Interiorscape Horror Story: Encountering the Unexpected
With Halloween just around the corner, I thought time to swap horror stories with my fellow interiorscapers.
The Greenhouse Horror Story
One of my scariest foliage incidents occurred while I was in charge of pulling orders for a large commercial greenhouse. We had a big order for a thousand gloxinias to ship to a grocery chain. If you’re unfamiliar with this flowering plant, just picture an African violet on steroids. It has fuzzy leaves the size of your hand with clusters of deep purple, pink, or red flowers in the center.
I had to move approximately fifty gloxinias from the flowerbed onto a rolling cart, which I then rolled into the warehouse to sleeve and box. As I reach to grab my first gloxinia, my hand stops five inches from the plant. My body freezes.
Perched on the giant fuzzy leaf is a hairy black and grey spider with four eyes staring right back at me.
The eight legs cover the entire leaf, and the spider looks ready to pounce at any second. If you have ever encountered a wolf spider, beware they have no fear of you!
My gut reaction was to scream like a little girl, horrified I almost touched it and somehow moved the plant without realizing the wolf spider was there. Staff came running, thinking I must have severely hurt myself.
The head grower, who was much braver than I, took off her boot and smashed that spider, plant, and all onto the concrete. Well, that gloxinia wasn’t going to be shipped and I had to finish boxing the rest of the forty-nine gloxinias in terror.
Here’s the crazy but true end of the story. The following day, the head grower was sitting at her desk in the greenhouse and a wolf spider landed on and bit her arm! The bite was so bad, her entire forearm turned black and blue for over two weeks. For months after that, she never let me forget how she sacrificed herself for my safety.
The Bank Horror Story
Back when banks spent money, I had several branches around town. This particular bank had a large lobby, two-story windows, and large ficus trees flanking the marble columns. One day, I notice some dead branches in the center of the ficus foliage and reach my entire forearm into the leaves.
Just as I grab onto the dead material, I feel this intense sting/burning sensation on my hand. I suppress the urge to yell and cuss, as the lobby is crowded with long lines waiting for the next available teller. My first thought is that a bee or hornet must be hiding in the tree. If so, I have to remove it before someone else gets stung, especially since the burning sensation grows worse.
Using my scissors, I cut some foliage away to see what got me. In the middle of the dead debris is a colony of bright orange and black caterpillars. They have these spiky hairs that look like needles. I recognize them as the poisonous type that feeds on oleander.
Before any of these tiny beasts can escape, I run to my truck, grab the dolly, and take the tree outside before anyone else notices. Luckily, that was the only tree needing removed and my only brush with the nasty Woolly Bear caterpillar.
The Atrium Horror Story
Ten years ago, I took over a building that used to be a medical research facility. In the center of this three-story building is an atrium overrun with 30’ ficus trees, banana trees, neathebella palms, peace lilies, rubber plants, and odds and ends of foliage.
The atrium looks like an indoor jungle that monkeys would stay in when they weren’t part of scientific tests. When I start cleaning up, the new tenants constantly warn me about the big snakes that live in the foliage. I thought they were messing with me or, maybe, one baby snake had stuck inside, and the story changed it into a giant anaconda.
The atrium is sealed tight from the outside, since it was extremely important not to let anything get in or out. When I worked for the commercial greenhouse, during the winter, we always looked under the rolling benches for rattlesnakes, which liked to curl up in the warm area. But that greenhouse was constructed out of corrugated plastic, next to a swamp, with doors opening and closing all the time.
This atrium sits in the city, made of brick and mortar, with heavy sealed doors that close behind you immediately. Six months after starting there, while I’m clearing out dying spath leaves, a six-foot long, solid black snake slithers across my sneaker. At that moment, I realize the tenants weren’t joking nor exaggerating.
On the bright side, the snake is considered a tropical garden snake and one of the few in Florida that is not poisonous.