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Danger in the Grass

Danger in the Grass

Authored by Joe Samnik

At today's business meetings, conventions, and trade shows, the destination venue plays a key role in attracting attendees—sometimes as much as the agenda. The first thing at a prime hotel or meeting venue to grab your attention is the landscape: beautiful flowers that you only wish were in your home or office, gorgeous palm trees whose trunks look like they were hand-cut into the shape of diamonds, green rolling hedges, flowering trees, variegated shrubs, and a carefully-manicured carpet of green grass. What a sight! You feel compelled to walk upon it, smell it, and touch it, connecting with your instinctual imperative to bond with nature. However, be warned: There are hidden dangers lurking in such a pristine landscape. The following real-life cases serve as cautionary tales for those who would dismiss or ignore these hazards. 

Thirty-One Flavors


After finally making up his young mind on which flavor of ice cream he desires, a little boy and his father must now decide where they will sit to enjoy their culinary delight. Wait, there's the perfect spot! As the boy and his dad bond over their ice cream, nestled in the shade of a multi-stemmed palm tree, an invisible lack of structural strength is eroding the ability of the palm trunk to support itself. Without warning, the tree falls and lands on the little boy. During the investigation that followed this tragedy, the trunk remnant reveals a very specific variety of mushroom: a basidiocarp, the fruiting flower of the disease that caused the tree to fall, and a very obvious sign of trouble in a palm tree for the knowing eye.

Action Plan: In addition to periodic inspections by qualified professionals, make certain that all staff members are charged with the responsibility of noting and reporting any abnormalities or unusual, if not obvious, tree problems.

 To Build a Fire


Few can deny the joy of camping in the woods. There are some basic decisions to be made, like where to place the camping chairs so that the smoke from the camp fire does not disrupt the enjoyment. In this case, the loud and sharp cracking noise of the decayed trunk buckling under its own weight was not understood soon enough as the 70 foot monster-sized tree crashed upon a chair’s occupant. A cavity was found in the trunk measuring four feet in length and at least eight inches in depth. 

Action Plan: Have all staff on constant lookout for cavities, dead branches, or other open and obvious problems. In addition, hire qualified professionals to inspect any abnormalities found by the

 When It Rains, It Pours


A woman in the midst of a brilliant career decided to make a run for it during a mosoon instead of staying in the gift shop and waiting it out. After a newly-installed palm tree fell and crushed the woman (who survived but was seriously injured), a number of experts testified that the problem was the number of temporary stakes propping up the palm tree. One expert opined that three stakes is enough to provide structural support. Another expert stated categorically that four stakes provided no more strength than three stakes. Yet another noted it did not make a difference because one of the nails, whose job was to be affixed to the support stakes, completely missed the target for which it was intended. Under the ground and out of sight, yet another phenomenon was occurring. Due to the heavy rains and perhaps a failed irrigation line or two, the sandy soils failed to hold onto the root system and simply let go of the tree. No external support system could have held the palm tree in an upright position. 

Action Plan: Have your registered landscape architect or landscape designer specify at which date the braces may be removed in their sealed landscape plans. As an added precaution, have your landscape architect inspect the barricades prior to brace removal, accompanied by a written report authorizing the removal.

poison plant

How do you occupy yourself while waiting in the lobby for check-in? Read, people-watch, check your email, or go to the bar? One woman from Michigan decided to spend this time investigating some attractive lobby plants. She cut off a piece of one plant she particularly liked, only to find her hand covered in smelly white sap afterwards. She immediately tried to wipe the sap onto a nearby couch cushion. When that didn’t work, she opted to smell the substance on her hand, and when this yielded no answers, she tried tasting the sap and promptly fell into the initial stages of anaphylactic shock. She then tore through the lobby, grasping wildly at her throat, jumping up and down, and manhandling anyone or anything that crossed her path. Emergency services were quickly summoned, but paramedics initially met with little success as they tried CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. Then they noticed the plant cutting and immediately administered an anaphylactic remedy. Later, the dangerously curious guest checked into her room after a brief stint in the ER.

Action Plan: Have your Interiorscape designer or landscape architect cross-reference their plant selections with several lists of poisonous plants.


