plant theft

TomC06457(z6CT)May 20, 2005

I'm a garden columnist working on an article about thefts of specimen plants from private gardens. Like any gardener, I've had flowers and shrubs snatched from street-side plantings. Increasingly, though, I'm hearing (so far at second-hand) about really valuable specimen plants -- mature Japanese threadleaf maples, cycads, etc. -- disappearing from private gardens. The gardener comes home from a weekend getaway and finds a crater where his or her prize used to be.

Have any members of this forum experienced anythinkg like that? If so, would you be willing to speak with me about it? There must be a black market in stolen plants of this sort.... I'd like to offer readers advice on how to prevent this sort of loss.

Thank you, Tom Christopher

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Hi Tom,
You may want to google the words " Jungle Music ", from there you can follow the trail to the highly publicized cycad robbery that occured down in the southern Cal area.

I have had extremely good luck in regards to theft considering I often come home from nurseries and leave rare and exotic plants sitting in my front driveway for several days until I have a chance to move them to the job site for installation.

On one summer night though, someone did come into my gated /fenced front yard and snatched a fully mature Aeonium 'Sunburst' specimen out of a large window box container that sits right infront of my living room window.
They left the pot on the ground and just ripped the plant from the pot.
I knew something had happened during the night due to my Jack Russell terrier going nuclear , but I thought it was probably just one of the neighbors cats taunting him again from outside, or worse, a resident skunk who had been lurking in the 'hood.

Obviously the thief knew what they were taking , or knew what they liked, because they did not take anything else planted nearby, which were common by horticultural standards and not of specimen quality.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 1:17PM
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There was a thread last year on this forum or Garden Design that talked about thefts and techniques to stop it. Not sure how you will find it though.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 5:00PM
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I can't say I've ever had a plant stolen or an aware of any of my customers having a plant stolen. The demographics just don't seem right and who is going to 'fence' a plant.

Sure, maybe a $300 tree could be stolen but who is going to steal it and why? Doesn't seem worth the effort or risk. If folks are stealing plants...they aren't very bright folks. You'd need a willing accomplice, a tree to steal and a market all ready.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 7:24PM
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AgastacheMan(z7 CA)

The only way I prevent poachers, theft, and vandals out on the nursery is my shotgun......if they are willing to include lead in their diet, I am willing to give it away this date, no theft, no poaching, and no vandalism.....

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 10:40PM
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The neighbor of one of my clients had a poorly pruned juniper stolen from their foundation plantings. Funny thing is, the thieves not only stole one of the most fugly plants in the world, pruned in the most hideous fashion, but they also carefully backfilled and raked the soil over the spot. No crater. They tried to make it look like the plant was never there! Hmmm.... maybe these weren't thieves, maybe it was the beautification committee....

Anyhow, we all thought it was completely bizzare, but it was a wakeup call for us, and we carefully hid all of our staged plants before installation in the back yard. The specimens are deep in the garden, so I don't think we're in danger.

I always wonder who does this? Is it fly-by-night landscapers who just need a plant for Mrs. so-and-so, and they don't have the time or cash to go to the nursery?

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 12:37AM
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I did a landscape job on an industrial building that got picked of its higher priced plants. The next year the developer had me landscape the entrance to a new subdivision. He asked me to wrap the plants in barbed wire and tie them together with it under the ground. I was quite young at the time and did not consider the liability, so I did it. A week later there was a lot of blood on the peastone. Two weeks later someone came by with wire cutters and picked out the most expensive plants. You just can't win! He had us replace them with less expensive plants.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 7:31AM
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That is so low!

One of the landscapers who frequents our nursery had over $2k worth of trees & shrubs snagged from a commercial job. Mostly ligustrum and cleyera, but 3in caliper live oaks as well.

This behavior is indicant of total moral bankruptcy, in my opinion. Pathetic..

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 10:25AM
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I once saw a sign in a neighboring front garden offering a reward for info leading to the recovery of the fancy Japanese Maple that once occupied the space. They replaced it, finally with something more vernacular and less tempting. There is also a market for poachers who go to swell gardens and butcher trees and shrubs for the cut flower trade. I have one client whose Dogwood has been "lollipopped" twice. Ever since that happened I'm not quite as smitten with those huge romantic floral arrangements I see in upscale restaurants... I think someone told me that Roger Raiche and David McCrory used baling wire to secure their Installation at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 11:08AM
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Glad I live where I do. I have to wonder why anyone would raise a family in a place where people steal trees....let alone put up bars on their windows or get alarm systems.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 1:09PM
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My job had weeping cutleaf Japanese Maple varieties as well as many other top grafted plants. They were worth quite a bit of money.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 7:40PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

The bottom line is that there is money to be made in any product - inorganic or organic. If there is a buyer for something, then there is a reason to steal it, either on order or to solicit to a likely customer.

Plants are no different than artwork or an automobile - if someone wants a gorgous mature cycad, and they have the money, someone will procure it for them as long as there are no questions asked. Chopshop for cars, digshop for plants.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 9:46PM
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mdaughn(zone 7)

Last fall there was an article in the Public Garden magazine about plant thieves who stole irreplacable specimans from some of the gardens in Florida while everyone was evacuated for the various hurricanes. These people knew what they were doing.

