Comment policy

I've decided that it's time for me to come up with an official commenting policy for PATSP. The timing is mostly because the situation described in rule #3 keeps coming up, and I have been having a terrible time trying to decide what to do about it. But I figure as long as I'm trying to settle that one, I may as well spell out everything.

Disappointingly, it all pretty much boils down to Wheaton's Law, except maybe for #5, but here you go anyway:

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1. Spam comments will never be published, because duh.
• Comments that do not appear to have been composed by a human being will not be published.
• Comments which appear to have been originally written in Chinese and then run through Google Translate on Chinese-to-English will not be published.
• Links within comments should be relevant to the post they're responding to.

2. You do not have to retype the same comment six times. I have to approve comments before they show up on the blog. I get about 70-110 spam comments every day, see #1, and comment moderation is the best way I have to keep them under control. Be patient. Most of the time, I'll approve your comment within 2 hours.

2a. In the event that you do submit six versions of the same comment in an effort to bash it through the moderation queue, I will only publish one. Usually this is the version that makes you look smartest (best-spelled, most details, etc.). If I'm in a bad mood when I read it, though, it might be the one that makes you look stupidest.

3. I occasionally see commenters who are commenting under account names that link to commercial sites. If your commenting identity is "Best Granite Countertops" or "California Patio Furniture" or something along those lines, and clicking on your name will direct me to a site that is trying to sell me granite countertops or patio furniture, your comment may or may not be published, depending on how much I resent you trying to use my site to generate links for your site. Some days this pisses me off enormously, and other days I'm only slightly irritated. Special consideration is given to comments which:
• are more than ten words long ("Beautiful!" is certain to go unpublished; "I love the way that shade of green plays against the red of the flowers" has a shot. Though not much of one.)
• provide additional information about the topic under discussion, particularly if you take the time to include a link or other reference to the source of your information
• indicate some familiarity with PATSP (you don't have to have read every single post I've ever written going back to 2007, but you should know, for example, that I primarily grow indoor plants)

4. I do see and publish comments on very old posts. If you use the comments to ask me a question about a plant of yours, I will usually try to answer it eventually. These sorts of comments will often take me longer to publish than most, because I tend to wait to publish the comment until I also have the time to write a reply, so be patient.
Read the post you're commenting on. Failure to do so is likely to result in me not answering your question at all. If you catch me in a particularly pissy mood, I'll publish your comment and then comment back telling you to RTFA. If you read the article and need clarification on a particular point, or if I didn't address the particular situation you find yourself in, that's fine, but don't leave a comment like "hOw do i know when to watdr plant?" on a plant profile unless I really didn't say anything about watering in the profile. And I always say something about watering in the profile.

5. I do not ask for absolute grammatical purity. I can't manage that myself, so I don't expect it of other people either. Plus it's kind of elitist. But it's still really appreciated if you do a quick proofread for typos, autocorrect errors, etc., before you click the button to publish. This is also just good practice for life in general.
• I understand its usefulness, and I don't mind an occasional LOL or something, but I really hate long stretches of textspeak. Especially if you've got a lot to say, please spell the words out. Few things are as tedious as trying to parse a block of "omg i ♥ ur plant!! b4 i by 1 cld u tell me how 2 water n what kind f lite n stuff thx."

6. All-caps is incredibly rude. Find the shift key or GTFO.

7. Comments which are dickish in some manner not specified above will not be published either.

8. None of the above are carved in stone. If it amuses me to post your comment, I'll do so even if you violated all seven of the rules above. Though it would have to be pretty damned amusing indeed.

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The reader is invited to use the comments section for this page to attempt a comment which violates rules 1-7 simultaneously. I mean, if you're going to try it somewhere, you should do it here.


Unknown said...

I've looked everywhere for Ficus sagittata variegata, (aka F. repens variegata or 'Rooting Fig')and no one has it. Have you seen it or know of someone that does? I get redirected to F. pumila alot, but that's not right, either. It's a great creeper or plant for a hanging basket but I think it's (almost) extinct. Any thoughts?

mr_subjunctive said...

