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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

A Fistful of Carrots

Oh hi! I know, it’s been a while. Miss me? The will to blog comes and goes, while the plant urge stays strong.


Harvesting carrots. Photo by Heather Champ, shirt from You Grow Girl.

As last year, the carrots are about the only thing doing well in the vegetable garden right now. But there are lots of other plant happenings afoot, which I’ll write about as soon as I can. If anyone’s still reading. Hi!

Tube Planter and Blooming Maranta

tube planterI’m loving this Tube Planter from West Elm. It’s bigger and more robust than it looks – about a foot tall, the walls are a centimeter thick, made of robust ceramics, but most importantly, it’s just gorgeous.

Like any closed-bottom planter, you have to be careful what you plant in it and how you water. If you leave water standing at the bottom, roots can rot. I tend to use plants that don’t mind staying wet (like ferns and jungle plants), or succulents that don’t mind staying very dry (like Sansevieria, which I used in a another one).

In this case, I chose a Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura erythroneura). I know, it’s a typical doctor’s office plant, but I love the pattered leaves. And bonus: It’s now blooming! See below for a closeup of a leaf and the tiny flower.

Maranta leuconeura erythroneura

Maranta leuconeura erythroneura

A Dendrobium Seed Pod and the Long Chain of Ifs

Dendrobium Seed Pod

Dendrobium Seed PodBack in March, I happened to have two Dendrobium orchids in bloom at the same time and decided to try and cross them. After one false start, I got a pod. This week the pod opened! Unlike the Phalaenopsis pod which took nine months, this one took only two.

In the photo above, you can see me collecting the seed as it drops into a paper towel. In the photo on the right, you can see a closeup of the open pod. That tiny fluff is just the packaging – the seeds are too tiny to be visible to the naked eye.

Like the Phalaenopsis pod, I’m going to send it off to Troy Meyers for flasking. The pod’s parent plant is Dendrobium kingianum, and the pollen is from D. “Micro Chip,” a named hybrid I got at the last Pacific Orchid Expo. They’re both small orchids with sprays of little flowers.

Now we enter the “long chain of ifs.” If the seeds have viable embryos, and if Troy Meyers is able to grow them in a flask, and if I’m able to transition them to pots, and if I’m able to grow them happily for a few years, then finally we may get to see what the resulting flowers look like.

Jewel Alocasia Bloom

My Alocasia melo bloomed today. I just love his adorable little polka-dotted winkie.*

Alocasia melo

* “Winkie” is not a proper botanical term.

Dead Horse in a Parking Lot

Right now, at this very moment, there is a dead horse in the parking lot at the SF Botanical Garden. Okay, maybe not a real dead horse. It’s actually a Helicodiceros muscivorus, which is also called “The Dead Horse Arum.” And there’s only one reason why you’d call such a mighty flower that name, and it’s not how it looks.

dead horse arum

I’ve never actually smelled a dead horse, but I can honestly say that I can now better imagine it because I have smelled a Helicodiceros muscivorus flower.

dead horse arum

The smell is there to attract the plant’s pollinators: carrion flies. As I was photographing this beauty, there was always one around. The spathe and spadix are also full of tiny tendrils that look like animal hair. It’s easy to see how inviting the whole scene would be if you were a fly and into that sorta thing.

dead horse arum

The flower is a thing of beauty. Its base is full of green and white lines that reminded me of another favorite stinky Aroid, Synandrospadix vermitoxicus. And its creme-colored flower with burgundy hair looked almost lifelike.

And this thing is big. Just to get a sense of scale, here’s a photo of it with my phone.

If you want to take a gander of it yourself, just go to the SFBG parking lot on Lincoln at 10th Avenue. After you pull in, it’s on your right. It’s hard to miss. Just follow your gag reflex.

Possible Philodendron Parent Plant

A couple weeks ago, I posted about ontogeny, using one of my Philodendron as an example of a plant with different leaf shapes. The plant has turned out to be kind of a mystery, stumping some of my most knowledgable botanical friends.

Philodendron Leaf Evolution

I bought the plant from a SF Botanical Garden sale, and its tag just said “Philodendron from Conservatory.” Yesterday I was visiting the SF Conservatory of Flowers because it’s my favorite place in the city and it happened to be my birthday, and I think I found the mystery Philodendron parent plant.

Conservatory Philodendron

You can see that, if this is the adult form of the leaf, the side lobes to get quite a bit wider over time. So my current guess is that it’s Philodendron tripartitum (or a hybrid with lots of that as a parent). But it’s all guesswork without a flower, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

If you’d like to see the plant for yourself, it’s in the Aquatic Plants room, in a mass of other plants, by the glass wall where you can see into the pool. If you’d like one of your own, you’ll have to drop by a future SFBG plant sale.

Garden Links for 15 May 2012

We read the botanical web so you don’t have to. In this edition: Thrips in amber, plants for sale, wild orchards, and restoring a rainforest.

Seen any good botanical links lately? Please share!

The Titan Family

Just a quick update on the Titan project. It’s been six months since I planted Betty’s berries and I now have a small family of Titans (aka amorphophallus titanum).


Since Titans produce seeds infrequently, the seeds themselves germinate at different rates – a handy evolutionary advantage so that the seeds don’t compete with each other. So even though I planted all the seeds at the same time, you can see that they’re all at different stages of growth.

Amorphophallus henryi’s Hypnotic Leaf Dance

Of all the timelapse videos I’ve done, I’ve never seen a plant move around as much as this Amorphophallus henryi in the middle stage of its opening. Just watch it boogie and compare it to the relative stillness of the plants in the background.

Amorphophallus henryi, 5 shots per minute during daylight for 12 days.

Though it looks like a small tree, what you see here is actually a single leaf. If you followed it down into the soil, you’d see it’s coming from a bulb (aka tuber). The tuber alternates between putting out a leaf or a flower each season. The flower is huge, deep red, and stinks like rotting flesh to attract pollinators. Since I’m seeing this leaf dance now, it means I’ll have to wait to see (and smell) its flower another year.

Like Turducken for Vegetarians

A couple months ago I was slicing up a store-bought tomato for a salad when I noticed the seeds inside looked darker than usual. Upon closer inspection, I realized that they had germinated and were growing inside the tomato! It was like turducken for vegetarians.

tomato sprouts

I decided not to eat them because everything besides the fruit of tomato plant is poisonous. Strange, but true. They’re in the same family (Solanum) as other notable poisonous plants such as Brugmansia and Datura (aka Nightshade and Angel’s Trumpet).

tomato plantBut like any good gardener, I couldn’t just toss them out. So I took a couple and put them in a small pot. Here they are, two months later, starting to look a lot like a tomato plant.

So what happened here? I’m no botanist, but I do know how to use a search engine, and the consensus is that there’s a gel sack around each seed in the tomato fruit that contains a germination inhibitor. This is the transparent stuff inside a tomato. The idea is, this inhibitor keeps the seeds from germinating until they’re on the ground where they can grow.

In this case, that inhibitor failed and the seed started to grow inside the tomato. This apparently can happen in fruit that’s kept cold for a long time, as this one may have been, but it’s a rarity. If my little plantlet makes it to fruiting stage (also a rarity for me), I’ll see if the same thing happens.

Has this ever happened to you?


Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.