Monday, August 23, 2010

Orchid Update

Summer may not be the time to expect a lot of flowers on home-grown orchids. I'm still not ready to say that I know how to grow them in my circumstances. However, one Dendrobium nobile gives me a lot of hope.

This unknown variety is on its second rebloom. According to the web information on D. nobile hybrids, they usually require a period of sun in the summer, dormancy in the fall, and then bloom in winter or spring. This plant keeps putting out new flowers. Not a lot, but that doesn't matter. In addition, it has many buds. It just doesn't know the rules. I did have it in full sun, but now it's in a shaded south window. The other D. nobile remain in the sun, and seem to be more conventional. Currently I'm giving them a low-N plant food, continuing the weakly-weekly method.

Dendrobium phaelenopsis hybrid, purchased at the Missouri Botanical garden in St. Louis. My selection was restricted by size. I wanted small, so that I could keep in the carry-on. I made a loose tube of newspaper, seemed to protect this plant well enough. They had no problem with this at the St. Louis airport security. It fit well under the airplane seat. Label gives variety as "Genting". Given the appearance of the plant, and the shape of the flower, I wonder if the gift plant that I identified as "Vappodes" is really a D. phaelenopsis hybrid? If it blooms, I'll have a better idea. The leaves are somewhat different but that may be due to age of plant and my culture conditions.

I like showing the whole plant, for general morphology, and a close-up of the flower. That gives a nice idea of what the plant really looks like

Also from the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, same transport idea. There were several that were much taller and full of flowers. I chose this specimen for the same transportation issues above. It did suffer a little in travel, but not too much. The variety is listed as "Anching Lubag". This plant has a nice fragrance. I liked the green color of the flower, and the shape of the flower.

Some of the cool-loooking arial roots were damaged in transport, so I snipped them off. When this plan finishes blooming, I'll repot in the same medium that I use for all of my orchids.

This Zygopetalum was from Trader Joe's, I purchased it a few weeks ago. It's a demonstration of how tastes change. I didn't like these before. It's nicely fragrant.

This photo shows the tubby pseudobulb. The growth habit is similar to Oncidium orchids.

Orchids at the Missouri Botanical Gardens Climatron

These were in the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. I was there this weekend. I enjoyed seeing the orchids growing on the tree branches, much as I imagine they would grow in nature. These are probably all hybrids, but that doesn't matter. Also, not labeled so I have to make broad guesses about variety.
Schlumbergkia. This plant is very, very large. The flowers are interesting and beautiful.

Cattleya hybrid.

Miltonia, Angraecum, and Cattleya hybrid. Don't count too much on my knowing these species.

At a distance, orchids and other epiphytes growing on tree branches.

Im not sure - an Cattleya hybrid?

Another view of epiphytes on a tree branch.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Master Bath is completed!

Here is the last installment on the Master bathroom. Some lessons learned:
(1) Even if you CAN do it, if you can't get it done, hire a contractor.
(2) Having done so, make sure you watch them thoroughly. It's not THEIR bathroom, they won't care as much as you do if the tiles don't match, or if the hinges are broken on the cabinet, or if the plumber cracks the drainpipe in his vice when cutting it.
(3) There may be such a thing as a plumber who takes professional pride in their work, but they are very rare. I suggest you look for a unicorn first, that would be easier.

(4) No matter how closely you watch, you wont get 100% of what you want. You have to accept that and know where to draw the line.
(5) If you think it will be great, give it a try. It might seem strange to remove the top from a credenza from Pier 1, add a stone counter top to it, and plumb it to make a vanity, but I think it looks a zillion times better than anything I saw premade. Plus, many of the premade ones are formaldelhyde-urea products I didn't want in the house.

(6) When you tell the contractor to cover the tub and shower pan with plastic so that it won't get grout and tile adhesive on it, and the contractor tells you "Not needed - it cleans up easily", ask him "on what planet" and insist. It doesn't clean up easily, it's a lot of work to do it without causing scratches, and some may never come off. This really is a case of them BSing me just for the sake of BSing, because putting down a sheet of plastic only takes a few minutes, but cleaning up the mess from not doing so takes hours.

Despite those comments, it would not be done if I hadn't hired someone, I'm glad I did, and this one did a great job (except for comments above).

Friday, August 13, 2010


It's great to see that there are critters around, especially beneficial ones.

Toad was hanging out in the Schlumbergera. I see toads or frogs now and then. They eat insects, so are good to have around.

Studying diligently, but I occasionally look up form the window. Hummers have been actively hanging out at the feeder. Difficult to take photo due to sun behind the bird, and window between me and the bird, but here it is.

Hard to say if same or different hummer.
Lots of birds going after the seeds as well. They are quite wasteful, throwing seeds around. I don't know if they are also on the ground picking up spilled seeds - that is below my view.

More on critters....

Kitty Cat decided that a freshly applied area of barkmulch, front border, was the world's biggest and best litter box, adding little hills and thereby bringing weed seeds back up to the top - violating the principle. I found an old bottle of chili pepper, probably over 10 years old. I sprinkled the chili pepper all over the bed - we'll see if that spices it up for her, or if she decides to move on.