Paul Niksch:

I don't think I've ever even heard of it before today.

Andrea said...

I was wondering if you have any experience growing Tapioca or Cassava (Manihot) I'm enamored of the species with the cool lobed leaflets but am not sure which species that is as the internet seems to disagree with itself.

mr_subjunctive said...


I don't have any experience growing it.

As far as I can tell, tapioca, cassava, and manihot are all names for the same species, Manihot esculenta, though I didn't have time to dig into the subject very deeply. What information were you finding that was contradictory?

swift_ny said...

Hi - I love your blog (and am a grammar elitist myself! I'm a science writer, in fact). I have a ming aralia problem that I hope you can help me with; I've researched and researched and can't find a definitive answer, and don't want to experiment on my tree (it's just under 4' tall).

I've had the ming for 3+ years. The pot it's in is, from what I've subsequently learned, probably too large; however, it was thriving, so I didn't worry about it. It has spells of shattering a few times a year, but after the first one, I wasn't too concerned, as new growth continues.

So. In May, I was away for six weeks, and suspect my husband overwatered the ming (even he thinks he overwatered). I laid off it for a while, misting it on occasion and lightly watering when it felt dry. It's never quite been the same, though, and one trunk (there were about five originally) was clearly dead, so I pruned it off. It was dessicated-feeling, if that helps. Then, a couple months ago, I moved (I know plants don't like that kind of stress), but the apt is perfect for the ming; however, it is dropping leaves at a never-before-seen rate, whole branches are coming off, and other trunks seem to be dying.

Honestly, I can't tell if, at this point, I'm underwatering or overwatering; from what I've read, the symptoms look similar. Or if it got root rot back in April/May. Last night I felt as deep into the pot as I could; the soil was dry, so I gave it a decent watering, hoping it would perk up today - but it looks as pathetic as ever. It IS putting out new growth, but not as much as before, and is looking leggy.

Sorry for the long post; I just wanted to give you the patient's medical history and the context for this illness... Can you help? Any advice would be appreciated. I love this tree, but it's starting to look like a Dr. Seuss tree and I'm worried that I'm losing it altogether. Thank you!

mr_subjunctive said...

swift_ny (1 of 2):

To me it sounds like you have two problems. One is the overpotting. It's likely worse than it used to be, because when the one plant died, it stopped taking up water, so the survivors will be even more prone to getting too wet.

The other problem is that although a lot of plants respond badly to being relocated, ming aralias are particularly bad about it.

For the overpotting problem, you'll probably have to pull it out of the pot and check the roots. It's hard to tell someone how to decide what size pot to use precisely, but you basically want the smallest pot that can accommodate the root ball without crushing or sharply bending any of the roots, plus about two inches of diameter. This is obviously easier to do when you have a lot of different sizes of pots around. Remove any dead stumps or roots, hold the plant in the spot you want it, relative to the pot, and then dump soil in (for a big plant, you might need a second person to do the holding or the dumping). Jiggle the pot around a little so as to settle the soil occasionally, and you can push the soil down on top when you're done.

Since the plant has been in the same pot for three years, it was probably due for a soil change anyway.

As far as the move goes, the plant will get over it, if the move is the only problem. If it was exposed to cold during the move, even for like ten minutes, that might be a bigger deal. (And for a ming aralia, "cold" is anything less than about 60F/16C.) In any case, you can't do anything about any cold damage now, so try to keep it out of drafts but don't worry about what happened to it in the past.

Ordinarily, they don't defoliate as badly when moving from a dark spot to a brighter spot, but if your plant was already stressed from overwatering, it might have even more of a hair trigger for defoliation than they usually do.

