Category Archives: enthusiasm project

Spikeless

The Peperomia graveolens has lost its flower spike. Yesterday morning the spike had broken off the stem and was lying flat on the table. To get a better view, I removed the other plants around it and it looked like this:

long flower spike lying across a table with small plant in the background

The plastic over the table makes it look like a crime scene or something – and maybe it is that: maybe I knocked the spike off and killed the poor thing! It could have happened when I was moving the plant to get some sun, say, or shifting some of the other plants that sit around it. The scar on the stem doesn’t tell us very much, as far as I can tell:

close-up of stem showing a clean break from the flower spike

As I said in the previous post about this plant back in January, the flower spike smelled really awful. But the funny thing is I’d been getting to actually like the smell. I could still tell that it was an awful smell; it’s just that after a while I didn’t mind that it was awful and just liked the fact it was there. It was somewhat similar to what happened when I lived in an industrial city which I won’t name so as not to offend its good citizens, but the air there seemed to be polluted by factory smoke every time a sea breeze swung in, which happened every afternoon. At first I hated the smell, but after a while I grew to actually like it. And then when I left that city and came back here to the fresh clean air of the country, I missed the smog smell – for months.

It really seemed like the Peperomia was communicating with its smell, too – if that’s possible, and it probably isn’t. It’s just that the smell only seemed to happen at certain times. Maybe it was wafting on a breeze when I walked by, but it didn’t seem to do that every time, only some times. I hadn’t had time to work out what was going on, or when.

And now I won’t find out if it was going to develop seeds, either. By the look of the thing, it probably wouldn’t have. I don’t know where they would have grown. This was the spike close-up:

smooth flower spike with tiny flowers, if that's what they are

The plant was very wobbly yesterday, and it hadn’t been before, so I tipped it out of its pot to see what its roots were doing. They weren’t doing much, but the potting mix was completely dry, and I’d noticed before that the plant seemed to dry out quicker than other plants. To see if it makes any difference, I repotted the thing into a mix consisting of:
– 1 part Searles Premium Potting Mix
– 1 part Searles Dendrobium Orchid Mix
– 1 part Debco Cactus and Succulent Mix
– 1 part perlite

I used this mix because there was lots left over after I repotted some other plants, and I thought, well, why not – I don’t know what I’m doing anyway, so let’s see what happens. I’m hoping this mix will be moist while also allowing air movement while also drying out sometimes but not too quickly. Just everything. For the record, previously the plant was in a pot of Searles Cactus and Succulent Mix, in a small terracotta pot. Now it’s in a larger plastic pot.

Here’s how it looks now, staked into place by two plastic stick-like things I found lurking about:

plant flanked by two sticks to keep it in place in its new pot

In my previous post about the Peperomia I mentioned I was going to try to propagate it by planting some leaves. That post was on the 10th of January, but – as of the 23rd of February – the leaves still haven’t produced any signs of growth, or at least not above-ground, and I’m not about to drag the soil off them to check below-ground, or not yet, anyway. They haven’t shrivelled up and disappeared, so maybe it just takes them a while to get going.

Ledebouria socialis

This was my Ledebouria socialis when I bought it back in November 2011:

small bulbs in a pot

I split the bulbs up and put them into three pots. Now I think I probably shouldn’t have done that. Maybe it’s best to let them get through their flowering period before repotting them… I don’t know, but shortly after their repotting experience the bulbs started to look like they’d gone into dormancy or were dying. Their leaves folded up or wilted, and the bulbs shrank. I stopped watering them (thinking the roots might be rotting if I’d over-watered them before), and stopped taking them outside into the sun (they’d been getting a few hours of morning sun whenever I could be bothered ferrying them to and fro).

Since that time they’ve been sitting on a windowsill in good light, out of direct sun, getting hardly any water. In December, despite the woefulness of the parent bulb, a seed pod developed. It’s hard to see in this photo, but it’s a round thing on the flower stalk, between the vertical part of the stalk and the pot:

flower stalk falling over, with a seed pod clinging on

The seed was a little black thing, I think, like a grain of rock. I broke it free from the dried pod, and planted it in succulent mix. It sits on the same windowsill as the bulbs, out of direct sun, and every few days I mist it with water. Seven weeks later it still hasn’t sprouted yet, so maybe it’s not going to.

After the seed had gone, the parent bulb kept getting smaller and more shrivelled, until today it looked like this:

dead-looking bulbs in a pot

The roots must have rotted away, I think. In the photo below I’m holding what was the biggest bulb, and below it (to the right) are the roots, what’s left of them. (Below it to the left is another bulb, attached to the same roots):

my ridiculously pink hand holding the dead bulbs

I guess I must have watered the plant too much. Or, another possibility: looking at the close-up of the dead bulbs (the third photo), I could see strange spots. Maybe there’d been scale insects on the plant and I’d never noticed; or mealy bugs. I don’t know, though. I have trouble seeing them even in the original large photo.

I need to buy a magnifying glass so I can actually see small things again.

Anyway, apart from all that, in the last week or two the other bulbs have started to resuscitate. I don’t know why, and presumably it’s nothing I’ve done. Maybe it’s the weather. It’s been raining and cool for about 500 years now. Maybe they appreciate that sort of summer as much as I do, and feel revived.

