Plant Thief’s, Poems, and Purgatory

There is some chump that is swiping plants off my front porch. Honestly, I don’t live in too good of a neighborhood, my bike was stolen last year, but this new victim really hurts.

This is (was) my Gymnocalycium friedrichii. The cactus is not particularly rare, they probably run from 8-15$ at the most but I think most of you other plant people can relate when I say I was attached to it. I had it only for four years but in those four years it would flower like clockwork and undergo drastic color changes seasonally. The saddest part about it was that my father passed away in late 2017 and I used some of his ashes to fertilize some of my house plants and that was one of them. Some of you may find that morbid but to me it feels like his life can live on, if not in a different form anyways. I really just hope the person who stole it just takes care of it. One of the most frustrating parts about all of this though is how open I am to give people plants who are really trying to get into botany in the first place. If only they asked first, I could have given them a different cactus I wasn’t attached to.

That brings me to the point of this post. Plant thieves make me sad. It almost feels like a pet-napping, I’m sure most people will disagree. If you think about it though, Its a living thing that you care for not so differently from a cat or dog. Houseplants need food and water, shelter from the elements, and some people (like me) even get an emotional attachment to them. What a crime to just rip something like that out of someone else’s life. Especially when its a tool to heal from an already upsetting episode.

I’ll admit in the past I have snagged some clippings from plants at some of the bigger department stores. That somehow seems less personal. I recognize some of the people who work there care for those plants and that’s why i was always respectful about how little I took and from where and what plants. If there were a tier of plant criminals then the folks stealing little clones at department stores would be at the bottom.

The next group would be people who take clippings from other peoples plants. This is a bit more of a serious offense. It’s never happened to me but I’ve seen some stories on Reddit about people who didn’t know what they were doing and they botched the mother plant trying to get clones. Either they didn’t know enough about the species or the horticultural techniques to get the cuttings without causing serious harm. I sometimes work at a plant nursery in the springtime called The Truckee River Rock and Nursery Co. I’ll give away tons of clones and clippings all season long for people who want to test out a species before they buy it. It’s more uncommon to see people stealing clippings from small family business but it happens, and those people are a little bit worse than the ones who steal from the big chain stores.

I think the next group are the people who just take the whole thing. When I moved into my old apartment in 2018 my landlord had some tulips in the front yard that were growing underneath an ornamental cherry. In the springtime the pinks and reds contrasted with each other nicely. Perfect for valentines day. To my disdain I parked my car one evening after work only to see someone had dug them all up with a hand trowel. Greedy bastards didn’t even fill in the holes when they were done. I also remember a story where a man stole a bonsai tree from a museum, this is already abhorrent as most likely many different people have spent 1000’s of hours on any given specimen in these places, but at least after a while the thief surrendered the tree anonymously. Unfortunately by this time there was already irreparable damage to many of the lower branches, changing the future structure of an already “finished” work of art forever. Hopefully one day the person who took mine will return it, until then I’ll just wait in this plant thief Purgatory.

Finally, I think the worst plant criminals are the poachers. The ones that travel to places with known rare plants and remove them from the wild. In Nevada there are “Cactus Wranglers” that remove our states Barrel Cacti, Silver Cholla, Yucca plants, Scarlet Hedgehogs and many others due to popular demand. The deserts I live in recover incredibly slowly. Many of these cacti mentioned can live 500 years or more and are integral to the fauna in the area. Like the already suffering populations of desert tortoise that depend on prickly pear fruits, Or desert hummingbirds that need the pollen from the barrel cacti. The success rate of most of the species seeds are incredibly low so it almost feels like a double loss. When people remove just one cactus from the wild, they are contributing to the doom of the already fragile environment even more.

I am lucky in other ways. Someone very special to me got me a replacement plant. I thought it was such a kind gesture and I’m deeply thankful to have such wonderful people in my life. I’ll leave off with a poem to describe my unrest about my old cactus;

-Little Green Love-

Took a little life from me and I want it back

I put a lotta love in and you took her just like that

I wanna see those flowers pink, greens, white, black

I’ve seen what cha need but I need em’ back

It had a lot of little needles and a lot of pep

When I find out who ya are then you wont forget