Little Plant Shop of Horrors

Thursday, January 26, 2006

An Australian Adventure(Part 1)

Hey there, the shop's not out of business yet! I may have been away for a while, but that's to be expected. Of course, I wouldn't just leave the shop for any reason. I've been scouting the plants in Sydney, Australia! Here's part 1 of my Australian Botanical Adventure, wild Sundews at Smith's lake:

These guys are really cool, huh? Check out that red colouration...and so many, growing in the wild. They're a really happy population. So happy, some even consider them as weeds, heh.

This little one's hiding in the grass...

Here's a close up on one...and its going to flower soon too!

Here's the flower...a nice pink one. Not all Sundews have pink ones though.

Same flower, slightly different angle.

Tis just the season for it I guess. Most Temperate Sundews flower in summer. Interestingly, in the wild, few Sundews die after flowering. This isn't the case for most Sundews in captivity...Venus Fly Traps too for that matter.

Well, till flickr gives me more bandwidth, look forward to part 2 of my Australian Adventure!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In honour of our founder...

AKA: Nepenthes rafflesiana Jack

Origin: Native to Singapore too, actually...

Status: CITES II

Today, we welcome Lady Rafflesiana to our humble shop. Well, her and her two sisters, actually. Named in honour of our founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, this dear lady is the most beautiful of our native pitcher plants. In basic form and growth, most of that which was said about lil' Ampy holds true of her ladyship. However, as you can see here, her ladyship's form and pitchers differ quite drastically in appearance from Ampy's.

Unlike Ampy, her ladyship has two forms of pitchers, upper pitchers and lower pitchers. The one in the pic above is the latter. Sadly, her ladyship is not old enough to produce any uppers just yet, but you can expect to seem some upper pitcher pictures from her seniors. Still, the lower pitchers are the more beautiful of the pitchers, at least to me. She may not catch snails like Ampy can, but she does seem to kill way more ants.

Best obtained from: Nurseries. Lady Rafflesiana is by far the most easily obtained of any of the three native species. Many nurseries stock it, and it can sometimes be found in markets.

Cost: $6-20. Pretty fair, considering.

Singapore: Try Woon Leng Nursery in Chua Chu Kang. Its got lots. If not, one of the Nurseries in Upper Thompson Road sells tissue cultured ones for around $12, but they'll take years to reach my Lady's current size.

Hardiness: Tough, but Ampy is somewhat more hardy and less demanding about water and soil.

Growth Speed: Slower than Ampy

Basically, follow the instructions on raising Ampy to raise her ladyship. She can not take as much sun as Ampy can and she is a little more petty about water quality. Let's just say that she's not as happy with tap water as Ampy is.

Oh yes, her ladyship has some variants too, but I've not seen some of those in Singapore. There's an elongated variant and a giant variant, with pitchers three times the size of the normal ones. There's also a winged variant, with a nice frill where the tendrill connects to the pitcher. There is a green variant that I have seen locally though. Anyway, its getting late, so I'll tell the story of her ladyship another time. Look forward to it!

Friday, October 07, 2005

The story of Ampy...

From a little brown shoot...

Springs forth the seed of life...

Slowly does it grow...

To bring death to this world...(for insects that is)

But like all good things...

Well hey there! Looks like 'lil Ampy's back! What you see here traces the foramation of a typical pitcher of Ampy's. Nifty, is it not? Don't be fooled though, each of these pitchers may seem small, but Ampy invests a lot of time and energy into making them. In fact, from the point where Ampy's leaf blade completely unfolds to the time when the pitcher is fully formed, up to a month or so may have gone by. I wasn't kidding when I said that Ampy and its kin were slow growers. Still, when Ampy is happy and starts to sure is a sight to behold. Sure, Ampy isn't as flashy as many of its kin, but Ampy has his/her own brand of charm...though that's another story. It may take years for 'lil Ampy to grow up and produce those clusters of pitchers that Ampys are so famous for.

By now, I'm sure some of you'd be, how does one care for Ampy? Well, here's my answer. Its actually quite easy...if you proceed to forget everything you've learnt about taking care of plants in general. Now you see, this be the Plant Shop 'o Horrors! Our plants ain't quite so normal, if you get my here's what you do...

The moment you get your pot of Ampy(or any kin), remove ALL, yes, I mean ALL fertilizer in the soil. There may not be any, but check, especially if Ampy was bought from a shop which, unlike us, didn't know what they were doing. I'm not kidding about the moment thing either. This has to be done right away if Ampy is to have any chance of survival whatsoever. Ampy and some of its more hardy kin may be able to tolerate some of the weaker fertilizers, but they sure won't like it. They'll also stop producing pitchers as well. So remove all that fertilizer!!