Of course some folks cannot go on vacation without their best friend. In the guise of a service animal, but not fooling anyone in management of the Presidential room she reserved, this prized Afghan hound looked the part of the blue ribbon winner at the Westminster Dog Show, with her long and lovely pure white coat. This regal K9 eventually had to do her business, and nothing short of the finest display of turf grass would suffice for this necessity of life. No attention is paid to the sign posted on the lawn: Pesticide Treatment-Stay Off. This is a very unique animal, and the chelated iron, still dripping from the blades of grass to which it was applied for instant green-up results, stained the impeccably coifed long white coat. I’m guessing here that the owner went for one of those new short hair cuts that are such the rage among the coterie of elite dog owners.

Action Plan: Have your certified pest control operator apply chemicals at zero or low traffic times of day.



Have you noticed the lengths to which corporate America will go to demonstrate that it is green? Not to be outdone, one resort mass-planted a ground cover of Japanese xeriscape foliage known as Euphorbia milli, or ‘crown-of-thorns’--with an emphasis on the word “thorns.” To be sure, this is a beautiful plant, with small green leaves and beautiful pink blooms. It does not grow much higher than eight or ten inches and will survive on rainfall alone. It has few, if any, insect problems and doesn’t tend to host diseases. But there are those pesky thorns, lots of them, long and very sharp. And, as a lady from Michigan discovered, its sap can truly do a number on you, especially when the sap gets into your eyes. Along the pathway leading to the children’s pool, a child attempted to pick a flower for his mom. After impaling his finger on the thorns, he instinctively reacted by jerking his hand away from the plant. Out came the sap. Then, in the midst of screaming and crying, the child wiped his eyes with the finger covered with sap and at least two protruding thorns. The child unfortunately will now wear a patch over one eye for the rest of his life.

Action Plan: Specify to your landscape architect that armed/poisonous plants should be kept away from traffic areas. Please learn from these tragedies! Hire the right professionals who can assess what is planted and where it is planted. Have your staff be on the lookout for abnormalities and unusual problems with trees.



Rimkus Consulting Group and Joe Samnik have worked together for a decade. Joe is a consulting arborist entering his 46th year of consulting on the complex issues of trees and landscapes. Joe is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in arboriculture, and has been the guest speaker at over eighty international, national, and state conferences. He has been named as an expert witness in more than 500 cases.


Last modified on Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:05

Joe Samnik

Entering his 46th year of practice encompassing tree issues, arboreal and horticultural consulting, dispute resolution, tree and plant appraisals and expert witness in tree and landscape issues.

Joe Samnik has dedicated his career to representing developers, professional engineers, landscape architects, attorneys, and insurance companies with the complex problems that relate to trees. Joe is uniquely qualified as a consultant with a special focus on tree preservation and resolving tree disputes.

Joe Samnik’s Areas of Expertise

  •  Eminent Domain
  • Arboreal and Horticultural Consulting
  • Tree and Plant Appraisals, Nursery Business Damages
  • Tree Preservation
  • Education

Areas of Accomplishment

  • Accredited educational provider by Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) for Landscape Architects
  • Lectures awarded CEUs for Board Certified Master Arborists and Certified Arborists
  • Licensed by the state of Florida, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Bureau of Entomology
  • His formula for appraising the value of roadside trees and vegetation was included in Rule Chapter 14-40 of the Florida Highway Beautification Act
  • His lectures on tree issues were selected for presentation at four (4) international tree conferences, and over 80 state conventions and regional conferences
  • Founding president of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Florida Chapter, served on the Board of Directors as the Consultants’ Representative and Education Chair
  • Past President and Education Chair, Association of Eminent Domain Professionals (AEDP)
  • Vice President, Association of Eminent Domain Professionals (AEDP)

Trade Accomplishments

    • A defense verdict on a $ 1.7 million dollar claim regarding landscape/nursery damages
    • Two million dollar plaintiff verdict by use of dendrochronology in a wrongful death case
    • Claim dropped in personal injury case by identifying that tree parts in incident car belonged to a different tree species
    • Settlement of a multi-million dollar matter by demonstrating tree failure was in fact a soil failure and therefore without negligence


    • President’s Award of Merit recognizing outstanding meritorious service on advancing the principles, ideas and practices of progressive arboriculture
    • Edward W. Bok award for recognition of lifetime achievement in the excellence of arboriculture

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