Here they are, with newly green and perky leaves:

greening bulbs in a container, and one bulb with exposed new-looking roots

I repotted them today. Here is what they looked like out of the soil – one bulb with leaves and the other without:

bare bulbs on my gloved hand

They’re now in terracotta pots. I’ll let them sit for a few days before watering the soil.

leafy bulbs in a pot

I don’t know whether I’m supposed to cut off the old flower spikes or not, so I’ll try doing that for one pot to see if it makes any difference.

And now: I wanted to include some information about the origins of the plant – where it comes from and what that place looks like. But after searching the web for about six hours today I still don’t know the basics.

Apparently Ledebouria socialis is native to the summer-rainfall regions of South Africa, maybe; probably in Eastern Cape, but maybe also in KwaZulu-Natal; or Western Cape, too – even though that’s a winter-rainfall region and thus presumably completely wrong for the plant. It probably lives in valley bushveld, but I couldn’t find a description of what that is; and if it’s not the same thing as thickets, we have a conflict.

There was one piece of pretty specific information: the plant grows at an altitude of between 155 and 350 metres – which I presume means it’s found back from the coast; probably up the river valleys quite a distance, unless they rise steeply.

And this was good: a first-person account of Ledebouria socialis in the wild by someone who has years of experience in the field:

I have seen this little bulb in habitat in the Eastern Cape – it is easily missed. It grows in thicket vegetation, in the leaf litter underneath large bushes. That sort of place is difficult for photography!

If I remember correctly, growing below the ground [where the bulbs are covered up instead of sitting above the soil] is not an option because it grows in steep rocky places without much depth of soil, but much moss. It would be showered with leaf debris each year and partially buried, but was essentially above ground.

– Derek Tribble (Apicra), Re: Ledebouria socialis…in habitat? Discussion Forum, The British Cactus & Succulent Society, 26 June 2011

Plant #1

This was the first succulent I bought:
small plant in a pot#1, 18 Oct 2011

I’ve been calling it “#1” because I had no idea what it was; the plant label didn’t have any identifying information. But over the last few days I’ve put in some effort online to give the plant a better name, and, as far as I can guess right now, having clicked through lots of photo archives, it’s probably an Echeveria ‘Morning Light’.

I found it on the clearance shelves at a hardware shop, and now I can’t remember why I was even looking at plants at the time. I liked the look of it, even though it was in pretty bad shape, and I liked the idea of rescuing it from doom.

When I got it home and started looking closer – this time through reading glasses, which I will have to learn to take with me from now on – the poor plant was in even worse shape than had first been apparent. There was a big hole in the stem:

huge hole in stem of a potted plant

As you can see, I’d taken most of the leaves off the stem, because – according to The Internet – it seemed like the best way to save the plant: by cloning it. And beheading it, would you believe:

top of plant cut off from stem

Apparently you can do that with perfectly healthy succulents too if their stems have become too long. The top should develop roots again, and the stem will develop new little plants along the side of it, which you can cut off and plant into soil; some plants can be propagated by leaf cuttings too.

I put the leaves on a plate of cactus/succulent mix and left it in on top of a cupboard (and the plate also held the top of the plant, which later died, and two volunteer cuttings which had been in the pot when I bought it, presumably broken off from plants which had been on higher shelves):

rows of leaves on a plate of soil mix

The stem developed new plants:

new plants growing along the stem

And 18 of the 19 leaves threw out roots, which seems like an incredible result. Apparently this plant propagates really easily, at least in spring (maybe the time of year is relevant; these plants have a dormancy period):

tiny plants growing from the stalk end of leaves

A plant growing from a leaf:

tiny plant in a tiny container

And a plant which had been growing on the stem:

another tiny plant in a tiny container

I have no idea what I’m going to do with all these plants if they continue to grow, of course. There’ll be A LOT of them. That’s a bridge to cross later, though.

This has been the first post in my Enthusiasm Project series, trying to rekindle and extend my enthusiasm for succulents. But it’s taken far too long to post all all these photos, and that has been annoying and tiring and so on and whinge whinge. There’s no point trying to rekindle enthusiasm if the method is so aggravatingly slow and tedious it defeats the purpose of whatever it was I was trying to do in the first place, which I can’t remember, because it took so long to write this stupid post. So maybe the Enthusiasm Project is going to need a bit of tinkering. One step at a time.

The lifecycle of enthusiasms

Over the last week or two I’ve noticed a definite drop in my enthusiasm for succulents. I only discovered them a few months ago (after not being particularly interested in plants at all). In the early weeks I was really enthusiastic and charged up about them, and for my new-found succulent wonders I would drive anywhere, go anywhere, just to look for more of them. They were a way to get myself to go to town to do the grocery shopping, for example – because I could go to another shop to look for more succulents on the way.

That level of enthusiasm is now fading. And this same drop-off in interest tends to happen with every new project I pick up – often, I think, around the two or three month mark.

The loss of enthusiasm. It’s strange. The object of my interest hasn’t changed, so the thing that must have changed is me, but I’m not aware of what’s different, or of how or why I might have changed.

It could be just that every interest has a natural life-span. Or maybe each person has a time-scale for enthusiasms, and mine are kind of programmed to last two or three months.

But I think it’s more likely I just stop trying or caring. Things get hard or boring and involve more effort than they did at first, and I give up when the initial sense of wonder or newness gets old.

Anyway, I’m just stating the problem. Next: I will overcome and triumph. Dunno how, yet. I’m thinking maybe it would help to dig in – to learn more about the plants, or even just blog about them, which forces me to concentrate and put things into words and et cetera.