My plant list and suggested reading

I wanted to call attention to some new features on The Variegated Thumb.  On the sidebar, under “Pages” you will notice a number of links, including About, My Plant List, Photo Albums, Some Vocabulary, Suggested Links and Suggested Reading.  Most of these are new and some are in progress.

My Plant List is nearly a complete list of the plants I have at home – whether in pots in the house or planted out in the yard.  I know there are some missing items (a couple of trees, some unwanteds, and just some overlooked plants), but most all of my plants are on the list.  The list contains 137 distinct plant species/varieties/cultivars, categorized by family.  I’m not sure that categorizing by family is the best way of looking at my plants, since I only have one plant from many different families.  But, it is kind of interesting, because it shows where my interest is most invested.  I have far more Araceae (Aroids) than I do any other family.  In compiling the list, I had to look up almost every plant to see what family it is in.  So, my own collection held many surprises for me.  I was surprised to see that I had 8 plants from the family Ruscaceae.  And I guess I had forgotten that I have 4 species from the genus Ficus.

The Suggested Reading list is just a couple of plant books from different genres that I have read and enjoy – books that I would recommend to a friend.  I have only read a limited number of books on gardening and plant care, so it is certainly not a list of the best plant books on a given topic, but it does represent the best books I have read on each topic.

The Suggested Links list includes most of the websites that I frequent concerning plants.  In fact, since I compiled that list, it’s like I have a bookmarks away from home.  I can just go to The Variegated Thumb, click on Suggested Links and have all of my favorite websites at my fingertips.  It’s kind of handy for me, and hopefully you can find something useful there as well.  The real trove of information is kind of hidden in the links to the GardenWeb Forums and Dave’s Garden.  There is enough information on those sites (and constantly growing) to keep you busy for hundreds of human lifetimes!  I also compiled a pretty good list of some online plant stores that have plants that interest me (Aroids, aquatics, houseplants, exotics).

Feel free to look at the other links on the Pages tab.  About simply tells about my blog.  Photo Albums is a collection of links to the photo albums I have included in some of my blogs.  I will probably add a new album about once per month.  Some Vocabulary is a list of some words I may use on my blog to talk about plants.  The definitions are nothing fancy – some may sound like a dictionary, while others are obviously my own words.

Enjoy!

Garden waterfall project

During the summer of 2007 my wife and I decided to install a waterfall in our front flowerbed against our house. The flowerbed is about 8′ by 20′ and was filled with irises, monkey grass (Liriope muscari), a rose bush, a holly bush (tree), and 2 large hardy (dinner-plate) hibiscus.  I dug up the rose bush and gave it to my in-laws who said they could find a place for it.  I relocated most of the iris to one location and gave some of them away.  I also moved around quite a bit of the monkey grass so that it just formed an outline of the flowerbed.  There also is a large patch of dense monkey grass under the holly tree at the other end of the flowerbed.  I didn’t have to disturb that end.

Front flowerbed before waterfall project
Front flowerbed before waterfall project

As far as the mechanical elements, we got a “pondless waterfall kit” at a local landscaping shop that specializes in ponds and waterfalls.  It was on sale for a really good deal.  However, the price of some necessary items not included in the kit can be costly.  The kit itself contains 2 different layers of underlayment – a very thick rubber tarp and a more thin fiber layer.  The fiber layer goes first, and then the rubber tarp next.  Also included in the kit is the water pump and housing, a long stretch of tubing (about 6-8 feet, I would guess), the top waterfall container, and all of the necessary fittings to piece it together.  Really, the construction of the mechanical pieces took just 30 minutes or so.  Attaching the tarp to the top container was a little tricky and very important to do well, since most “leaks” will occur there.  I have had to mess with it a little since I have finished the waterfall, making tweaks whenever I noticed some water was straying from the intended path and slipping underneath the tarp.

