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Plantations' Director Responds to Plant Thefts

Published: 
5 years 9 weeks ago

ITHACA, NY July 1, 2009  Since the publication of stories in the Ithaca Journal and other media about recent plant thefts at Cornell Plantations, we have received an outpouring of support from the community, as well as from Cornell alumni and gardening enthusiasts across the nation.

While each visitor to Plantations has a unique experience, we hope that all of them leave with an appreciation for the beauty of our gardens and natural areas, and a renewed sense of peace and calm inspired by reconnecting with nature.  But creating and caring for the unique botanical collections that comprise Plantations is far from a tranquil process.  Our gardeners deal on a daily basis with a range of challenges presented by nature itself—from the weather, to voracious deer and other herbivores, to an ever-increasing array of invasive species, destructive insects and diseases.

But the threat that we face from marauding plant thieves is uniquely disturbing, in terms of both the impact on our gardens and on the morale of our staff.  As a gate-less public garden, how do we protect the living treasures in our collections?  

A few weeks back, a flat of heritage tomato seedlings disappeared in the dark of night.  Before that, we lost a dwarf agave, an Asian skunk cabbage, a Japanese wood poppy, and the list goes on. Potted plants have been stolen shortly after we purchased them, while others have been dug out of the landscape. Because these are not commonly recognized or available species, I believe that we are dealing with sophisticated, knowledgeable plant robbers.

Why would someone steal plants from Plantations? Perhaps the thieves are selling them, or hiding them in their own gardens. Last week one of our gardeners overheard two passers-by talking about the recent thefts. One of them said, “If I only had 15 minutes and a shovel…,” insinuating that she wouldn’t hesitate to take whatever she wanted.

While this may have been a joke, it seems to show that many people don’t recognize that the
specimens in our gardens are the equivalent of objects in a museum gallery. It’s no more acceptable to take a shrub from Plantations than it would be to steal a book from the public library or a sculpture from The Commons. Just as a library collects books so that they can be enjoyed by hundreds of readers, Plantations collects plants so that people of all ages and from all walks of life have a place to come to study, discover, and delight in nature.

Cornell Plantations is proud of to be the primary public garden of the Finger Lakes region. Our grounds are open to visitors every day, from dawn to dusk, with never an entry fee. Close to 85 percent of our operating budget is provided by gifts from our members and friends, and income from endowments established by generous alumni and other donors. The plants in our collections are nurtured by our professional staff, and a corps of 100 volunteers helps to tend the gardens, preserve our natural areas, and offer public programs.

Plantations is your community garden. We encourage and welcome visitors—regardless of whether you are an experienced master gardener, or a six-year-old just discovering the world of plants. Come and revel in the riot of color and scent in the gardens, jog or walk your dog in the arboretum, hike the trails through our natural areas, be entertained at our summer Shakespeare performances, and bring your family to our Judy’s Day festival this fall.

All we ask of the public is that visitors act respectfully toward one another, and that our grounds and plants are left intact for all to enjoy.

Donald A. Rakow
The E.N. Wilds Director, Cornell Plantations
Associate Professor of Landscape Horticulture, Cornell University

Cornell Plantations plagued by sophisticated plant thieves: valuable collections are being decimated by thefts

Published: 
5 years 12 weeks ago

ITHACA, N.Y. June 10, 2009 —  Rare and highly valued plants are being stolen from the Cornell University Plantations at an alarming rate, and such thefts are disrupting the Plantation’s educational mission, destroying research, and robbing visitors of the ability to see the entire plant collection.
“These thefts have a ripple effect. They rob faculty and students of the teaching value of these collections, they demoralize our dedicated gardening staff, and destroy valuable research,” said Donald Rakow, Cornell Plantations director. “Many of these plants are irreplaceable. Taking such plants is just like stealing priceless exhibits from a major museum.”

Plant thefts at the Plantations have always been a problem, but during the past two years such thefts have occurred more often, and there are indications that the thieves are becoming very knowledgeable. “The plants taken are always rare or unusual, indicating that experienced gardeners are keeping an eye on the Plantations and identifying plants they are interested in stealing,” said Mary Hirshfeld, director of horticulture at the Plantations. Such high-value thefts include a rare, slow-growing, potted specimen-sized Agave and a heavy, glazed container with colorful annuals and perennials that was stolen right in front of the Plantations administration building.  In perhaps the most brazen theft, the herb garden manager was laying out perennials in peat pots throughout the garden in preparation for planting. She took a short break, only to return to find that many of the plants were stolen. Most recently, more than $900 in unusual heirloom vegetable plants were taken from their cold frames located outside the Plantation’s vegetable garden.

Management of the Cornell Plantations is urging visitors to help them by reporting any suspicious or unusual behavior by other people in the plantations by calling the Cornell University Police Department at 607-255-1111.

To listen to a news report with Plantations director, Don Rakow, click here ("Cornell Plant Thefts, June 11, 2009").

