You No Can Has Dieffenbachia.

Dear Kitties;

Don't eat the dieffenbachia. Egon, I'm talking to you specifically; I saw you tasting that this morning. Don't eat the the euphorbias, particularly the pencil cactus. Don't eat the adenium obesum, or the ricinus. They will kill you super-dead. You guys don't realize, because you're dumb, but I do so listen. I buy you cat grass every week and store the poisonous plants on high shelves for a reason. You can keep eating the pothos if you like, even though I'm pretty sure pothos causes a burning sensation in the mouth. If that's what floats your boat, go for it. You can even keep eating my beautiful Yucca elephantipes; I won't be mad. But stay away from the Shelf of Doom, you goddamn idiot fatmonkeys.

The Management.

P.S. Vera, I don't know how you managed to 1) get inside 2) get STUCK inside my 30 gallon terrarium, but you did, and you wrought havoc on my seedlings. Be assured that we will discuss this little incident in our February budget meeting. I'll be removing the damages as "shrinkage" from your toy allowance.


I Think I Swallowed A Bug

This is Sarracenia leucophylla 'Tarnok,' a small cultivar of the American Pitcher plant. Pitcher plants are one of the few popular houseplants that are native to North America, and certainly one of the rare carnivorous plants to come from this continent. Author and owner of California Carnivores nursery Peter D'Amato covers the amazing natural history of this species extensively in his book Savage Gardens.

And an unidentified Pinguicula, the Mexican Butterwort. Mine is from Mexico anyway; there are "Pings" from several different climes. They are also carnivorous, secreting special sticky liquids from their leaves when bugs land, then digesting them slowly. It is for this reason that I have given my Ping the same "The Almighty Sarlacc."

In their radially symmetrical shape, they also remind me of Nicholas Harberd's drawings of the thale-cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in his excellent book Seed to Seed. As you can see, the flower stalk is already up, and the local gnat population is being decimated. The flowers are stunning; this picture was taken at night when the bloom first opened.

Because they eat bugs, Pings require little to no fertilization. One thing they do require is distilled water; tap water or even filtered water won't do.* Pings enter a dormant stage in winter whereupon their leaves become more succulent, and Sarracenias go completely dormant in winter. Mine haven't entered dormancy, but Peter D'Amato was kind enough to advise me in this regard. His suggestion was to keep my Ping slightly moist and allow it to change forms when it is ready; Sarracenias typically begin their growth cycle anew in February.

Last week it was orchids, this week it's carnivores. My plant love springs eternal.

*You can buy distilled water from your local grocery store; it is often kept with or labeled as "infant drinking water." One gallon should run you about one dollar.


How to Assassinate a Duck

Ricinus communis, the Castor bean plant. Photos taken early morning...

And mid-afternoon.

This vigorous shrub requires full sun, lots of water, and lots of fertilizer. In summer it should be placed outdoors, where it may grow as much as 10 feet in a season. Watch out for the seed pods in fall, as they are extremely poisonous. According to Wikipedia, it takes 5 castor oil seeds to kill a sheep, but 80 to kill a duck. Who figures these things out? Mad scientists who are bored on sabbatical?

This isn't a particularly common houseplant, and it certainly can achieve an ugly, leggy habit indoors without proper care. Still, I couldn't resist that crazy Quinacridone-violet color. It's as lovely as a painting, and I can't wait for it to explode with growth this spring.


Orchids and Breakfast Foods

Okay, I give up. My mystery accomplice was Carly Fisher of the Chicago Brunch Blog. I was thrilled when she agreed to indulge me and come along for plant shopping, because most of the time she accuses me of having an "old lady hobby." But as it turns out, Carly herself was a member of the Orchid Club at our university, and so she was more than happy to accompany me on a trip to an orchid farm. I guess we have even more in common than our mutual love of brunch, booze, and boys.*

But what did I buy? LOOK BELOW! Is that not the most bad-ass leaf you have ever seen? I thought so. It's some type of Oncidium orchid, but exactly which I'm not sure. When I was checking out, I got distracted by the *CHA-CHING* sound of my money vaporizing out of existence, and I forgot to get a care-tag for it. In any case, an employee managed to find an older specimen in flower, and as I vaguely remember it was darling. I don't care; it's the leaves that make it wonderful.