Something I've noticed with mine (most recent picture here) is that although I didn't actually move it anywhere, I had to lower the shelf it was on because it was getting tall enough to hit the top of the shelf above it, and after I did that, it dropped some leaves. I suspect this is at least partly because that put it closer to a floor A/C vent, plus reducing the light a little to the lowest leaves. So they can be pretty touchy about these things.

mr_subjunctive said...

swift_ny (2 of 2):

The good news is that if four of the original five individual plants in the pot are still alive and growing, the (collective) plant should be capable of bouncing back from all this (though with the soil replacement, it's possible that things might look worse before they look better). Be aware that it's going to need less water than you're accustomed to giving it, until the foliage comes back, and that being in a new place means that your instincts about when and how much you should water may or may not apply now, so check the soil pretty regularly to see how fast it's drying out, ideally as close to the center of the root ball as you can get.

Once it's resprouted, and the plant has a respectable amount of new foliage on it again, you can think about maybe dealing with the Dr. Seuss look by cutting it back and letting new growing tips sprout lower down on the trunk. If possible, wait until summer to cut it back, because you want to give it a chance to build up some new energy reserves before you ask it to draw on them again, and also because the light's better in the summer, so it'll be more inclined to resprout. The caution about watering less will apply then too.

The whole process of getting it back to being a decent-looking plant might take a good 9-12 months; if you don't want to live with a crappy-looking plant for that long, there's really no shame in starting over with a new plant fresh from the store and Freecycling or Craigslisting this one. Some people like nurturing plants back to health, some people don't like it but can't bring themselves to throw plants away, some people just want something that looks good at all times and aren't interested in the nurturing at all. These are all valid ways of relating to plants.

Unknown said...

Well done blog! Interseting info - awesome pics=) Thank so much for helping identify my mystical Queens tears. I searched and searched, and there you had it.

Best regards, Beth

Anonymous said...

you can get commercial anti-itch creams. Some have benedryl and some have cortizone and if the itch is bad, I've used both at once. Taking benedrly by mouth will stop itching, but it makes most people sleepy. I took care of a dog that had allergies that caused itching so have tried a lot of over the counter stuff. You could be allergic to something like a plant or laundry detergent.

Anonymous said...

ps If you're still itching after all the lubricating stuff you've used, this is not dry skin. It's possible that you're brushing against a plant that irritates (kind of like poison ivy but not as bad) or are exposed to something like like euphorbia latex or even a new soap or laundry detergent. It's called contact dermititis. If you think this might be the cause, try to think of what changed around the time the itching started - new plants, different soaps,etc.

mr_subjunctive said...


I wrote a big huge thing detailing all the theories as to the cause, and all the proposed cures and how none of them work out consistently when I try them, but it basically amounts to: nothing in particular seems to cause it (detergent, soap, hot water, plants, Sheba), and nothing in particular seems to make it better (petroleum jelly, moisturizing lotions, drinking more water, Benadryl, hydrocortisone, painkillers, antihistamines, cold showers). The only pattern is that there is no pattern. Seriously.

mollyindenver said...

I'm Anonymous and decided to pick a name. our plant blogs are great and I've had a lot of the same experiences with plants as you have. I've been growing houseplants for 40 years here because growing outdoors at this altitude is too darn hard. Anyway, let me think more about your itch - where is the blog? I'm new to the site. I'm also a former computer programmer and hate not to solve mysteries!!!

mr_subjunctive said...


Sorry. In my hurry, I left out an important detail -- I wrote a big long thing responding to you, but then deleted it and wrote that last message instead because thinking too much about it was frustrating me. "Nothing causes it / nothing fixes it" was kind of the upshot of the big long thing.

I have another appointment next week, for the itching and one other thing, so there's still a possibility that we might figure out a cause or solution, but I'm not optimistic. (Not optimistic about the other thing, either, as far as that goes.)

Anonymous said...

Hi ,

I came across your blog while looking for some information about a particular variety of aglaonema and noticed your comment policy. I think it pretty cool. I run my own blog and am bombarded with spam and unrelated comments, too. You certainly reduced that problem very elegantly.


Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. S
I love your blog.. I found this blog when I was looking for Draceana Fragrans, (I hope I got the name right!). I am in heaven reading your blog, I can relate, I don't have too many house plants right now, having given away all my old ones (was out of country more than 6 months, and friends taking care of plants fell in love with them, eh, what can you say..), so I have to start again ( right now have maybe 5).. I am in Canada, found your blog two weeks ago, and have been reading post after post, just randomly picking one and reading..I like your writing style (its fun and an absolute treat) and the details you share, am thankful for the information. Please keep this up..Thank you for taking time to share your experience and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

What are the "Terms of Use" for the photos shown in the blog ?

Gary Stanullwich

mr_subjunctive said...

Gary Stanullwich:

They're in the sidebar, at the bottom. Photos are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Details of what this means are at the link.

Judy Osborne said...

One year ago we planted Sedum (variety unknown) in a rock garden. This year they have overgrown onto the grass. I trimmed it off the grass area. One hour later, my eyes were burning and watering. My face burns and itches. Has anyone else had any problems like this?

Steve A said...

I bookmarked your blog years ago; just never looked at it. Today I gave myself the luxury. I am a tropical plant person, having had both a retail plant store many years ago, then an interior landscaping business. Now, in retirement, I can't help but continue to collect odd or lovely species of some of my favorite genera, such as Begonia or plant families, particularly Aroids.
However, my comment is mostly about Calatheas. I read a couple of your old blogs and admired your honesty in admitting failure to keep them for very long. I too have long admired the Calatheas for their magnificent leaves, but knew that their humidity requirements and mite susceptibility would make them difficult.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I decided to take a chance on a couple of the greener ones, C. lancifolia, which I've only had for a couple of months; and C.Freddy, which I've had for 6 months. So far so good- they do take a lot of water.

mr_subjunctive said...

Steve A:

I had reasonably good luck, once upon a time, with C. makoyana, which surprised me. It eventually got spider mites bad enough that I threw it out, but it held on for a decent amount of time, and I enjoyed it enough to consider it again. Stromanthe sanguinea and Ctenanthe burle-marxii have both worked out well for me, over a long period of time; I've never tried C. lancifolia or C. concinna 'Freddie,' (hadn't even heard of the latter until today) but I've heard good things about lancifolia, at least.

Cynthia Sunshine said...

I have been growing Hatiora Salcornioides for about13 years now as an indoor plant. Until recently I have always divided it as a means of propagation. About a month ago I gave my plant a “hair cut’’ and waited about one hour and stuck the cuttings in filtered water. Stuck them in a room with bright, but no direct light, and all of them rooted with in two to three weeks!

Clem Cirelli, Jr. said...

Just a word about Anthurium culture from a practical standpoint. I noted your comments about certain cultivars taking an inordinate amount of time to sucker and grow fuller. I've found from my experience in commercial interiorscaping that sub irrigation is the best way to get Anthuriums to push vigorous growth and grow larger and fuller. Lechuza systems work very well, but a modest wick-and-riser system using ordinary nursery containers set above a homemade reservoir with a capillary matting wick or two inserted diagonally up into the center of the rootball and extending down out of the drain holes in the pot into the water reservoir will make a world of difference in your plants' performance. Cheers, love the site and have posted a link to it on various Facebook indoor plant groups I frequent.

Scott Trudell, Madison WI said...

Came across your blog this evening. Very interesting! I especially enjoy the fact you think along the same lines as I do... Such as just coming out and saying a plant is a pain in the ass to overwinter... Or using those technical horticultural terms such as Sudden Hoya Death Syndrome. I have worked in garden centers for 15+ years and one of my least favorite tasks is having to explain to people why their plants died. Sometimes it's quite obvious why... Other times not so. People always want a concise reason and often times there is no clear cut explanation. I have often times find myself using the Sudden (insert plant here) Death Syndrome reason.... And people look at me in shock and horror that I would dare to make a joke over their dead plant! My all time favorite is the customer who comes running into the greenhouse with a (usually) Peace Lily that has one leaf left to its name, half yellow, standing in foul smelling stagnant water. You have to save it, they beg of me.... It's from my grandma's funeral!! Well, honey... Grandma is dead and so is your plant!!

