By Larry Hodgson
I’ve once again been a victim of plant thieves. This has happened several times over the years and most plants stolen were houseplants I had conveniently placed outdoors in pots over the summer, thus easy to snatch. Such was the case this summer. The victims this time were hanging plants I had suspended from the crabapple tree in my backyard.
Three plants disappeared sometime in late August: a tillandsia pendant suspended from a cord, a piece of driftwood, again hanging, on which I had attached several different tillandsias, including a flourishing clump of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and a staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) growing on a plaque temporarily fixed to the trunk of the tree.
It first struck me that the driftwood arrangement was missing, because the dangling Spanish moss, so silvery gray, really stands out. My first thought was that it had fallen to the ground, the sort of thing that does happen when you suspend a plant from a branch, and looked underneath, but to no avail. Then I looked up and saw the staghorn fern was also missing and clearly not to be found in the flowerbed at the tree’s base. It took me a few minutes to understand the only explanation was plant theft. I’d been robbed again!
Yet, this time, I thought I had done things right. Previous thefts had occurred in spots visible from the street. Anyone could have seen the plants, felt a sudden need to own them, and run away with them under their arm.
This time the victims were not on clear public view. They were in my backyard, completely out of sight of anyone except my two neighbors (whom I fully trust … and who aren’t plant people at any rate). The thief had to have walked up several sets of steps (my house is on a steep hill), around the house and into the backyard. There is no fence blocking it from the outside world, but a good thief could certainly scale such an obstacle, so I don’t consider the lack of a fence a major breach of theft protection etiquette. Besides, who locks a garden gate?
Once in the yard, the thief would then have had the choice of a hundred or so potted plants placed outside for the summer. Most were on the deck, though, nearest to the house, and may have seemed to be a greater risk of detection. The plants hanging from the crabapple tree represented the farthest plants from the dwelling, but also the farthest ones from the street.
Accidental or Planned?
It’s hard to imagine someone accidentally strolling through the backyards in a suburban neighborhood, suddenly seeing attractive plants and, unable to fight the urge to possess such specimens, grabbing and running away with them. Nor had any delivery or service person had been in my yard that summer: they all ring at the front door, not the back.
I have to wonder, therefore, if it wasn’t a planned heist. I’m not exactly an unknown person in the plant world. I do radio, TV and videos and write newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, books, etc. I often mention the plants I put outside for the summer. And I don’t hide where I live. I mean, this is a middle middle-class neighborhood, not Beverly Hills, and I’m not George Clooney.
Maybe someone took notice and “cased the joint”?
I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that several if not all of the plants that have gone missing over the years (multiple incidents over more than 3 decades) were taken by the same thief. None were run-of-the-mill houseplants (no one has ever bothered to steal my spider plant, for example, although a perfectly lovely specimen). They were all collectors’ items to a certain degree.
I note that the plants stolen this summer were not as heavy as some in the past: my aging thief might no longer be able to run away with heavy pots, like the huge blooming clivia in a 16-inch (40 cm) clay pot that disappeared about 20 years ago.
What to do?
In spite of the warning sign above, I’m not going to do anything about this.
I have no idea who to report to the police. I like the way I garden and am not going to lock up all my plants indoors all summer just because, every few years, a few go missing. And the plants had little real monetary value; it’s more the pleasure of growing them that I miss.
So, if you’re the thief and are reading this, please don’t do this again. It’s very upsetting. If you want a plant, ask me for it. I give away plants all the time to people who show interest in them. But you shouldn’t steal plants from people. It’s just not nice!