In order to “build” this waterfall, I needed to create the correct landscape.  Since I just had a flat bed, this required a bunch of dirt.  Thankfully a couple of neighbors happened to be making some changes of their own, resulting in large piles of dirt in their yards.  One neighbor down the street was taking out a large raised bed that ran half the length of the front of the house.  I’m not sure how I lucked in to this situation, but it happened.  They were appreciative of my hauling off their dirt and I was thankful for the free dirt.  I did have to haul it down the street in a wheel barrow, though.  Load by load by load by load by load…

Anyway, I was able to build a nice hill in the corner of the bed that would serve as my miraculous hillock of bubbling clear water!

Waterfall preparation
Waterfall preparation

A friend of ours has a lot of land that contains some rock that he said we were welcome to have.  Rock is one of those extra ingredients not included in the kit and it is quite expensive to buy.  I called some are landscape suppliers and priced rock – then quickly took our friend up on his offer.  We had to drive about an hour to the land and spent most of a Saturday finding rocks of varying sizes that were somewhat consistent in coloring and looked like they would create a nice waterfall.  We were very happy with our free rocks and free help that we received, as well.

Laying out the underlayment to form the basin
Laying out the underlayment to form the basin

You can see a large bud in the lower right corner of the picture and another in the center of the right side of the picture.  This is one of my dinner plate hibiscus.  The hibiscus were beautiful when they bloomed but up until that day it looked like a huge weed had grown to 3 or 4 feet tall right there in the middle of our front window on the house.  So I removed the hibiscus shortly after installing the waterfall.

After putting all of the equipment together and positioning the tarp, I filled up the bottom basin with water and plugged in the pump.  It worked!

Now it was time to start experimenting with rock layouts.  I probably spent about an hour until I had all of the rocks in a layout that pleased my eye.  Then I went and got my wife for an inspection.  She made tweaks here and there.  Then I took the bags of river pebbles that we had bought and filled in all of the areas between rocks where the underlaying tarp was exposed.  There were lots of crooks and crannies and we ended up needing more bags of pebbles than we had initially purchased.  Thankfully the bags of pebbles are pretty cheap ($3ish for a large bag).  Once the pebbles were in place the waterfall really looked good.

Waterfall completed
Complete waterfall

Of course, the finishing touches were to get some aquatic plants and to landscape around the waterfall.

Waterfall complete
Waterfall color
Waterfall top
Waterfall top

At the onset of spring this last year I looked out the window one morning to see a bunch of birds playing/showering in our waterfall.

Birds at play(?) in the waterfall - or maybe just bathing
Birds at play(?) in the waterfall - or maybe just bathing

I’m not much of a bird watcher, so I don’t know what type of birds these are, but I really liked their markings, so I took a couple of pictures of them.

I like the markings on these birds - anyone know what they are?

Though the word “natural” may not be the best word to use for the waterfall surging out of the little hillock perfectly mounded against our red brick house – the scene has an authentic look to it.  The rocks are native to our region and we landscaped around the waterfall with evergreen plants that should keep our front flowerbed beautiful year in and year out with minimal maintenance.  In fact, the front flowerbed is really pretty all through the winter, even when everything else seems brown and dead.

My wife and I posing after our hard work
My wife and I posing after our hard work

Genus profile: Monstera

First, a quick lesson…  Monstera is a genus in the family of Araceae – the family generally called “Aroids.”  [To add to the confusion of classifying plants, there is a subfamily in Araceae called Aroideae.  The Aroideae subfamily includes the popular genera Aglaonema, Alocasia, Dieffenbachia, and Philodendron.  Monsteras are in a different subfamily – Monsteroideae.  But when someone refers to “Aroids” they usually mean the whole family of Araceae (not just the Aroideae subfamily).  Therefore they are referring to all subfamilies, including the genus Monstera in the Monsteroideae subfamily.  The Monsteroideae subfamily includes 12 different genera, including: Epipremnum (pothos ivy), Rhaphidorpha, Scindapsus (S. pictus) and Spathiphyllum (peace lilly).]

I only gave that little lesson to continue to ingrain it in my head.  I am not a botanist by trade, but I’m very interested in classification and try to keep these distinctions as I talk about plants.

