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.


Emily said...

you must be a writer or something, I almost teared up reading your sweet post, interesting in finding The toad story by hca, and see a lipstick plant! I will be googling it post response, long live the marty blob!

debra said...

hi there Marty, so fun to read your new blog and I'm really loving this tale of the traveling toad. He must have had quite an adventure visiting you, even though the ending was bittersweet. But I think he must have died happy, don't you? Your pal, Debra

Marty Ross said...

For anyone interested in reading The Toad (in English), here is a link to a good translation of Andersen's Skrubtudsen:

as they say in Danish: god fornøjelse! (enjoy it!). Marty

Ellen Zachos said...

Marty, you did your best! About 8 years ago I had 5 trees delivered to a client from a Long Island nursery. The Picea arrived with a bird's nest and 1 baby bird. I felt so terrible; I guess that's part of working with nature. Next time ask the folks at Angel to check for hitch hikers!

Phillip Merritt said...

That poor little frog! You'll have to change the ending when this becomes a Pixar movie.

JCharlier said...

The tropical frog that traveled by FedEx to people that cared for it sounded like a great start for a children's book - a modern take on the Hans Christian Anderson tale - until you killed off the main character!

Anonymous said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.