What else? At a different store I managed to snap up a gorgeous Alocasia "Kapit." The leaves are thick, dark, and glossy like the Lacquer plant (Piper magnificum), but it keeps a prettier habit and sports a dazzling red glitter in the leaves. It's much brighter in person, but if you click the photo you can still see it plainly.

More soon!

*And girls. And kittens, and Baraka, and world peace, and dirty, dirty Alexander Skarsgard.

Who Is That Ravishing Creature?

Why it's Paphiopedilum bellatulum 'Fox Valley,' of course. Just one of the many orchids you can find at Orchids By Hausermann in Villa Park. I realize that I just mentioned this greenhouse in my last post, but what can I say? I'm going through a phase. The folks at Hausermann were kind enough to let me snap and publish some photos of their operation.

Rare orchids are their specialty, apparently, and you will certainly find some two-inch gems with hundred-dollar price stickers. But luckily, the sheer number and variety of orchids they carry means you WILL find something to take home, regardless of your funds or level of experience. I think that I'm currently about a level 25 Orchid Paladin (my coven meets on Sundays in the basement of a local greenhouse, where we drink goblets of Mountain Dew "Code Red" and play for Orchid Master points. All are welcome - please BYO multi-sided dice).

There is a huge palette of colors at Hausermann, and delicious smells abound.

The constant rotation of blooms renders every greenhouse into a tiny paradise.

And who is THIS ravishing creature? You'll find out soon enough.


10 Plants for 2010, Part Deux

Welp! Here are the next five plants on my list. These plants are all part of my new years resolution, to fully enjoy nature within my home, and expand my capacity for botanical awe. That may or may not be a zen way of saying "I resolve to buy a shitload of houseplants this year... again."

1) Paphiopedilum 'Shadow Magic X.' This is my first paphiopedilum, a very young and lovely cross between Paph 'Black Stallion' and Paph 'Starr Beam.' Allaying my previous fear that Paphs would be difficult orchids to care for, this little beauty easily adapted to terrarium life and seems radiant with satisfaction. I was able to purchase this specimen relatively cheaply because it is so small... it will likely be several years before it sends up its first bloom. But who cares?! The foliage is wonderful all on its own.

2) Vriesea splendens. A wholly common bromeliad by virtue of its uncommon good looks. Though the flower spike is delightful, it is unfortunately the flag that heralds the imminent death of the plant. After flowering, bromeliads slowly decline and die... luckily they typically produce several identical pups during this period. So, I get to enjoy this plant for several more months, and then hopefully, propagate it long into the future.

3) Plumeria alba (or possibly rubra). Yes, I paid good money for a four-foot stick. Listen though - plumerias are really cool plants, with or without their famous flowers. See for yourself at the Tourism Thailand blog! So, when I came upon this plant sitting alone on a table the the Missouri Botanic Garden shop, I didn't see just an ugly stick. I saw potential! This was the argument I put towards the Garden employees: First, this plant is looks crappy, and you want to get rid of of. Second, this plant looks crappy, but I want to take it from you. Shortly thereafter, I took home a plumeria at about 30% of the original cost. So, we all got what we wanted... especially the plumeria, which will now get a shot at redemption in the Nature Assassin home infirmary. Hang in there lil' feller, spring's comin!

4) Phalaenopsis 'Balinese Splendor.' This orchid and the previous paph orchid were both purchased at the greenhouse of Orchids By Hausermann, Inc. Though their online catalog is quite comprehensive, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit a large-scale orchid farm in person, and once there I couldn't resist the urge to spend all my money. But hey, you visit a greenhouse like Hauserman, and try not to fall in love with an orchid or twelve!