Done? Good. Very good. The next thing you've got to take care of is water. Water Ampy right away. You can use tap water just this once, but try not to in future. Also, I know Singapore tap water is okay for this once off use, but if you live anywhere else, you might want to check up on your country's water quality. Set aside a container for water storage. Distilled and reverse osmosis water are what Ampy loves best. Rain water works too, but there MUST NOT be any roof run-off at all. Lastly, if you're not rich or just plain lazy...tap water will work, BUT it must be left to stand overnight at the very least. However, it may cause a mineral build-up in the long run, depending on what kind of soil your Ampy grows in.

Now, about where to let Ampy'll need somewhere with high humidity, lots of sunlight and somewhere where it isn't very hot. If you live in Singapore, you'll have the first for sure, unless you decide to place Ampy in an air-conditioned room, which is a no-no. As for the last two requirements, you'll need to find a bright spot that doesn't get direct sun. A less bright spot will do of course, but Ampy may not be in the mood to produce any pitchers. A hot spot will result in leaf burn and of course, Ampy's slow and painful death.

Just a note about Ampy...Ampy's leaves are its life...even more so than Ampy's roots. Keep them in good condition at all costs! If possible, mist Ampy's leaves once a day, though this is optional. Make sure dust doesn't form a layer on the leaves and keep an eye out for bugs and fungus. My Ampy hasn't had any of these yet, but I've heard of cases which beware.

Now that you've gotten this far, just a few things to keep in mind...Ampy likes damp soil...but not water logged soil. In fact, to be on the safe side, remove any trays on the bottom of Ampy's pot. Also, ensure Ampy is watered at least once a day...Ampy hates drying out.

NEVER, EVER, UNDER the PAIN of DEATH, fertilize Ampy. EVER. Resist the temptation!! Ampy grows slowly and this is normal. This includes feeding Ampy's traps. DON'T. At the very least, most ants should be okay, but flies, roaches, etc are NOT. Be safe, not sorry. As I said earlier, Ampy can tolerate some fertilizers, but as a rule, just don't use any. The sole exception is Superthrive and that's not really a fertilizer.

Also resist the temptation of adding water to Ampy's pitchers, especially tap water. Do so and Ampy's pitchers will die. Fairly quickly too. Ampy can produce its own pitcher fluid.

In case you haven't realised, the best way to keep Ampy happy is to mostly just leave Ampy alone. Just remember to keep Ampy watered, of course. If you're paranoid and want to check how Ampy's doing, look at Ampy's leaves and growing tip. If the leaves are in good condition and the growing tip is fairly stiff, then Ampy's happy...and would love to stay that way. This guide applies to all of Ampy's kin too.

Well, that's it for now, till next time, folks!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

AMP it up!

AKA: Nepenthes ampullaria Jack

Origin: Native to Singapore, actually...

Status: CITES II

Say hi to lil' Ampy! This little guy(or is it a gal?) has been with me for a very long time now, even longer than the Marimo balls have. The Ampy you see here actually originated from a cutting I took from one of my plants a few years back. That original Ampy is dead though...was destroyed by a cat mere days after I took the cutting. Sad, huh? Still this little one managed to survive for almost two years as a cutting in just water...before it was planted up.

What makes Ampy special should be obvious...its a Tropical Pitcher Plant. Yep, a carnivorous and native to Singapore on top of that. For those of you who don't know what all that means, well, it produces special pitcher-like structures from its leaves to trap insects and feed on them. You can see a close up of a very newly formed pitcher above. Its pitchers may be small, but lil Ampy has caught its fair share of insects...and even a few snails! Ampy's still rather young though, so its pitchers are still rather small and plain. This'll change in a couple more years. Yes, years. There's a lot of info on Ampy and its easy to find, especially since there's no mistaking Ampy for any other Pitcher Plant.

Best obtained from: Nurseries, but I haven't seen any around for a couple of years now. The original Ampy plant was bought around five years ago.

Cost: $8-18. Its the norm for any local species, if you can find them.

Singapore: Try Woon Leng Nursery in Chua Chu Kang. They might be able to bring some in. If not, one of the Nurseries in Upper Thompson Road sells tissue cultured ones for around $12, but they'll take years to reach Ampy's current size.

Hardiness: Tough, but ONLY if certain strict rules are followed.

Growth Speed: Snail's pace. Well...slower.

Its getting late for me now, so I'll cover those rules and other growth conditions another time. Generally, while Ampy is hardy compared to many of its relatives, it may not be that great a gift to most people because it doesn't pitcher too often, almost never produces upper pitchers (only lower ones) and its pitchers aren't much to look at. Of course, there are some pretty variations, like those which produce pink pitchers or oversized pitchers, but in my experience, you won't find any of those in Singapore nurseries. There are some in the wild here in Singapore, but don't go picking them. If you do, you are a baaaaaad person. Bad! No cookie for you! You might get a hefty fine though. A normal plant will, if its treated right and its feeling happy, produce larger and more fancy pitchers after it ages a fair bit, but since Ampy grows slowly, don't wait up for it. In any case, that's it for today, look forward for more on Ampy and its kinfolk in the posts to come!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hey there and welcome to the shop. Well, its not really a shop and I'm still getting the hang of this. As you can see, the site is new, the layout is plain and yeah, generally lots of things could be touched up on except that I'm kinda sucky at HTML.

