Saturday, August 30, 2008


Today I spent most of an hour scraping crud off of one of my plants.

This plant was so lucky because it is sentimental to me, being the first plant I bought here in Brazil, for my first apartment. It got a lot bigger, then I smallerized it, now it's bigger again.

I'm not quite sure how this plant manages to survive. During the winter (aka the 'rainy season') the tops of its leaves get covered with a black crud as thick as my fingernail and the undersides get covered with some kind of powdery white stuff. Eventually, if unchecked, this leads to the leaves falling off and probably the eventual death of the plant. That is- if I don't spend a couple hours a year washing the crud off with a soapy rag.

This isn't its first brush with death this plant has experienced in my care. Besides the recurring black and white cruds, one time almost all the leaves fell off and it became infested with horrible little scale bugs that are the bane of my existence. That time, I transplanted it and discovered that the pot was filled with earthworms- dozens of them. I have no idea how so many earthworms were managing to survive in there. I removed as many as I could, and the plant spent some time outside in Paripe where the ants took to the scale bugs and apparently killed them off, and once again the plant was healthy. The plant also suffers from weird little barnacle like things, little black nodules that I can snap off with a fingernail.

With the exception of the scale bugs, which I battled even in New England, I don't know what any of these weird parasites and/or diseases are. They baffle me, and I don't have the time or energy to deal with them. Consequently, many of my plants suffer, and too many of them die. This is a real shame because I have always been a plant person, and ideally would live in a house filled with plants, so that a visitor would be uncertain where the indoors ends and the outdoors begins. Doubly ironic is that I live in the tropics, which should be a dream come true for my taste in plants. I have always preferred succulents, the more bizarre the better. Give me an odd looking little stumpy thing with fat leaves and I'm a happy guy. Being hot weather plants, my succulents lived stunted little lives on my chilly windowsills in New England. Here in Brazil, I can grown them outdoors, theoretically to great sizes. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few extra hardy specimens, this has not turned out to be the case. Plants I couldn't kill in North America have withered and died here in my care- I even killed a spider plant!

Not all of my plants have died. In fact, I realized a couple years ago that I'd never owned a potted plant that was taller than me- now I have several. I also have a few that flower, seemingly to spite me. One is a cactus that flowers with great frequency. I have actually only seen the flowers on this plant once, since I am a late riser and they are always shriveled and gone by the time I get up, leaving behind odd pearly seed pods. I have tried, but never successfully planted one of these seeds. I had another fantastic philodendron that grew about 20 feet up the side of the air shaft in the middle of our house. It was very impressive until it became infected with the evil scale bugs, which killed off all but the topmost leaves. Now they seem to have arrived at a host/parasite impasse, with the bugs not quite able to finish it off and the plant not able to regenerate.

Another sad failure was the bamboo plant I bought- I had high hopes for it and I love bamboo, but it did terribly here in the house. It also got infected with the scale bugs and almost died, so I finally brought it out to Paripe and gave it to my brother in law. He's planted it in the ground and I'm sure it will recover brilliantly in his care. A couple years ago when it was doing better I divided it and gave him half, which he then repotted in the thick reddish clay-laden soil that is prevalent here, and it flourished while mine whithered. I couldn't believe the thing could survive in that dirt.

I think this may be part of my problem. When I lived in New England, I used to prepare what I thought was a marvelous blend of topsoil, peat moss, sand, fertilizer, etcetera. I tried doing the same thing here but it never seems to have the desired Victory Garden result. Maybe this soil is too rich, or dries out too fast, or is too hospitable to critters. I don't know. I have noticed on several of my larger plants what look very much like worm castings on the surface of the soil. I've dug into these plants, expecting a repeat of my worm nightmare from back in the beginning, but I've never been able to locate the bugs that make them.

And then there are the ants that like to take up residence in the pots...

And the fact that I refuse to use pesticides...

I could go on

and on.

1 comment:

AkuTyger said...

I have some plant pathologist friends who might be able to answer all of this. I might have been able to too, if it was about 6 years ago and I still worked with this kind of stuff.