In Memoriam II: Letters

Dear Chelianthes tomentosas;

Is it ironic that I thought, "If I use a different potting medium for each one, one should be guaranteed to live?" Or is it ironic that my boyfriend named you both after death metal bands, and now you're both dead?

Dear Colocasia "Black Magic;"

"Magic" my ass. Why don't you summon some magic and learn to water yourself? Avada Kedavra, bitch!

Dear Nematanthus gregarious;

Here's my impression of you. "Too hot," "Too dry," "Too dark," "Too bright," "I'm hungry," "I don't like this fertilizer," "I made a mess all over the floor." Here's my impression of me: "I am going to kill this fucking nematanthus right now."

Dear Asplenium nidus "Fimbriatum;"

I regret to inform you that your request for more time to deal with your scale problem has been denied.

Dear Arachniodes simplicior;

It's hard for me to say this... but it was me, not you. You were so beautiful, and I treated you badly. I'm sorry I never told you about the other East Indian holly ferns... I thought this time would be different. Rest in peace, and take comfort in the fact that even though I'm going to replace you with a younger, better specimen, you were really special.

-Nature Assassin


With a nerdy yell

... she cried "spores, spores, spores." Look what I found on my microsorum thailandicum (formerly microsorum steerei). Somebody has been getting busy. I guess since they reproduce asexually, the more accurate Idol reference would have been "Dancing with Myself." We all know what that song is really about.

Welp, get your squirrel hair brushes and your field lenses. It's time to get geeky. Don't forget to have a clean paper envelope on hand to collect your spore casings.

Ferns reproduce with spores very much like seed, so if you find some strange dusty bumps under the fronds of your fern, don't panic. It's a sign of good health, and you can save the spores to make baby ferns later (if you are very patient). All you have to do is gently remove the spores with your brush - any small paintbrush will do - and set them aside to dry. I collected my spores on a sheet of white paper, which I then funneled into my envelope. Mark it, and place it in a cool, dry, dark place for a couple of weeks. A drawer is fine.

Photos of "how to sow your spores under glass" are soon to follow. With any luck, my wimpy strap fern will one day rival the specimen at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. If photo depth perception is obscure, let me tell you that this fern was many feet taller than am I. Click for larger view.


Did you know...

That peperomias will root in water? Neither did I!

I gave my good friend Julia a jar of cuttings from my peperomia argyreia (watermelon... see this post), blathering on about the correct way to root a petiole cutting. "Don't leave them in the water," I chided her, "pot them as soon as you get home." Julia, who has a life, stuck them on a shelf and forgot about them. Weeks later, she showed me this:

Hellz yes! Now that I know, I'm going to root these bitches on the daily. I love to have spare cuttings for swapping. I wonder what members of the peperomia tribe have this quality? I would guess caperata over obtusifolia, on the other hand, argyreia is a succulent variety and caperata is not. Hmm.



It's our old friend scindapsus pictus. Scindapsus argyraeum is fine too, I think. Ok, now what ISN'T it?

1) It's not philodendron sodiroi, though I have seen it mislabeled as such

2) It isn't philodendron ornatum, I don't know how anyone even got that idea but they did

3) It's not even remotely oreopanax sanderianus, although the Missouri BG tagged it so

4) It it NOT silver philodendron. There are in existence some silvery philodendrons... this ain't one. I don't care what google says.

5) Epipremnum pictum: no no no no no. This name is very often applied to this plant but it is not an epipremnum, mon frere!

6) Satin pothos: it is not an epipremnum, which mean's it isn't a pothos, although a pothos isn't an epipremnum technically. Those goshdarn rascally botanists! 

7) Silk pothos: come on now. 

It is a scindapsus, which from what I can tell means it's just like epipremnum... only not. There is a tiny difference in seed pods. I blame google for the chaos. Roll back, google, you fuckers is dumbern'a post. 

*image courtesy of davesgarden

First I Must Apologize

Because this post is really about ponies. Some plants... mostly ponies. I will get back on topic very shortly... upcoming posts will detail Microsorum Thailandicum, and the Real Deal on Silk Pothos. 

I was in St. Louis recently visiting my alma mater and my family. My aunt, uncle, two cousins, and many little beasts live on a beautiful restored farm just west of the city. With blog productivity in mind, I grabbed the camera and went out on ponyback* to see what plants were lurking. 

A moss-covered patio outside a very old gazebo. Why is moss so glamorous?

Heirloom apple trees in the orchard. We stopped for a sample.