Unknown said...

First off, love your sense of humor :)
I happened on your blog while googling for a "greenhouse job"... Finding it pretty difficult. Any advice?
Would be greatly appreciated!
I live in southern Florida so I would assume there shouldn't be a shortage of greenhouses?
Oh! Important (I think), I have no experience. But I am a quick learner...

Thanks & keep doing what your doing :))

mr_subjunctive said...

Zelda E:

I don't really have any advice, no. Florida's a whole other world from Iowa, and it's been a while since I did anything like that, so I doubt my experience would be relevant.

Does "don't take the job for the money, because there won't be any" count as advice?

Unknown said...

Hello, I am hoping you might be able to help. I have been searching Euphorbia tirucalli, you wrote about it in 2009. I have a friend who lives in Florida and had this in his landscape, of course not knowing what it was got the sap on his skin while trying to remove it. He has a skin condition which is in the autoimmune family. For the last few years since this exposure he has had extreme flare ups of swelling, terrible pain, fevers etc. in his wrists. Is it possible this sap could be the source of his situation. The doctors can't figure out what is wrong, they have thought cellulitis, arthritis, septic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis...I keep thinking back to his exposure to this plants. Any thoughts you may have would be appreciated. He is in the hospital right now.

mr_subjunctive said...

Louise Thayer:

I am so not a doctor, and even less an autoimmune specialist, so all I can tell you is that I am not aware of any cases where exposure to Euphorbia tirucalli triggered or worsened an autoimmune disorder, and I couldn't find anything of that nature in a quick on-line search.

Best wishes to your friend.

Unknown said...

Great Blog. Love your humour. Will be back again.

Unknown said...

I am a biologist here in southern Brazil and I work with epiphytes, P. bipinnatifidum is one of the most beautiful plants that exist in the Atlantic forest, can be found on top of large trees. Here in my region the temperature can drop to 1 degree Celsius in winter and reach 38, 40 in the summer (littoral). In the interior, where the species also occurs the temperature may be negative.

Yes baby, here is the southern BraSil, not what you see on tv...I can send some photo if anyone wants.

Unknown said...

I discovered your blog recently and have been gobbling it up. I love your perspective because my obsession brought me to work in a nursery too (well, I know you don't anymore) and I develop my relationships with plants in much the same way you have. Anyway, I have to point out: I know they're exploding in popularity right now, so perhaps you are putting off writing about them because it seems like such a daunting task - much like with Saintpaulia and Hoya carnosa - but how do you not have an article about Ficus lyrata?! I was interested in your take on those temperamental buggers. So this is me submitting a formal request (ahem, not a demand) for a post on fickle figs. Oops, I mean fiddle figs. The internet needs you.


Anonymous said...

I have a e. trigona and it is getting way to tall, over 63" from soil, I have taken some of the "offspring" and repotted them with great results, the only thing I do differently is that I don't cut them off of the main plant, I twist them until they come off and they end up having a little root that comes out of the main plant, this makes the repotting process almost immediate (let the root dry for a day) and there is no ill effects to the main plant (other than a small hole).
I do have a question that I have asked for help from our local colleges' horticulturists and they are no help (they state that the plant won't get taller than 4'), obviously they have no clue. Can I cut the main plant in half? It is getting really top heavy and I'm afraid of it falling over onto someone. I understand that I will have to let it dry out longer than I'm used to, I just don't want to end up losing the main plant(either section if I do cut it in half). Please help, I have the plant in a window at work and if I were to move it to my home I'd need a UHaul because of it heighth.

mr_subjunctive said...


You can cut individual branches in the middle, let the severed tips dry, and then root them the same way you do the branches you twist off. The branch that got cut will eventually produce new growing tips, just like it would eventually branch if you left it attached to the original plant. The stump will always have a scar across the top that shows where the original branch was cut, and if you cut them all at the same height, that's going to be obvious and strange-looking for the rest of the plant's life, but it's totally doable, yes.

