Beneficial animals Garden visits Travelog

The World’s Hairiest Aerial Roots

Reminisces of Travels Past

For nearly some 30 years, I lead garden and nature tours pretty much all over the world. And of course, saw wonderful gardens, gorgeous plants and outstanding landscapes wherever I went. Health problems have sidelined me now, but thinking back about them often brings up memories of often amusing incidents that happened, some of which I thought I might share with Laidback Gardener readers every now and then.

Like this one.

Larry Hodgson

Hairy Encounter

On one of my nature tours of Costa Rica (the country I most often visited over the years, other than Canada and the United States), I was at the Lankester Botanical Garden (Jardín botánico Lankester) in Cartago, not far from the country’s capital, San José. This wonderful garden specializes in epiphytic (tree-dwelling) plants, including orchids. On this particular trip, we’d arrived a bit before the garden opened. So, I was taking my group around the parking lot where there were already plenty of plants to discover and information to share.

Philodendrons with aerial roots.
Many jungle plants produce aerial roots. Ill.: From The natural history of plants, their forms, growth, reproduction, and distribution, 1895, Internet Archive Book Images

And climbing up a garden wall was a beautiful specimen of Philodendron verrucosum. It’s a climbing philodendron with large, velvety, bicolor leaves. Not the easiest houseplant because of its need for high humidity. However, the garden is in a tropical rainforest, so that wasn’t a problem. I was explaining about how the plant climbs, with thick aerial roots that cling like glue to bark, rocks and (here) concrete. But then noticed something unusual. “That’s odd!”, I said. “I don’t remember the roots being so hairy!” For a few roots extended beyond a leaf and dark brown fuzz clearly covered them.

A Closer Look

So, I bent down and lifted the leaf for a closer look . . . only to discover my hand no more than 2 inches (5 cm) away from a large tarantula, the true owner of the hairy roots, which turned out to be a few of its legs.

Hairy black tarantula.
A tarantula much like the one I saw i Costa Rica. Photo: Toniflap, jpg

I was stunned. I’m not particularly afraid of spiders back home, but this one was huge. Well, to me at least. The size of a woman’s hand, I’d guess. And black and hairy. With lots of black, shiny eyes. It was surprisingly calm and patient, though, showing no reaction to my intervention.

Even so, I’m sure I would have quickly let go had not the shutterbug of the group (when you lead tours, you quickly learn that there is always an ardent photographer in every one) excitedly whispered, “Hold it!” Then started taking shots. Soon all of the others had their cameras out too. And were soon photographing the spider from every angle . . . although from considerably further away than I was.

When they had all finished, I wanted my shot too.

Polite Response Requested

“Could someone hold this, please?,” I asked plaintively, slightly moving the leaf. (Possibly not the wisest idea under the circumstances, but then, what do I really know about tarantulas?) No one took up me up on my offer. “Apparently,” someone did say, “they’re not particularly poisonous. I mean, the bite won’t kill you or anything.” Well, that was nice to know at any rate.

I let go of the leaf, moved my hand back and the spider disappeared from view, except for tips of his hairy appendages.

I never did get that tarantula photo . . . and this was back before we all had digital images we could share. Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have added it to this article!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “The World’s Hairiest Aerial Roots

  1. Kudos. Most people, me included, would probably have shouted out and leaped away. Wonder who was more scared: you or the tarantula? One for the memory books.

  2. Jaini Clougher


  3. Your stories and the information shared add so much ?to my gardening obsession, my respite, my passion. Please accept my sincerest gratitude for your efforts to continue putting smiles on our faces while you bear the brunt of health issues we have yet to endure. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. ???

  4. Yes, I had to laugh when I read this post this morning. Keep the funnies coming and of course all you good tips and advice!

  5. Bill Russell

    Your story made me smile.

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