Monstera deliciosa v. Borsigiana - I wish this photo hadn't turned out so yellow...
Monstera deliciosa v. 'Borsigiana' - I wish this photo hadn't turned out so yellow...

Common names for the Monstera genus include “Mexican breadfruit” and “Swiss cheese plant.”  The Monstera genus contains 22 species (according to wikipedia) and a number of naturally-occurring varieties and cultivars (human-cultivated varieties).  I have 7 of these plants from 5 different species/varieties:

Monstera adansonii

my young Monstera adansonii
my young Monstera adansonii

This plant was sent to me a couple of months ago by my friend, aroid collector Russ Hammer.  It is one of the vining types of Monstera with a small leaf initially.  The two leaves on my plant are just about 5 inches long.  If my plant were to reach full maturity (unlikely), the leaves could become 3 to 4 feet in length.  Here is a picture of Russ’s mature specimen (notice the size of the leaves in comparison with the hand):

mature Monstera adansonii
mature Monstera adansonii

Monstera deliciosa ‘Borsigiana’

Monstera deliciosa v. Borsigiana
Monstera deliciosa v. 'Borsigiana'

Monstera deliciosa is the most common Monstera species, usually kept as a houseplant.  Sometimes it is mislabeled as a split-leaf Philodendron.  While the name “split-leaf” is perfectly applicable as a common name, the name Philodendron should only be applied to species that are in the Philodendron genus.  [Way too many plants are called Philodendrons by common name that are not in the Philo genus.]

I have had this plant just about a year now and it has grown tremendously.  I’m not sure where I’m going to put it next winter if it grows as much over the summer as it did this last year!  This is a gorgeous plant.  I’ll probably just have to start separating it into a couple of pots and give some away.  I guess I could also experiment a little, starting a plant as a climber.  So far, my plant has just been a huge bush.  But this plant really likes to climb, so I guess I could give that a shot if I decide to divide it next year.

Monstera deliciosa ‘Borsigiana’ variegated

Monstera deliciosa v. Borsigiana variegated
Monstera deliciosa v. 'Borsigiana' variegated

This is another plant given to me by my friend, Russ.  It is a variegated variety of the plant above.  The variegation is variable, from solid white leaves to solid green leaves and everything in between.  One of my leaves is almost just perfectly half and half.  My plant didn’t get much time outside before the weather turned cold and it had to be brought indoors.  So right now it is a fairly small specimen with just 4 leaves.  I expect it to really take off next summer, though.  I’d like to see this turn into the “monster” that my other deliciosa has become.

Monstera deliciosa v. Borsigiana variegated
Monstera deliciosa v. 'Borsigiana' variegated

Monstera obliqua (aka Monstera friedrichstahlii)

Monstera obliqua / Monstera friedrichstahlii
Monstera obliqua / Monstera friedrichstahlii

It seems that both of these names (obliqua and friedrichstahlii) refer to the same species of plant.  The name friedrichstahlii seems to have fallen out of use recently.  This species also closely resembles the species adansonii.  The differences are more apparent when the inflorescence (blooming stage) and infructescence (fruiting stage) are observed.  There is a discussion on the Aroid forum that may be of help here.  I haven’t been lucky enough to see an inflorescence on any of my Monsteras yet, so I have to take someone else’s word on the identification.

Monstera standleyana

Monstera standleyana
Monstera standleyana

This is a unique, climbing species of Monstera that is most frequently (as a houseplant) seen growing on a totem.  It can become very dense, with the leaves closer on the stem than some other species.  The leaves have some dappled variegation, as if some paint was dripped on them.

This is another plant that was given to me by Russ.  I potted it up as soon as I received it, but it started looking bad about a week later.  The leaves curled up into little scrolls and started to turn dark.  I unpotted it and found that most of the roots were black and mushy.  I pulled away the rotted roots and stuck the firm clipping in water in the windowsill.  The cutting has been slow to put out new roots, but the leaves look better, having unravelled and flattened out.  I plan to just leave the clipping in water until the Spring, at which time it should have enough roots to be put in dirt again and support itself.