Slugs are still active - bed of newly planted beans sowing evidence for slug feasts. I sprinkled around a generous helping of organic slug bait.

Back to studies. Currently studying >8 hours per day. Nice change from the usual schedule.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Figs at last! Figs at last! Oh my god, figs at last!

The black ones are called "Petite negri". The green ones are called "Lattarula". Supposedly, Thomas Jefferson grew Lattarula at Montecello, under the name "White Marseilles". They sound so much better in French!

Usually there are fewer brebas (summer crop) than main crop (fall crop). I am very appreciative of these rich-tasting summer figs. They are delicious and sweet, and richly flavored. I'm glad they don't all ripen at once.

This is the first year that I've had a significant # and large size for Lattarula. I grew it 3 or 4 years in a container- bad move. Then 2 or 3 years in ground. Now it's come into it's own. They're really good.

reliable euphorbias

This red-leafed Euphorbia is great. I don't know the variety name. Each fall I let it dry out, then put it into the garage (nonfreezing) for the winter. Each Spring I say It's dead, but what the heck, I'll sit it outside and see what happens". Sure 'nuf, it always breaks into leaf again and makes for a handsome burgundy-leafed potted shrub. If I forget to water it, no problem, but it appreciates some pampering for better growth.

A more classic appearing Euphorbia splendens, with smaller flowers. I left it in a spare room, forgetting to water for a few months. Once I discovered my crime, I started watering again and here it is. It's not as tame as the other Euphorbia splendens - the stems are more sprawling and twisty. In the full sun, the leaves take on a burgundy coloration, but inside the leaves are greener.

I grew this Euphorbia splendens from cuttings. It's equally tolerant of abuse. In the full sun, the leaf edges take on a red tinge. It's in a freely draining medium, and I water about once a week. I gave it and the others a boost of Miracle-grow, but otherwise they are very low maintenance.

These are green due to their low water use, and because the red-leaf variety can be kept to grow year after year, with no winter maintenance other than sitting dry in the garage. They require little by way of watering. The Euphorbia splendens is easy to grow from cuttings, so makes a great gift that requires no shipping or greenhouse culture.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Bathroom progress report

Not there yet, but getting closer. I can't say that this is the "greenest" bathroom possible, but I'm not the only one calling the shots here so I did the best I could! Is stone a "green" material? I'm not sure. It takes energy to cut, polish, and transport. It isn't baked (like porcelain), it isn't made from petrochemicals (like linoleum), it doesn't make carcinogens (like vinyl). The wainscot is a somewhat soft marble, somewhat rough and irregular, so not as energy intense as perfection. I like the appearance much better than "perfect" stone, it looks more "natural". So at least the THOUGHT of "green" is there. Plus, it's durable, of course, so shouldn't need replacing for a very long time - unlike some other materials. Durablility is a green concept as well.

The light fixtures are glass. The bulbs are fluorescent.

The granite counter top was a remnant, just needed a bit of a trim and polishing. In addition to the 'pseudo-green' aspects of that approach, a "new" granite counter top cost 5 times as much (ouch!). The sink bowl is glass, which seems fairly green to me. The vanity is wood and bamboo, rather than composite materials which put formaldehyde/urea into the air. In its first life, it was a buffet.

You can't see it here, but all of the framing was recycled lumber, taken from this house when I demolished the original bathrooms and a closet. I cut the nails rather than pull them out (too difficult). Many of the studs fit with minimal, and sometimes no, trimming, I just had to use trial and error to see what fit. The drywall is mold-resistant paper-free, to avoid need for replacement due to mold issues that happened with the original bathroom. A ceiling fan will also draw out moisture, unlike the original bathroom.

The light is fluorescent - I tried to go with even more energy efficient LEDS but the ones that I could find were not bright enough. I'll keep trying when these burn out, which I hope won't be for a long time.

Old toilet was 3 gallon, this one is 0.6 gallon, so much less water use.
There will be a cabinet on the wall to the left, free standing, wood and bamboo, matches the vanity.
The framing for the pony wall is also built from recycled 2X4s from demolition of the original bathrooms.

The bedroom wall, with entry into bathroom. At long last, I can finish that as well. That will be me, not the contractor, but the needed work is minimal. A few hours at most. The baseboards are all material I saved when doing demolition of prior bathrooms, so fairly green as well. Can't see it here, but the framing of the main door is also recycled (or is it, repurposed?)
Now just re-mud/spackle, smooth, and maybe get it textured, then paint.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A few Phalaenopsis hybrids

I tend to take Phalaenopsis for granted. There are so many available, all of the time, after a while they tend to blur together. I guess they're just too common. Plus, of ones I have bought so far, I haven't been able to rebloom them. But it's been less than 9 months, and some of the earlier ones are growing new leaves - slowly, like most orchid growth.