If height and top-heaviness are the concerns, my recommendation would be that you remove individual branches as they get too tall, rather than cut them through the center. Less drastic for the plant, and if you can make the cuts at the base of the branches, the stumps won't be as visible.

If the plant is just generally top-heavy, moving it to heavy containers with low centers of gravity might help a little bit, though an overly large pot might cause the roots to rot, too. You could also set the growing pot inside a taller, heavy cachepot, such that if the plant starts to fall over, the cachepot sides will prevent it from falling all the way.

If the plant is heavy on one side specifically, such that it wants to fall over in the same direction, twisting off branches from the heavier side until the plant is more balanced will help somewhat.

If you're open to considering more radical solutions: you could just twist a couple branches off and start over with those as new office plants, rather than fighting the existing too-big plant forever. I mean, it's drastic, but it's also the kind of thing you can just do and be done with, and may save you time in the long run. Where could the original plant go? If you have friends with pickup trucks, you could maybe wrap it in some newspaper or butcher paper, lay it down in the bed on a cloudy day, and take it home anyway. If that's a long drive, maybe give it to a coworker? Donate it to a nearby hospital, garden center, nursing home, Goodwill or other charitable organization? (Call and ask them about it first!) Sell it on Craigslist or through a consignment shop? Etc.

AntMan said...

That's actually pretty great advice. I've been looking for a job involving plants, and I always get a feeling that I should avoid applying for a greenhouse job. My memory isn't the greatest, so every few months I'm reminded why I get this feeling: my mother's best friend worked at a greenhouse and said the pay was rubbish. I've found you get better pay at a department store Garden Center than most greenhouses.
This is a little sad of course, but welcome to capitalism I guess. I'll keep looking for something. Do you have any advice in alternative horticultural jobs? My scope is broad at this point so any experience would be really valued.

mr_subjunctive said...


The only alternative jobs I can even think of would be 1) working/volunteering for a botanical garden, about which I know less than nothing,[1] or 2) working as an interiorscaper, and from what I've heard about interiorscaping via Garden Web, PATSP comments, and other blogs, there's no money in interiorscaping either.

A lot of the people with horticulture degrees around here (local community colleges have horticulture programs) wind up specializing in turf grass and managing golf courses, as far as I can tell. Some of the others end up in florist shops. It's imaginable that there might be some money for you if you can get yourself very excited about turf grass and want to spend a couple years in community college learning about it. I don't think there's any money in becoming a florist.[2]

To be fair, my answers are probably more pessimistic than the reality. If I were aware of a pleasant and good-paying job that involved tropical plants, I'd be doing that instead of whatever the hell I'm doing now.


[1] I.e., I know nothing, and I bet that most of what I imagine, or think would be reasonable to assume, is wrong.
[2] (in large part because you wind up getting nickel-and-dimed by middlemen, e.g. Teleflora, FTD, 1-800-FLOWERS, shipping companies, etc. Though it's been about ten years since I've talked to a florist about any of that, I can't imagine it's gotten better.)

Dicentra61 said...

Thank you for confirming that the tiny white spots on my the leaf "margins" of my young ficus tree are Lithocysts! I have had this small plant indoors all winter and with no other plants nearby to infect it. As I rubbed these spots in my fingers they did indeed feel like powdery crystals.
I am relieved there is no fungal infection!

Read on your Blog: 2011/08/engineer-ficus-elastica

Anna D. from Minneapolis

puppetannie said...

found your blog when looking for info on my changing rubber tree leaves (spots)...not only did i find the info i needed but i loved your writing so much! is clever hilarious clear personal,not condescending yet written with the articulate plant lingo of a brilliant expert who loves plants as much asi do...i am such a fan...will read all the back blogs..thanks so much for sharing your expertise and personality...from puppetannie in canada