Little Plant Shop of Horrors

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.