I work in a public garden and came in one Monday to discover that someone had liberated one of each type of coleus out of a designed bed...collector perhaps? Garden theft is a problem for everyone, it is amazing where people will steal from in a municipal setting (yep, we had plants stolen off the porch at city hall one year.)


    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 8:21AM
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Knock on wood, I've never had anything stolen from my garden, but it is entirely fenced, posted for dogs (however, the signs are for THEIR safety - they'd lick you to death before harming you) and somewhat difficult to see into because of the pretty dense plantings, but it is home to some pretty unusual specimens.

OTOH, theft at local nurseries is rampant. We now keep our receiving gates locked even during the day, as the nursery is large and difficult to staff completely in all areas at all times and have had instances of "landscapers" drive in, fill up their trucks with newly delivered merchandise and drive off. Last night just before closing with only a skeleton crew onhand, an individual drove into the parking lot, picked up a wagon and took off into the nursery with a purpose like he was just going to pick up a few last minute items. I asked the staff to check on him to see if he needed help as I was securing other areas of the property. When they finally located him (it's a big place - 6 acres), he had just loaded everything in his truck and was heading out the gates. Never bothered to stop at the cashiers, tho. We did get a license number, but he obviously knew the place would be nearly deserted at that time on a Sunday evening and with minimal staff. Maybe the fact he backed the truck in to parking space (for a fast getaway?) should have been a clue....another lesson learned.

Theft is a sign of the times. I swear there are more dishonest people than there are honest, upstanding folks out there. If they can get away with it, they will.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2005 at 9:42AM
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Stealing Coleus!!!????

Why not just nip a cutting, if you MUST steal?!

Jeez, that gets me mad!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2005 at 12:06AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Cuttings take work. You have to put them in soil and take care of them so they'll put down roots. And, they're small and take time to look "good." Easier to take the whole plant for instant gratification.

My guess is that anyone who steals coleus has no idea what the plant is - just that it's "pretty" and can be used or sold easily. They're looking for a quick score. Not bigtime thieves like the cycad or orchid thieves who know exactly what they're looking for and at.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2005 at 10:27AM
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Two years ago we had a major problem with people cutting the flowers from Nikko Blue Hydrangeas all over Cape Cod. These are very popular here because they grow very well and have great blooms with little care. People would wake up to find all of the blooms cut off. The police believed thay were being resold to florists in New York City. This went on all summer. I don't know how many victims there were, but it was headline news for weeks.

I did not hear of it last year. We'll see what happens this year (if summer ever comes - rain, rain, rain, cold, cold, cold).

    Bookmark   May 25, 2005 at 9:33PM
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If garden center theft is increasing, it's probably because of the loss of/decline in middle class incomes. It's said alot of people are maintaining these lifestyles by running up large debts; stealing plants to landscape your yard would be another way of maintaining your lifestyle without the income you once had.

Otherwise, ornamental plant theft is nothing new. Many years ago a member of a nearby family that operated a nursery on their place was sleeping out under the stars, awakened by a couple people walking past in the dark with plants. After a chasing them through town in his truck, he got them to give up and pull off. It was a 'landscaper' AND his customer.

I heard or read once that the Alpine House at Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, England is equipped with surveillance cameras and some kind of sensors that go off if you reach for one of the potted treasures (when I was there ca. 1994 I saw the cameras only, myself).

Was also told by a garden staffer that after the Lohbrunner Alpine Garden opened at University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver many of the choice alpine plants in it disappeared.

Lastly, when I worked at a local wholesale nursery and supply house in the 1980s they were offering a product that was to be used to secure individual plants in place on landscape jobs. It consisted of an anchor that was attached to the plant and opened up, after being inserted in the soil. (Searching something like "duckbill anchor" might bring it up, if it is still on the market).

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 10:52AM
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Let's face it folks. Landscaping is an easy business to get in to. That means that there is a higher percentage dirt bags in landscaping than in the nursery business. My guess, and with a little actual knowledge in this, is that most plant thefts are not done by the down trodden middle class guy that can't find a job. It is from Joe Lowballer adjusting his overhead expenses. Motive and opportunity is what usually drives crime. Abillity to profit is the motive, familiarity is the opportunity.

Let's have a nice thread about how our industry is not respected. We have not had one in a while.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 6:54PM
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One of my few public installations (which I've maintained for 15 years) is in front of a co-op building in New York City; over those years, I've had to develop a form of
'guerilla gardening" - never plant anything that is imminently "pickable" (tulips and daffs are out, except
for botanicals and miniatures, for example). There are
the occassional drunks and vandals who are just doing random damage (you keep plenty of back-ups); keep an eye
out for street-corner "homeless" folk selling "hot" plants
and check your plantings immeiately if anything looks familiar (actually recovered six caladiums once this way!).
Most important, for personal sanity, once I stopped being
absolutely furious about this situation all the time, I
was able to start treating it as an enormous challenge -
and the garden got more interesting!