A very, very old stand of roses. Sorry that the shot is a bit shaky... we were hoofing it. 


Take a minute for that pun, people. It's a gem.

A rare shrub... no wait. It's an EVEN TINIER PONY!

If you could hear this picture, it would sound like munching and teeny weeny grunts. 

*This pony, BTW, is my little cousin Thomas' living breathing full scale replica of Epona. He's crazygonuts for the Legend of Zelda, and apparently having a "Link" costume and sword just didn't complete the fantasy. Amazing childhood alert! Now, if someone was offering me a fantasy pony, I would have gone with Goliath from Ladyhawke. 


I got ninety-nine problems...

... but a fern ain't one. Yes, y'all... blechnum gibbum and I have broken up. Reasons are as follows:

1) The moping and wilting.
2) The drinking problem. I have many thirsty ferns, but usually with additional peat moss in the mix they do just fine. B. gibbum never adjusted.
3) The broken promises... every time a frond withered and died, another crosier quickly popped up as if to say, "I can change! Gimme another chance and I'll be the lush sexy plant you want me to be." Then the next week, it was back to looking like shit.
4) The giant red centipede that came flying at me when I last checked the root system. You can bet I shoe-assassined that thing for a full minute or so before my heart rate returned to normal.

January 09 - Looked like crap even then. I Pity the Fern!

I read lots of good advice from the blechnum veterans over at gardenweb... but in the end, I just lost patience. Since I try not to assassinate healthier plants, blechnum went to my Craigslist Guy. Craigslist Guy is a neighborhood fellow who provides asylum for unwanted plants, and he was happy to take "Blech" out of my murderous hands.

As for me, I'm doing fine, and already shopping for my next treefern love at Thimble Farms.


"Ask A Smartypants"

  Here's a scenario we can all relate to. You lay in bed at night unable to sleep. You toss and turn and rub your tired eyes, but still something haunts you. Thunder begins to roll and rain pelts the windows. Overcome, you stumble naked into the living room, groaning and pulling your hair. Operatic death metal emanates from the black, black night. Lightning momentarily illuminates your silhouette as you fall to your knees, and scream with arms outstretched:

"SO..... MUCH...... POTTING SOIL....."

Maybe you're repotting. Maybe the soil is old and expired. Maybe you left the bag open and the sterility is compromised. Well don't worry, I have a smartypants on duty. 

Today's featured smartypants is Mr. Joe Simonis. He is an expert in many many fields, particularly biology and the outdoors. As undergrads, Joe and I spent wonderful hours discussing nature and fending off rogue sorority sisters with broken bottles. Nowadays, Joe roams the islands off the coast of Maine collecting creepy things in buckets for his PhD. That's the way I understand it, anyway. Several months ago I proposed to him the following problem:

NA: Here's a good question... I am repotting all of my plants this spring, around March. Most sources say I should just dump out the old potting soil in the backyard, but I can't help but wonder if that's really safe. There could be weird bacteria, left over fertilizer, pests... I did just have an outbreak of spider mites and mealy bugs. I'm not sure it's okay to just dump that stuff out. Can you recommend a safe way to dispose of old potting soil?

His response:

Joe: So, soil disposal--unless you have access to an autoclave, you're pretty much stuck with just dumping it outside as is. It shouldn't be too bad, since a lot of pests that take off in the indoors don't do as well outside (spider mites rarely get huge out breaks outside, for example). I think you should be ok just dumping it as is. The major concern really for dumping plants is putting out non-native plants, etc.. If you're concerned about that, I'm not sure what you should do, given that you don't have an autoclave... maybe Chicago has a place to dump stuff?

