There was a delivery of plants lined up outside the office from our new Dutch supplier, the one that sent us some extremely nice deciduous Euonymus last autumn. They didn't look like much, just little pathetic heaps of twigs, but I was very curious to know what they all were. Unfortunately the boss went out for the day without printing the labels, so I couldn't spend a happy albeit chilly morning fastening those on while taking the time to read them.
I did get to spend some time Googling the reproductive habits of monkey puzzles, which is something I'd happily do in my spare time even if I weren't being paid for it. A potential customer e-mailed to ask whether we had any, and stated her preference for a female tree if possible. I didn't know that male and female cones were borne on separate plants, since the general rule of thumb with conifers is that they are carried on the same plant, often with the female cones nearer the top and the male ones lower down, to reduce the chances of self-pollination. Checking Hillier's dictionary before taking to the internet confirmed that our potential customer was correct, and Araucaria araucana runs contrary to the usual rule for conifers, with male and female strobili generally being carried on different plants. Generally, but not invariably. The sex life of the monkey puzzle leaves room for ambiguity.
The manager didn't think he'd ever seen monkey puzzle plants for sale labelled as specifically male or female. He didn't believe they fruited at all until they were around thirty years old, and told me to go and check this, and compose some suitable reply to the would-be owner of a female tree. Wikipedia said that they didn't fruit until they were between twenty and forty years old, which meant that it had to be true, but I checked for corroborating evidence on a couple more sites, just to be on the same side.
The seeds turn out to be enormous, and edible. I think I should have known that they were edible, since I had a vague feeling that the first plants grown in England were raised from seed pocketed by a plant hunter in the course of a dinner. On the other hand, the cones might have been part of the table decorations rather than the menu. According to my researches, the seeds are nutritious and do or did form a staple part of the diet in some areas of Chile, being rich in starch and tasting pleasantly of pine nuts. If it weren't that the trees take between twenty and forty years to come into production it would be worthwhile planting them commercially.
It sounds as though fresh seed germinates readily, while there are difficulties over taking cuttings, including the fact that cuttings taken from horizontal growing side branches refuse to make upright growing new plants. I think that is fairly standard conifer behaviour. If the bulk of young plants in commerce are seed raised, as opposed to cuttings or grafts taken from stock plants of known sex, that would explain why you never see young plants labelled as male or female. Apparently they are indistinguishable until they start flowering.
The owner broke the news to me officially that the manager told me unofficially last week, but I wasn't sure I was supposed to know, that the people who ran the cafe are not coming back. It was unlucky for them that they started in the worst year in decades for the horticultural trade, but they didn't make much of an effort, swanning in half an hour or an hour after we'd opened, and leaving half way through the afternoon. Unfortunately it puts the onus of running the cafe back on us. While some of my colleagues are fairly happy dishing out tea and cakes, I know a couple that aren't, and certainly I have no desire to operate a tea shop. I don't want to do it at all, I wouldn't apply for a job doing it, and I particularly don't want to do it in tandem with nursery work. It is embarrassing serving food while covered in compost and with dirt rimmed nails, and we'd get about one star out of five on the new catering hygiene ratings. Maybe not even one star.
One till packed up mid-morning as well. It suddenly locked, refusing to do anything except bleep when the manager pressed any key. Turning it off and on again had no effect. Advancing the receipt and journal paper rolls freed it, but later on it froze and beeped again when I was on the telephone to somebody who was trying to pay for some trees. The manager thinks a key is stuck down. I switched to the other till in mid phone call, but we it really is time for the owner to buy some new ones.
Now it is February we work until five, something I forgot to mention to the Systems Administrator beforehand. Going into the office at the end of the day I was struck by a monumentally and staggeringly awful smell, a rank stink of excrement or decay. It had been fine in there half an hour previously, when I went up to send an e-mail. The boss blamed the dog, which had rolled in something disgusting. I suppose they will have to wash the dog to get the source of the smell off, which will be a revolting job, much worse than just having to hose a bit of sick out of the SA's shoes.