New growth on my Monsteras

Unlike most of the plants I have to bring indoors for the winter, my Monsteras continue to growth.  Here are a couple pictures of the beautiful new growth that I have been watching over the last couple of weeks.

new growth on small Monstera deliciosa v. Borsigiana
new growth on small Monstera deliciosa v. 'Borsigiana'
new growth on Monstera obliqua
new growth on Monstera obliqua

In nature

Monsteras are found in central and tropical south America climbing up the trunks of trees in rainforests and jungles.  They are epiphytic, meaning they will attach themselves to trees.  However, epiphytes do not harm the host tree, as parasitic plants do.  Monsteras display heteroblastic growth, changing leaf shape as they mature and climb higher into a tree.  The fenestrations (holes in the leaves) are one of the most distinct attributes of the Monstera genus, though fenestrations do occur in other genera.  Actually fenestrations only occur in the Monsteroideae subfamily, a couple of other Aroid genera and an aquatic plant Aponogeton madagascariensis (Madagascar lace leaf plant).  I have actually kept the madagascar lace leaf plant in my 29 gallon aquarium before.  It is a very usual and interesting plant.  For tree-climbing aroids, these fenestrations help the plants to weather wind in the upper branches, and prevent them from being pulled off the tree.  And of course, they are the reason for the nickname “swiss cheese plant.”

Care

Monsteras don’t require any special sort of care.  Generally, I keep mine in bright, indirect light.  This means that they sit on my partially shaded (dappled light) back porch during the summer and are very happy.  Otherwise they are in as much light as I can find inside the house during the winter.  My M. obliquas usually have a couple of leaves turn yellow and fall off whenever I bring them indoors.  I guess they just go into shock with the decreased light, because it has happened each year.  The vining types (adansonii, obliqua) are very easy to propagate by serpentine layering or simply sticking cuttings in a glass of water in the windowsill.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have propagated my M. deliciosa by sticking a leaf with attached stem into a glass of water, too.  I was surprised to see roots grow from the base of the stem, since the piece didn’t even have a single node on it.  But it sent out roots in a matter of days!

If you’re interested in seeing some more Monsteras, there are lots of good pictures of Aroids over at http://aroidpictures.fr.  Here’s a direct link to the Monstera pics.

10 gallon planted office aquarium planning

You may or may not know that a tangent hobby of mine is aquariums.  Specifically, I really like planted aquariums.  I currently have a 29 gallon planted tank and a 10 gallon planted tank setup at home.  For some time now, I have been contemplating putting a 10 gallon planted aquarium on my desk at work.  I actually have 2 new empty 10 gallon aquariums sitting in my garage, just waiting for such a project.  But I have been slow to fill them up.  The first reason for my hesitancy is money.  It’s pretty cheap to drop some gravel in the bottom, fill it up with water and toss in a goldfish.  But that’s not what I’m wanting to do.  Aquatic plants, good aquatic soil (substrate), and interesting fish are not cheap and not always found at the nearest PetsMart or PetCo.  Whenever you order things online (plants or fish) the 2 day shipping can get pretty expensive.
The second reason I haven’t setup my office tank is that my company is moving to a new building in the Spring.  It probably wouldn’t be too big of an issue to move my office tank to the new building (across the street), but it would be easier to just set it up once whenever we have moved.  And I’m slightly concerned that my desk situation will be different in the new office and I won’t have room for a 10 gallon aquarium on my desk.  I’m not sure what I would do then.
My last excuse for not starting this project is for lack of a good idea.  There are so many different possibilities for aquatic inhabitants (fish, shrimp, etc), as well as plants.  I recently came up with a design plan that I think is doable and would be pretty interesting and fun to watch.
birds eye view concept drawing for 10 gallon office tankbird’s eye view concept drawing for 10 gallon office tank

General Setup
This aquarium is going to be a dedicated planted tank.  I will be using inspiration from the greatest aquascaper (yes, this is actually a word) of all time, Takashi Amano.  The aquascapes designed by Amano are simply amazing.  Whether you are into aquariums or not, I suggest you take a couple minutes out of your day to do a google image search using his name.  You’ll be glad you did.

