Little Greenhouse of Horrors

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Graphic by Kayla Payne / The Flat Hat

Oct. 31, 2019, the College of William and Mary’s greenhouse hosted some spooky tours. Student volunteers led groups of three to seven people through the darkened greenhouse while manager Patty Jackson’s husband played the whistle with a single googly eye pasted onto his forehead.  

I found myself sufficiently lost in the Integrated Science Center on Halloween (so, same as every other day). After asking several folks where it was, I finally discovered the location of the elusive greenhouse. My beloved roommate joined me and we were greeted by a table covered in candy and cookies. I opted to grab food after the tour as I wanted to seem professional.   

Once inside, our tour guide led us through the dark greenhouse. The tours started later in the evening, so I probably should’ve expected the darkness. But I didn’t. I spent the tour squinting at plants in the blinding yet insufficient light of our tour guide’s phone flashlight. 

Lighting aside, there was plenty to see. The plants were lined along glass panes and were periodically sprayed by sprinklers. Some of them were even dressed up for Halloween.  

Among the first branch of the tour were ancient-looking whisk ferns, which have no leaves or roots. Next were orchids, whose only hope of pollination lies in the whims of a fungus that invades the orchid seeds and allows them to germinate.  

I was also delighted to see a beautiful asparagus fern that unfortunately put my own to shame. (Greenhouse, tell me your dark secrets. I am too simple to grow such a specimen.) 
 

Included in this photo is the pelican flower. It’s a smelly boi whose pungent odor attracts flies. The flies help pollinate the flower, so, save the flies? 

Much scarier than the pelican flower and its artificial eyeballs is the pitcher plant. On the rim of its pitcher-shaped flower is a sugary substance that brings all the bugs to the yard. Unfortunately for said bugs, the slippery rim will send them sliding into the flower where enzymes await to digest them. Kind of like a deadly margarita.  

Our tour guide shared the lovely detail that greenhouse volunteers catch any roaches that happen to skitter by and feed them to the pitcher plants. I could have lived without that fun fact, especially as I then became very aware of where I walked. (Yes, I did see one. No, I did not feed it to the plants. I am not that brave).  

Further along our tour, things were much more crowded, and also scarier. I was poked by many a plant. The glow-in-the-dark cobwebs strewn along the plants and the maze of exposed pipes created an eerie atmosphere.  

 

Cacti covered in googly eyes watched as we walked cautiously past. Plenty of succulents caught my attention, including a kalanchoe mother of thousands. The tour guide lamented the constant reproduction of this plant, as well as the maintenance required to make sure it doesn’t take over other pots. I tried not to be offended by this; my favorite plant, Speckles, is one of these succulents, and I love him and all his children with my entire heart. 
 

The spiky monkey-no-climb tree and the red-flowered strawberry cactus earned plenty of ire from our tour guide, resulting in his stating that “botanists aren’t very creative.” 

Living stones, a type of desert plant disguised as stones, got lots of attention from the tour guide. Sensitive ferns with their moving leaves were sufficiently annoyed by each person who passed and attempted to touch them. When the plants had cringed as much as they could, we moved on.  

Our final plants were the cycads. They produce a potent neurotoxin that had our tour guide warning us away, “just in case.” Cycads were often eaten by dinosaurs, so maybe that’s how they all died.  

At the end of the tour I was surprised to see the whistle man had gone. In his place were three students playing Halloween songs. My freshman hallmate Natlie Rowland ‘21 and Corey Bridges ‘21 played the ukulele while Tim Terlizzi ‘21 read a dramatic rendition of Monster Mash. There could not have been a more fitting ending to the tour, unless one counted the fistfuls of candy with which I left.