Thursday, November 20, 2008

The stowaway

My friends at Exotic Angel plants in Florida sent me three fine houseplants last week, which I gave away as door prizes at a garden talk here in Kansas City on Saturday. The Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans), which looks like a crazy green mop-top of Orphan Annie curls, was the star of the raffle; gardeners all over the auditorium were angling for cuttings.

A stowaway came with the plants: when I unpacked the Aeschynanthus in my basement  laundry room on Friday, a green tree frog hopped out of the box. He had been in there for two days, traveling by FedEx from Orlando (Zone 9) to Kansas City (Zone 5/6). I gathered the weary traveler up and put him in a pot in which I happen to be holding a peony root for transplantation, and watered him lightly. The laundry room is slightly heated, but it is a lot colder down there than a sub-tropical tree frog prefers. On Saturday afternoon, the frog had flattened itself down in some leaf litter in the pot, and didn’t look happy.

Right away Monday morning I called my friend Mary Roduner, the children’s gardener at Kansas City Community Gardens. Mary very generously offered to take care of my frog, and I put him in a paper bag with some autumn leaves and took him right over. Mary had a big terrarium ready for us, and the frog perked up quite a bit in the warmth of the community garden’s offices. He climbed the wall of the terrarium and leaped across onto my lambskin coat. I was considerably bucked up. Mary went to fetch a cricket.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale Skrubtudsen (The Toad, 1866), a little toad who lives in a deep well longs to discover the world. She catches a ride up in the well bucket one day, and travels far and wide. She explores a thicket of elderberries, sings with other frogs in a marsh, and has a conversation in a kitchen garden with an ill-tempered caterpillar.

The warty, dark green skrubtudse is a protected species in Denmark, and may not be killed or collected. A Danish conservation web site says exceptions may be made for teaching toads. I was pleased to be able to place my tree frog in a position as a pedagogue frog.

The end of a fairy tale – especially one of Andersen’s – is often bittersweet. Andersen’s Skrubtudse was eaten by a stork; my frog, which Mary identified as a squirrel tree frog (Hyla squirella), couldn’t stand all the shock and died that first night in his terrarium at the community gardens. In Andersen’s story, the adventurous toad’s spirit becomes a sparkling sunbeam. My frog got in a few sparkling green jumps here in Kansas City, and I’ll take that.