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Friday, June 23, 2017

Why are my plants rotting?

“I keep potted succulents indoors, and a few of them that I’ve had for years suddenly got mushy and rotted away. What’s wrong and how do I keep it from spreading?”

According to Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin and The Idiot’s Guide to Succulents by Cassidy Tuttle, root rot is a common malady affecting succulents. Caused by overwatering, root rot causes the roots to have a mushy texture and is often fatal. If it’s the suspected culprit, our patron can try to remove the infected roots, let their plant dry out, and repot it in clean soil, but this may or may not save it.

If our patron does not believe that they have been overwatering their plants, or if the roots still seem healthy, diseases that could be causing the problem. We couldn’t get an exact diagnosis since the symptoms were so similar, but all of our sources suggested the same basic treatment: cut away the infected tissue if possible, and then repot the plant in new soil in a sterilized container, and throw away the old soil. It also would be a good idea to quarantine the plant to lower the risk of it infecting its fellows. If the disease hasn’t gotten into the roots, the prognosis is better, but it still may not be salvageable. 

Fortunately, we found that succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, so our patron may be able to produce a clone of their plant if healthy leaves remain. Though the method of propagation depends on the plant, many succulents will grow from leaves or cuttings.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How are essential oils made?

Aromatherapy and natural beauty have been popular recently, and so have essential oils, leading some of our patrons to wonder: where do they come from, exactly?

Essential oils come from different plants, and there are several methods of extracting them, according to Essential Oils: Natural Remedies which is published by Althea Press. The method used can depend on the plant. Citrus oils are cold-pressed, which means the rind is put in a press at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ginger, frankincense, and myrrh are some of the oils typically extracted through CO2 distillation. There are two methods of CO2 distillation: cold and supercritical. Both involve passing carbon dioxide through the plant matter, but in cold distillation, the CO2 is cooled to between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and in supercritical, it’s heated to 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steam distillation is a common method and involves passing steam through the plant to collect the oils and then condensing the steam and separating the oil from the water. The water left over from this process is called hydrosol and can be used in scents and beauty products.

Chemicals such as methylene chloride (which can also be used as a paint stripper, degreaser, and component in drinking bird toys and bubble lights, among other things) can be used in place of water or CO2. After the oil has been extracted, the remaining solvents are removed, but tiny traces may remain.

Finally, there’s the very old method of enfleurage. Plants (typically flowers, as suggested by the name) rest in a bath of warm fat or fatty oil. The fatty oil absorbs the essential oils from the flowers. Once it’s saturated, alcohol is added, which absorbs the essential oils from the fat or fatty oil and then evaporates, leaving only the essential oils behind. Like hydrosol, the fat remains scented and can be used in other products.

For more information on aromatherapy and essential oils, Complete Aromatherapy Handbook by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy by Julia Lawless are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library for checkout.