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Plant Thefts Up

Sue Bush, of Cumberland Nurseries shows where thieves cut thick pussy willow branches
Source of photo: Millville Daily Journal

Plant thefts have been on the rise over the past 10 years, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, and the targets include nurseries, public gardens, nature reserves, parks, and homes. Thieves are getting more experienced and know what to go for. This often includes “mother” plants, the growers' source of clones or seedlings, which can be valuable and no longer imported. Like animals, the theft of rare or endangered plants like saguaro and barrel cactus, swamp orchids and lady’s slippers, further reduce the gene pool. But not just the most expensive plants are being dug up, as even sod lawns are being removed.

One recent plant theft incident involves several thousand dollars of ornamental plant cuttings from the Cumberland Nurseries in N.J. on Jan. 6 - the culprit still remains unknown. Roger Ruske, a grower who provides 100 acres of shrubs to landscapers and florists believes the thieves to be veterans of the nursery business, as the dried flower branches that were stolen are unique and rather expensive. "They knew what they were taking," Ruske said. "And they probably knew where to sell it."

The nursery stock business - the growing of plants, trees, and shrubs for landscaping or florists - is a big one. In N.J. it brings in an estimated $363 million dollars a year. Yet there is little research and figures on nursery thefts in the state or nation.

The Chronicle reports that several stylish plants like thread-leaf Japanese maples have been recently dug out by experts who know both how to take a good root-ball and which cultivars are most marketable. One, in front of a garage on San Pablo Avenue, “was five minutes from being taken overnight . . . Everything was cut and dug, except the last bottom root, when the owner came to open the shop.” Bonsai trees are especially vulnerable due to their small size yet great value.

What protections can be offered? Check your homeowners insurance to know what it covers, and having your garden appraised might be worthwhile. Use heavy containers, even adding a layer of brick to the bottom can help. Taking pictures of expensive plants, like bonsai, can also be a good idea. The most practical piece of advice: make friends with your neighbors, as they make the best security systems.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle , Millville Daily Journal

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October 20, 2019, 8:25 pm PDT

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