That's too bad - they are very nice flowers, very long lasting, and if bought in bloom, don't need a lot of care to be kept in bloom for at least a couple of months.

These are fairly 'standard' looking Phalaenopsis hybrids. I'm not that enthusiastic about the pale-colored ones, but bought them for variety. They've been in bloom for about 2 months. I brought them home when I started my leave of absence, 2 weeks ago.

In most cases, the grocery-store Phalaenopsis appear to be reently potted up from tiny containers, and the up-grade consists of very tightly wrapped sphagnum moss. I find this difficult to water effectively - they either seem to dry and the water just runs through, or they are very soggy and become rancid. My solution is to repot, carefully remove all moss and all original medium that I can without damaging roots and flowers, then repot in bark-based orchid mix. This doesn't seem to hurt the plants, they act as if nothing happened, but the watering is much less challenging.

Another case of evolving taste. Six months ago I didn't like these plum-spotted "Harlequin" Phalaenopsis. now here we are, one in the house. I bought it to cheer the office, but again, brought it home. It's growing on me, I like it now.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Why are they called "orchids"?

With endless diversity of orchids, it's interesting that the name "Orchid" derives from a trait seen by very few members of the genus - that is of the appearance of the tubers of a handful of European terrestrial orchids, such as Orchis mascula, also called the "early purple orchid".

The name is a 'double whammy', just in case someone doesn't get the point. "Orchis" refers to testicle. Then there's the "mascula" species name. From 'The uses and misuses of orchids in medicine", "The Greeks referred to testicles as orchis, and Theophrastus (372–286 BC) named the orchids from that word, as the underground tubers of many European terrestial orchids resemble a pair of testicles. In his Enquiry into Plants, he reported that the orchids had medicinal properties." The article continues, "In the first century AD, Dioscorides, who was a Greek working as a Roman military physician, wrote his De Materia Medica, including two terrestrial orchids. He adopted and promoted the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ whereby plants were used for medicinal purposes according to their resemblance to parts of the human anatomy, for example by shape or colour. Naturally this led to orchid tubers being used to heal diseases of the testicles, and to stimulate lust. Moreover if given to men as whole fat new tubers this was supposed to produce male progeny, and if the shrivelled old tubers were given to women, this should produce female children.

From wikipedia (as are the illustrations here), regarding the drink "Salep" that is made from ground tubers of Orchis mascula, "The Ancient Romans also used ground orchid bulbs to make drinks, which they called by a number of names, especially satyrion and priapiscus. As the names indicate, they likewise considered it to be a powerful aphrodisiac." also, "Of Salep, Paracelsus the famous toxicologist wrote: "Behold the Satyrion root, is it not formed like the male privy parts? Accordingly magic discovered it and revealed that it can restore a man's virility and passion" The concept that plant parts that resemble human parts, can be used medicinally to treat those human parts, is called "The doctrine of signatures", "a philosophy shared by herbalists from the time of Dioscurides and Galen."It was thought that divine signatures led to information about the plants, so that humanity would be guided to use those plants for medicines.

The flower itself looks rather plain at a distance, but up close has the typical appearance for orchid flowers.

Not only was it thought that orchids could treat "testicular conditions", the speculation was that they derived from animal sexual origins. Again from "The uses and misuses of orchids in medicine", " In the sixteenth century, Hieronymus Tragus (Jerome Bock) (1498–1554) decided that they must arise (owing to their testicular shapes) from the semen of birds and beasts when this fell to the ground. In 1665, Anthanasuis Kircher, in his Mundus Subterraneus, concluded that as bees arose from the carcasses of bulls, bee orchids must arise from the semen of bulls". Wow.

The closely related, and similar appearing, Orchis militaris, is/was used for the same purposes.

It appears to be a close relative, and carries the same genus name. The flower color may be different, although even the "Early purple orchid" appears to come in pink and white.

Quite a lovely flower, up close. Again, even though there is variation, it's obvously an orchid flower with a colorful lip (labellum).

Interestingly, a different type of mimicry does relate to a "birds and bees" situation. The similar orchid, Ophrys apifera, also a European terrestrial orchid, has a flower that male bees find looks so similar to female bees that they try to copulate with the flowers. They derive no nutrition from the flower, no nectar - just the bogus sexuality that the flower offers. The frustrated bee then flies to the next flower, thus transferring pollen as he again attempts copulation with a fake partner, an orchid flower pretending to be his hot date.

This trend of fakery is repeated frequently in the Orchid family, with many species around the globe luring insects into sexual encounters that benefit the plant but not the insect.

This was from wikimedia commons, labeled as "Ophrys fuciflora". I liked the illustration so included it here.

In medicine, the same words are still used today. "cryptorchidism" refers to undescended, and therefore hidden, testicle. "Orchiectomy" refers to removal of a testicle.

So, bottom line, is that when we speak of "Orchids" we are speaking of plants that are related to plants that had tubers that ancients thought looked like testicles. That's even though very few orchid species have tubers at all, and even though the properties of the tubers had nothing to do with human virility or reproduction.