Back to my aquarium, which will not compare to anything Amano has every done…  The picture above is a bird’s eye view of my plan for the aquarium.  The aquarium will have a center feature that I would like to think of as a pasture.  The substrate will be good, rich black aquatic soil in this center section.  I will go ahead and plant it fairly dense from the start with low-lying plants.  There will be a line of rocks sectioning off this “pasture” from the background plants, which will be taller and maybe have a higher substrate level.  I think I will probably use the same substrate in the back, even though it doesn’t look that way in the picture above.  In the very front I will use white sand as an aesthetic feature only.  This is a pretty common feature in planted tanks and I think it looks really great.

Flora
Since this is a plant blog, I will start with the plants of my aquarium and save the fish for second.  Actually, this tank is really going to be focused on the plants more than the fish anyway.  I will probably order all of my plants online 2 or 3 days before I am ready to set it all up.  Ideally I would like the plants to arrive on a Saturday so that I can be at home when they arrive and take my tank to work immediately.  I will add the substrate and about a 1/4 inch of water.  Then I will carefully plant all of my new plants.  Cryptocorynes have delicate root systems and often have trouble making transitions.  Many times the leaves will rot away shortly after the plants are replanted and then new leaves will have to grow.  I have had about 50% success with Crypts.  I’ll probably have to buy more than I need, expecting some of them to not make it.  Here is my list of plants that will occupy the picture above.  Check out the links below to see pictures of these plants.

Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae “microsword” (1/2 sq ft for $20) as ground cover in the “pasture” section.  This plant sends off runners and should fill in nicely over time, but I would like to plant it fairly dense from the get-go, so that my office tank looks more or less established whenever I set it up.
Echinodorus tennelus “narrow leaf chain sword” (10 plants for $8) – a little taller than microsword.  These will be planted behind the rock barrier.
Cryptocoryne spiralis (3 plants for $6) and Cryptocoryne retrospiralis (2 plants for $4) – These are some cool Crypts.  They will be planted as accents in the background with the chain sword.

Other “Decor”
I will place a couple pieces of driftwood (more stick-like than log-like) (~$15-20) in the center of the pasture.  I think I will leave these bare.  I could plant some mosses on them later, if I wanted to change the look a little, but I think I would prefer to have the contrast of the brown wood over the bright green layer below.

I have already picked out some rocks (some free ones that I found).  I think these will work rather well.

Rocks for my barrier
Rocks for my barrier

Fauna

Celestichthys margaritatus
Celestichthys margaritatus

A small school (probably 6) celestial pearl danios Celestichthys margaritatus.
These little fish are great.  They are relatively new to the aquarium hobby.  I have had a subscription to Tropical Fish Hobbyist for a couple of years now and I remember the issue where one of these little guys graced the cover as the next new fish that everyone would fawn over.

Corydoras Pygmaeus
Corydoras Pygmaeus

A small shoal (6) of pygmy corydoras Corydoras pygmaeus.
I have to say this is one of my favorite fish.  I have six of these in my 10 gallon aquarium at home and they are simply hilarious.  They are so tiny and they spend all their time wiggling their little hind ends as they zip around the aquarium.  And they do really well in shoals.  Just google their name and you will find quite a few pictures of 5 or 6 of these guys swimming around together.

I might also add a couple of cherry shrimp later, if all goes well.  I have never kept cherry shrimp, but they are very intriguing.  I have two bamboo shrimp right now in my 10 gallon aquarium at home, and they have done remarkably well.  I have just fed my fish daily on flake food and occasionally added an algae wafer for my catfish to nibble on.  I guess the shrimp eat the algae on my plants and probably eat some of the flake food, as well.  I just might do the red cherry shrimp a couple months after setting up my office tank.  We’ll see…

Substrate
Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate for center planted section
White sand for front arc

Lighting
The 10 gallon aquariums that I already have do not have light hoods already.  I haven’t decided if I should go all out and buy an expensive light bar that reaches over the top, while leaving the top surface of water exposed, or if I should just get one of the cheap black hoods that covers the top of the tank.  I have some time to think about it and check on prices before the Spring, I guess.