5) Neoregelia 'Kimberly.' Both of the bromeliads featured here were found at Ahner's Garden and Gifts in St. Louis, Missouri. Ahner's has the distinction of being 'mah favorite greenhouse evah.' Aside from the rich, fertile, spa-like atmosphere, they have a great staff and a great collection of plants. Aside from the big palms and other impressive interiorscaping plants, they also offer lots of indoor plants in small pots at very modest prices. This is a kindness for the murderous hobbyist like myself, who cannot often afford to drop $300 on a plant that could give up the ghost the minute it gets back chez moi. Also, their selection rotates enough that one can occasionally find unusual wonders like this Neoregelia cultivar.


10 Plants for 2010

10 New Plants to ring in the New Year! Here I will present 5... the next 5 to come in a following post.

1) Abutilon striatum 'Thompsonii' (aka A. pictum 'Thompsonii'). This is an orange-flowering variety of Abutilon, the Parlor Maple, with beautiful foliage as an added bonus. The variegation in the leaves is apparently caused by a virus, which is purposefully maintained through propagation. Fast growth, the ability to survive low humidity levels, and tolerance of a variety of light/temperature situations makes Abutilon a popular plant for indoor culture. I'll guess I'll find out soon enough if it deserves its popularity. Being a beautiful, rampant, ass-kicking grower of a plant and also victim of strange science, I have decided to dub my Abutilon "River Tam."

2) Calathea insignis (aka C. lancifolia), the Rattlesnake plant. Calatheas are tricky due to their incredible humidity requirements. It may be wishful to believe that I can make this plant survive a heated indoor winter, but try I must. I fell in love with this type of Calathea for its patterned leaves and deep burgundy leaf-undersides at the Garfield Conservatory (see this post). I was therefore delighted and surprised to find it at for sale at Rolling Ridge Nursery in Webster Groves, Missouri. Its only natural that this plant would be rare on store shelves, because it isn't well suited to anything but greenhouse life. It needs high heat, but detests hot draughts. It needs fresh air, but detests cold draughts. It needs high light, but detests direct sun. It needs lots of water and humidity, but detests overly wet roots. So, quite reasonably, I am enjoying owning this plant even though visions of plant murder dance in my head. As Dexter would say, "Do I see plastic sheets in your future?"

3) Senecio macroglossus 'Variegatus,' the Wax Ivy (or Cape Ivy) plant. Looks just like some kind of Hedera, doesn't it? But what ho! A squish-squish of the leaves between your fingers reveals that they are thick and succulent. This feature makes Senecio an excellent winter alternative to traditional ivies, or as I like to call them, "Old Country Spidermite Buffet." Senecio can tolerate shade or direct sun, medium or high humidity, and normal to cool room temperatures in winter. This plant, as well as the following plant and the Abutilon, were purchased from the incredibly sexy Bowood Farms in St. Louis.*

4) x Fatshedera lizei 'Aureamaculata." This plant has several goofy common names, my favorites being "Botanical Wonder" and "Fat-headed Lizzy." As the "x" in the name implies, this plant is a cultivated cross that combines the best features of its parents, Hedera (common Ivy) and Fatsia (Castor-oil plant). By all accounts, Fatshedera is a simple foliage plant, valued for its tolerance of poor growing conditions. Simple though it may be, the foliage of 'Aureamaculata' is anything but dull; in fact the variegation is transparent enough that it seems to glow from within. I find it very visually arresting.

5) And speaking of arresting, call the Boring Plant Police! Lithops optica 'Rubra' is running amok! That is sarcasm - this plant does nothing whatsoever. Lithops, or Living Stones plant, wants nothing in life but to be left alone... they can spend 20 years just hanging out before they will even fill a six inch pot, or so I've been told. My interest in this plant was piqued for the very first time when I saw this variety, 'Rubra,' at the much-touted Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, Illinois. The beautiful wine-red color was unlike anything I'd ever seen in a succulent. They were being propagated and were not actually for sale, but being the freak that I am, I demanded that somebody sell me some. A gracious employee finally conceded two specimens for a hefty price, and I carried them home like precious jewels.

*I'm pretty sure, at this point, that Missouri has the best collection of commercial greenhouses in the Midwest. Especially when one considers my favorite, Ahner's Garden and Gifts.