So, looks like it's mostly okay to dispose of your old/leftover potting soil in your yard or dumpster, with the following stipulations:
  1. In the Midwest, the safest leftover soil to dump outside likely comes from your tender tropicals. Even if seeds or rootstock from your old plant were to survive and grow outside, the first hard frost would send those bastards to hell. Conversely, species that are considered hardy perennials in your zone should not be released into the wild. Case in point: while living in St. Louis, I found an outbreak of red spider mites on my variegated Hedix hedera. Assassin that I am, I opened the closest window in my top floor apartment, and threw it out. Weeks later while walking through my sideyard, I found that the ivy had survived the fall, overcome the spidermite, and taken root in the ground. Common ivy is actually an invasive species in North America, so I momentarily freaked out and self-flagellated (I was raised by hippies, what can I say). Finally I pulled it all up and sealed it in a trash-bag in the garage until it was completely dead.
  2. Dirt that comes off of plants with certain problems should never be released outside. Such problems include but are certainly not limited to anthracnose (canker), rust fungus, and eelworm parasites. Luckily these problems are pretty rare.  Look it up if you're not sure, that's what the interwubble is for. The fantastic book The House Plant Expert by Dr. D.G. Hessayon (Expert Books, 2003) suggests that you burn any soil and plant material associated with these diseases. Check it out first: this may not be advisable or legal in your area. These problems are also generally not treatable with fungicides or pesticides, and furthermore such chemicals require special disposal themselves. 
By the way, if you were curious, an autoclave is basically an fancy stove where germs go to die, just like those little microwavey-things that salons use to sanitize manicure tools. Chicago does not offer autoclaves to the public, but the Chicago Recycling Coalition does offer free disposal of hazardous household waste. Hooray!

Bulldog Assassin

Can I have this dog? Can I can I can I? I know I approach plants, pets, and even children from a somewhat clinically inquisitive perspective... I'm much more of an observer and researcher than caretaker. I kill a lot of plants just by trying different things out, and my cats need about as much snuggling as a lizard, which is the way I like it.

But I really, really want this dog. His name is Benny, and I came across his profile on Petfinder.com quite by accident. I know he's ancient, and in a year he'll probably need his fat ass dragged everywhere in a radio-flyer because his skeleton is jacked up... but I don't care. Somebody needs to adopt this hideous cur and indulge his every whim. Look at him run! He can't even see where he's going! He should be named Seabiscuit, because lil' fuggo is wicked fast and obviously has a heart of gold.

Anyway, back at the Umbrella Corporation a.k.a. ma crib, the evil experiments continue. No pictures today, terribly sorry. My A. nidus "Fimbriatum," which was recently discussed, has been "retired" replicant-style because the scale infestation was too aggressive to control. I'm upset about that. In happier news, the Meyer lemon seedlings outgrew their first pots (aww, they grow up so fast) and are now living in larger quarters, and outside.

Also, my Aloe Parvula "Jacobsonii" pup finally got big enough to be separated from the parent plant, and it's doing very well.

Finally, my amazing Camouflage Plant (Ledebouria socialis) is fuller than ever, and just produced its first flower spike. This bizarre and awesome plant was purchased from Ted's Greenhouse at their booth at the Navy Pier Flower and Garden show in March.


Missouri Botanical Garden


- Entry price is $4 for Missouri residents, as opposed to $25 at the Chicago Botanical Garden. They do not check ID, meaning it is $4 for those who can say, "Why yes, I am from Mizzurrah."

- Several amazing climatrons

- The Japanese garden has acoustically-conscious waterfalls and a mating pair of foxes that live on the grounds.

- As mentioned before, the garden grounds are highly structured and seem to be lost in time, lending emphasis to the historic buildings, pools, mazes, etc. The "Linnaeus House" features spectacular blooms and tropicals.


Dart frogs on some trandescantia in the tropical climatron

Huge, rainbow-colored Kalanchoe

Bizarro-Harry-Potter-style Jaboticaba tree

Indoor waterfall for the Pteris ferns, among others

Gorgeous Euphorbia milii

Papaya fruit

Close-up of a beautiful "chain fern" (Woodwardia fimbriata)


Happy 2.5, Araucaria h.

Normally I don't count plant birthdays. It's creepy. Tonight, however, I thought it would be fun to compare my earliest photo of my oldest plant with my most recent photo of said plant. Although I have many plants that are older than my Norfolk Island Pine, the pine is now the plant to have survived the longest in my care. I bought this baby tree in December of 2007 and it looked like this (on your right):

Now, Norfolk Island Pines grow extremely slowly, and this was in a 4-inch pot, so it was probably already months or years old. They are VERY finicky, and mine drops entire branches of needles at small changes in light and humidity. Once lost, the needles of a Norfolk do not grow back. Needless to say it is a plant that requires care and patience. Two and a half years later, it looks like this:

Bigger, though not dramatically so. The two main trunks of the plant (there are three plants in one pot) have grown more distinct, and there are many more terminal branches. It's soft and touchable, and I hope to have it for many years. My grandmother had one for several decades in her estimation, and it was a fantastic plant, full and likely five feet tall. Still, that isn't terrifically impressive when compared to a Norfolk Island Pine in its natural habitat. On Norfolk Island, these incredible tropical conifers get damn huge. Witness!

*image courtesy of Wikipedia