Book Reviews of two NY Times plant books

I have a collection of 20 to 30 books on plants.  Among those are two books that I really enjoy, both published by the New York Times.  The first is the 1973 book The New York Times Book of House Plants by Joan Lee Faust with illustrations by Allianora Rosse.  The first section of the book contains the requisite general care guide that explains watering, lighting, repotting, etc.  It also contains a Calendar of Care, that outlines when certain tasks (repotting, fertilizing, dormancy) should be performed with your houseplants.  The meat of this book is a section of profiles and hand drawn pictures of 150 different common house plants.  The plants are alphabetical by their common name, but there is at least a Genus (and usually a species) included for each plant (most of which are correct).  I remember looking at my mom’s copy of this book a number of times growing up and purchased a copy of my own in a used book store about a year ago.  I think what I like most about this book is the illustrations.  It’s weird to say this, but it almost seems that the illustrations convey more about the plants than a picture could.  I know that a photograph is worth a thousand words and all that, but there is a simplicity in the illustrations that speaks louder than the detail of photographs.  There is something very elegant about them.  The qualities of the plant that are apparent to the human eye are accentuated very well in these pictures.  Here is one such example:

NY Times Book of Houseplants - Philodendrons
NY Times Book of Houseplants - Philodendrons

[On a separate note, there is a really good catalog of aquatic plants with illustrations at the Tropica website.  It is linked on my sidebar.  Check it out if you are interested in aquatic plants, or this type of plant illustration.]

The plant descriptions and care guidance are decent, but nothing special.  After the 150 common plants is a list and very short description (with no pictures) of 19 “unusual” houseplants.  These include impatiens, lantana and hydrangea.  I find nothing unusual about these plants, so it is either the book showing its age, or it is simply the fact that these books are not usually kept as houseplants.  You normally find them planted outdoors or in pots on front porches.

This book also contains a section on miscellaneous topics, including gardening under lights, bottle gardens & terrariums, bulb forcing, and propagation.  The most outdated section of the book is a short directory of places to buy houseplants.  It is one of those things that will forever identify this book as being written pre-internet.  I probably would not have much of a plant hobby if the nearest place to buy houseplants and supplies was a five hour drive from me.  🙂  In a book published in the last couple of years, this section would not even be considered.  It’s unlikely that there would even be a list of website URLs where you could find information or buy plants or supplies.  With the onset of the internet, that type of information is easily accessible to anyone interested.  The internet is a wonderful thing – though I often find time slipping away all too quickly in its grasp.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of this book, you can get one very cheap on Amazon.

The other NY Times book in my collection is a more recent one.  The New York Times 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers: Based on the New York Times Column ‘Garden Q & A‘ is a really long title, huh?  Well, it’s also a great reference book.  I came across this book on a shopping spree (of sorts) at a huge book store in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.  I had about an hour to choose any one book that I would like to take home for free.  This was a crazy idea of my parents-in-law.  [A crazy idea that I enjoyed very much, might I add.]  Anyway, after an hour of looking, this is the book I wanted to take home with me.  The book is divided into sections on flower gardening, landscape gardening, kitchen gardening, potted gardening and garden keeping.  Each of these topics is broken down further into some subcategories.  Questions range from the very general “What type of plant would you suggest for such and such location?” to the more specific “Most soil recipes call for perlite, vermiculite, or both.  What are they, and what’s the difference between them?”  Okay, well that’s not all that specific.  As I thumbed through the book looking for a specific question I realized that it doesn’t get too specific.  This book is fun to read through and to learn some things.  But it’s really not a great reference book for learning everything there is to know about any one subject.  It’s aim is definitely breadth over depth.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of this book, they are going for about $14 new and less than a dollar for a used copy on Amazon.