So what is this place anyway? Well, generally, I thought I'd celebrate the aquisition of my new digicam by creating a site on the other thing that I'm good with: Plants! Ah, but not just any plants, nooooo...I'm talking about the wild, the wacky and the wonderful (at least to me). You'll see what I mean as the shop grows.

Having the dubious honour of being the first inhabitants of the shop are...


AKA: Cladophora aegagropila

Origin: Lake Akan, Japan

Status: Protected

So these cute lil guys aren't really plants, they're actually just little balls of algae. That bottle cap is there for a reason, ya know! The one in the pic on the bottom may look large, but as you can see in the pic on the top, it really isn't. So what's so special about them? Well, for one thing, this algae is a dream-come-true aquarium inhabitant. Its an exception to that "avoid algae at all costs" rule most aquarists have. Tame as they may look, these guys are like nutrient vacuums and will out compete practically any other algae which tries to grow in the same water body as itself. This, of course, keeps the water that it grows in crystal clear. Marimo is non-invasive too, so it won't spread and infest the tank it grows in, but remain in its ball form. Also, Marimo can actually move around by itself! Well...almost. It traps air bubbles when it photosynthesizes and under high light conditions, it traps enough air to move around the tank(if there are more bubbles on one side) or even float. Thus its not unusual to see it in one corner of its tank in the morning and at a different location in the evening.

The back history of this algae can easily be found on the net, as can many sites which sell the 'plant'. Its mainly sold in small balls barely 1cm across as good luck charms. You might have seen them selling some time back. The prices were quite obscene, ranging from between $10-50. In any case, I won't go into the history of the plant, but talk about the main concern, obtaining and growing it.

Best obtained from: Online sites or Ebay.

Cost: Between $10-30 for a fairly large ball.

Singapore: Some nurseries at Upper Thompson Road sell them, but choose carefully.

Hardiness: Just won't die.

Growth speed: Sloth personified

Generally, Marimo is extremely hardy and it is actually very difficult to kill...which makes me wonder what those nurseries at Upper Thompson do, because most of their stock, while large, were half-dead the last time I saw them. To give you a good idea of the kind of punishment the Marimo ball can take, I cite two personal examples. My Marimos have lasted two months without a water change, with the water remaining crystal clear. Also, they were shipped to me in sealed plastic bags with almost no water in them. This means that they survived 3 weeks with no light and hardly any water...and this is an aquatic algae we're talking about here. Tough, huh? Did I mention that fish generally won't eat them either? I guess they taste bad or something.

However, just because these guys are fairly forgiving does not mean you can ignore their requirements. If you do, you are a bad person. Bad! No cookie for you! Here are the more important things to take note of. First, water. Singapore tap water is probably near the best in the world when it comes to plant requirements. Its neutral and doesn't contain too many dissolved minerals (this causes the water to be 'hard') nor is it acidic ('soft'). It does however, contain a lot of chlorine and fluorine, which Marimo balls really hate. Any water used for these guys MUST be left to stand overnight to let these gases escape. This is a must because Marimo is an algae and these gases were added to the water to kill algae, among other things. Water should be changed between once every two days to once every week. Do NOT do what I did and leave it standing for 2 months. Second is temperature. Marimo balls must be kept in a cool place. Yes, it means you can keep them in the fridge, but not 24/7 since they do require light. They will survive in temperatures between 3-30 degrees C, with a preference for cooler water. In Singapore, just keep them out of direct sun and you should be fine. Even better if you've got an air-conditioned room where you can place them near a window. I keep mine that way, with the air-con cooling the waters at night while I sleep. Third is of course, Light. Marimo is very forgiving when it comes to light as well. Basically, if you see it producing bubbles of oxygen like the one in the pic, you've got a good spot. Note that it will stop doing this when the carbon dioxide in the water runs low. This is also the main reason to change the water regularly. When that happens, it will stop its neutrient intake and brown algae will start to grow, both in its container and on the Marimo ball itself. If this ever starts to happen, change the water and move the container to a brighter spot! Remember to wash the brown algae off the Marimo ball as best you can. Marimo can take some brown algae growth and still live happily, but not if it covers the entire ball.

That said, Marimo makes a great gift, especially if you put in the effort to package it creatively. Its hardy, long lives and requires little upkeep. It takes very little to keep Marimo balls happy. I know mine are (Especially after the water change, haha!). The ones above are happily photosynthesizing.