot more seedlings to play with than just the two. But we'll call it a learning experience -- no more glass jars! -- and move on. Maybe next year it'll work better.


1 I don't remember the numbers precisely, but it was something like: I started eight seeds, six produced a root, four of the ones that produced a root also started growing leaves, and two of the ones that started growing leaves continued to grow leaves long enough for them to look like leaves.
2 The Dracaena / Erwinia combination had a sharp ammonia note to it that wasn't so much gross (though it was gross) as it was painful. I mean, there was rotting plant smell in there too, but the ammonia smell was what was most memorable. Rotted Clivias, on the other hand, have a much richer, more complicated bouquet, with a dominant note of sickly-sweet. Not only worse than the Dracaena, but worse than anything else I have ever smelled in my life. Smelled like if you were standing right next to Satan as he visited the part of the Hell dump where they put all the rotten fruit, and one or both of you had a suppurating skin infection, and he'd just farted.