Top Navigation

Plantations' Director Responds to Plant Thefts

Published: 
5 years 8 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