Then there are the outrageous (almost funny) stories: one
day, in broad daylight, the doorman caught a man trying to
"liberate" one of the oak barrel planters - he had dumped
the contents on the sidewalk (planting mix and plants!) and
was merely interested in the stupid barrel ! Or, the
co-op resident who was restrained from picking all the flowers for her imminent dinner party (she had to climb
the wall into a sunken garden, no easy task!) - "Well, the
co-op OWNS the flowers, don't they?", she fumed - yeah, you
and the other 199 owners. . .

But the one that REALLY hurts: on occassion (but no longer)
I'd add a really interesting or unusual plant to liven
things up - and it would be gone in 48 hours flat! And because the theft was SO specific, you knew instantly that
the thief was a fellow gardener who KNEW what they were taking. . .and I had always elevated gardeners to a class above that. Live and learn. . .

    Bookmark   June 4, 2005 at 10:34AM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

Carl18, for such situations nothing beats certain species in the genus Loasa or Urtica.

best of luck, and certainly this is where a surviellance camera would be REALLY entertaining.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 12:09AM
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anna_beth(zone 5-6)

My neighbours here in the suburbs had a 7' poodle evergreen dug out from in front of their house during the night, while they were sleeping inside. They had no dog on the premises at that time. I do not think that was a rare plant but certainly it was an expensive one. Poodle evergreens are not very often planted where I live due to their high price.

Friends had some rare arborvitae bushes hauled away from their summer house in the woods, also the more interesting perennials were gone from the flower beds.

However, nothing beats the case of a stolen fence. The entire lenghth of a newly erected fence was stolen from a weekend home in one of the villages close to where my family spend their weekends :-/

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 7:24AM
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Over the weekend I did a double take when passing a municipal building in one of our area communities. Someone had planted a 3-4 foot Brugmansia which was dripping with yellow blooms (likely obtained from a specialty greenhouse) in a bed visible from the main road out front.

Very nice, but I wouldn't bet the farm on its remaining there through the growing season.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 9:15AM
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The times I have had plants stolen from my facility I knew who did it by process of elimination. These were not poor Joe Schmoes. They were what one would call Upper middle class. It was a game to them, I'm sure. One pair were regular customers for years and I'd even gone the extra mile to secure free tickets for them to horticultural events they couldn't get on their own.

I offered them a bunch of freebie rootstock once and told them where they could load it if they wanted it. Instead of taking from the box I showed them they "relieved" us of some very expensive stock I had stored in another location. I tried to convince myself it was an accident, but guess who never, ever came back to shop? That told me volumes.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2005 at 2:01PM
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A little late on the reply, but since you're from CT this may be of interest. Last year (2004) at a home featured in the Westport Hidden Garden Tour I toured a garden in which the homeowners had actually chained and bolted specimen conifers to the ground. It was a fabulous garden, close to the road, and I can understand why they did it.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2005 at 7:39PM
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We are moving soon & I'm excited about starting a new ornamental garden! My new garden will be in a shared yard. If theft is a problem, I can construct wood & chicken wire "cage" around certain plants to protect them. If the cage floor is buried and one side lifts up on hinges (above the level of the soil), I should be able to throw a lock on it and deter casual "pickers". The wood frame can be painted and decorated, even used to support climbing vines.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 11:01PM
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i live in a small rural town in se wisconsin. ever since i began planting on my 1/2, plant thieves have been helping themselves. they actually have taught me a few things about propagation methods. they are using my garden as a vampire sucks off a victim forever. i am ready to mow down the whole thing and only have grass. this has been going on for 15 years and it has ruined my life. gardening is my only joy and they've taken it from me.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 11:47AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Better install a good fence or other deterrent. If there are any deer or rabbits around, you may really need one anyway.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 11:24AM
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My garden is xeric and was featured on a garden tour. People were taking photos. Then that fall I had 25 Karl Forester grasses, 10 daylilies and a handful of interesting other plants stolen. They even dug up 6 bulbs so they obviously came with their shopping list and photos because it was late fall and the flowers were long gone. This was 3 years ago. Last year they returned in the fall and took 15 Karl Foresters. This past fall they stole 10 of the new KFs I had planted and 2 mature KFs. I'm installing phoney security cameras and maybe put in a motion sensitive sprinkler and light. This is so discouraging....and expensive. It has really taken a lot of the enjoyment out of gardening. I'll not replace the KFs with KFs anymore. So sad that a gardener can't plant what they want in their own backyard. What is wrong with people?!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:04AM
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On 29. March 2012 we had a major theft in our nursery. Guys were professionals as they had gsm jammer and they knew exactly where cctv's are installed. I have no idea how they knew it but they certainly did. Some potted stock plants were stolen in huge containers which is odd enough, but they stole even our god damn substrate!!! Then they carried on into field grown Thuja occ. Smaragd and just torn them out of ground. Same with Thuja occ. Holmstrup, Globosa, Tiny Tim. CCtvs were destroyed. So I advise everyone with Gsm alarm to buy GSM jammer detector because once you get targeted by organized group you might regret being scroogie as I was. Meanwhile I bought brand new gsm/landline alarm with jammer detector and I turned off siren so should they come again they get introduced to my dark side.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 2:03PM
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