Stolen plants include:
Lysichiton camtschatense (Asian skunk cabbage),
Glaucidium palmatum (Japanese wood poppy)

epimediums (Bishop's cap) pictured above top

Saruma henryi, (Asian woodlander)

Container planting

Heirloom tomato varieties:
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Big Rainbow
Black from Tula
Cream Sausage
Giant Oxheart
Hillbilly Potato Leaf
Plum Lemon
Orange Fleshed Smudge
Wapsipinicon Peach

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Monitoring Survey: What Did we Find?

Published: 
5 years 14 weeks ago

May 27, 2009- Cornell Plantations, in partnership with the Cornell Department of Natural Resources, Finger Lakes Land Trust, Finger Lakes Native Plant Society, Cayuga Trails Club, and numerous volunteers, recently completed a monitoring campaign to detect new hemlock woolly adelgid populations in the Ithaca area. 

Over 120 volunteers attended three seminars where they were trained to identify and report new infestations.  With the support of 28 adjoining private property owners, Plantations’ Natural Areas Program coordinated volunteer surveys in 10 hemlock forest natural areas in proximity to previously known hemlock woolly adelgid occurrences.  In total, volunteers spent nearly 250 hours and surveyed 568 acres. Volunteers also logged their survey locations and findings on the New York Invasive Species Research Institute database to share this valuable information with other conservation agencies and scientists. 

The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) causes nearly 100 percent mortality in the local, native eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).  This invasive species has decimated hemlock populations across the eastern United States.

The good news resulting from the surveys is that hemlock woolly adelgids are not widely dispersed within local hemlock forests at present. One new light infestation was documented within Plantations’ Edwards Lake Cliffs Natural Area. Early detection and containment is a critical element in any invasive species control effort.  To view summary of findings, click here.

View map of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid detection efforts in the Central Finger Lakes Region (updated May, 2009).

Cascadilla Gorge Trail Will Remain Closed

Published: 
5 years 14 weeks ago

May 27, 2009- Please take notice that the Cascadilla Gorge Trail from Linn Street downtown to College Avenue is temporarily closed, effective immediately. The Cascadilla Gorge pathways and railings have been severely damaged from the forces of nature, and are presentl unsafe. That section of the gorge trail will remain closed until repairs can be made.

Bird Walks in the Arboretum

Published: 
5 years 16 weeks ago

May 1, 2009 ITHACA, N.Y. – In an effort to raise awareness about local ecology for both flora and fauna, Cornell Plantations has teamed up with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for ‘Bird Walks in the Arboretum.’ Expert-guided bird tours of the Cornell Plantations Newman Arboretum will take place at 8:00A.M. every Friday in May. Parking is available at the Caldwell Road parking lot across the street from the Arboretum, and pre-registration is not required.

For more information, click here.

Students: Sign up for Hort 4800 to Participate in our Fall Lecture Series

Published: 
5 years 20 weeks ago

With fall pre-enrollment nearing, several speakers are now confirmed as part of the Plantations Lecture Series (HORT 4800). Highlighting topics of plant life, nature, and human-environment interaction, the talks take place every other Wednesday evening from September 2 until November 11, alternating weekly with group discussions. Among this year’s series are English Professor Daniel Schwarz, horticulturalist and author Claire Sawyers, and writer Adam Gollner.


Pre-enrollment for this one-credit course takes place the week of April 13.

Click here for student enrollment.

Click here for more information about Hort 4800.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Threatens Plantations’ Natural Areas

Published: 
5 years 25 weeks ago

The hemlock woolly adelgid, a non-native insect pest, was recently discovered in Cornell Plantations’ Cascadilla Gorge and Beebe Lake Natural Areas, threatening hemlock trees and the biodiversity they support. This invasive, aphid-like insect has decimated hemlock populations in the Eastern US with a nearly 100 percent mortality rate. These losses result in negative environmental changes for many animals and plants, so early detection of new infestations is crucial.Learn more about this invasive insect and what you can do on our hemlock woolly adelgid page.

For updates on the latest hemlock woolly adelgid monitoring events, click here.

Volunteer Opportunity: Visitor Center/Gift Shop Assistant

Published: 
5 years 26 weeks ago

If you enjoy interacting with the public and are comfortable working at an information/sales desk, we have just the place for you! Cornell Plantations is recruiting volunteers to help in our visitor center/gift shop. Meeting a friendly, helpful person in our visitor center is often the first Plantations experience our visitors have—and you can help make it a positive one! For more information on duties, qualifications, and availability, click here.

Online Gift Shop up and running!

Published: 
5 years 27 weeks ago

Our online Gift Shop is now up and running;  purchase Plantations' shirts, caps, totes, and more!

Portions of both Cascadilla and Fall Creek Gorge Trails are closed.

Published: 
5 years 40 weeks ago

Hikers, please note: Plantations' has closed portions of both Cascadilla and Fall Creek Gorge Trails for the winter due to snow, ice, and falling rocks that create unsafe conditions. The Cascadilla Gorge Trail is closed from downtown to College Avenue. The Fall Creek Trail is closed from Stewart Avenue to the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge. The trails will reopen in spring when conditions allow.

To read all Cornell Plantations news reports, click here.