A new "Orchid Thief" has emerged from the bowels of eBay to be arrested for selling endangered species. Strangely enough, the plants were stolen from exactly the same park that John Laroche, the original "Orchid Thief" from the novel and movie "Adaptation", did his poaching.
While I'm happy that eBay is minus at least one orchid poacher, I'm even more delighted by the way these kind of stories draw out journalism's hidden drama queens:
Gary Bienemann fell into the tender trap of orchid obsession the same way many enthusiasts do.
The Clearwater resident took up orchids as a hobby, buying them at home supply stores starting about four years ago. At some point, Bienemann told state investigators, the flower's addictive power pushed him over the line from hobbyist to poacher...
..."To desire orchids is to have a desire that can never be fully requited,'' said author Susan Orlean in the New Yorker article upon which her book "The Orchid Thief'' was based....
Or how about this headline:
The affair began innocently enough, with trips to Home Depot and Lowe's. Soon, Gary Bienemann was obsessed.
For an orchid, it seemed, he would do anything.
Even the normally prosaic Harold Koopowitch got into the spirit of things:
"it's almost like a new universe and when you fall into it, you get ensnared. They're big and they're gaudy and gorgeous."
(cue the CNN music):
Boom boom boom boom. Orchid hobbyists gone bad. It could happen to you.
Then someone practical had to pipe up and spoil the mood:
"This man's biggest problem probably was stupidity. He did it on eBay," said Paul Martin Brown, author of Wild Orchids of Florida. "I'm delighted someone has been caught. This goes on far too often."
Scent Of Orchids Started Hobbyist's Descent Into Poaching
By MIKE SALINERO
TAMPA - Gary Bienemann fell into the tender trap of orchid obsession the same way many enthusiasts do.
The Clearwater resident took up orchids as a hobby, buying them at home supply stores starting about four years ago. At some point, Bienemann told state investigators, the flower's addictive power pushed him over the line from hobbyist to poacher.
Bienemann, 47, was charged in March with unlawful harvesting, possession and sale of endangered, protected and threatened species of orchids. He paid an undetermined fine for the misdemeanor offense. He could not be reached for comment.
Like John Laroche, the poacher immortalized in the book ``The Orchid Thief'' and the movie based on the book, ``Adaptation,'' Bienemann started craving the species that were off-limits, officials said.
``Bienemann said he became somewhat obsessed with the plants and approximately one and a half years ago, he began to illegally harvest orchids which were listed by the state as protected, endangered or commercially exploited,'' an officer with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a narrative of the case.
Bienemann started harvesting the banned plants from wooded areas near Ridgemoore Boulevard and Pinellas County Road 611. He then would sell the plants on eBay for $15 to $25 each, depending on the size and type, the DEP officer said in his report.
Like Laroche, Bienemann increasingly desired rarer species, officials said.
``To desire orchids is to have a desire that can never be fully requited,'' said author Susan Orlean in the New Yorker article upon which her book ``The Orchid Thief'' was based.
Unlike Laroche, Bienemann was not willing to tramp through the steaming, gator- infested wilderness of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve to pluck the rare ribbon orchid, officials said. Fakahatchee, on the edge of Big Cypress Swamp, is one of the few places ribbon orchids grow.
Bienemann told investigators he bought the orchid at a nursery show and produced receipts to prove it. The state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services is investigating how the seller got the plants, according to the DEP report.
It was another endangered orchid, the dancing lady, that would lead investigators to Bienemann. And it was another orchid lover who would put them on his path.
The man who tipped state investigators asked not to be identified for this article. The informant is working to preserve the endangered species at Jonathan Dickinson State Park near Stuart, the only place where dancing lady orchids still grow.
As an orchid hobbyist, the man said he grows the flowers at home and occasionally visits eBay looking for exotic species. He had noticed Bienemann's advertisements for several years.
``The plants looked suspicious to me,'' the man said, ``but up to this time they were common orchid species that could be grown from seed.''
When he saw the ribbon and dancing lady orchids advertised, however, the man said, he was moved to take action.
``That's a smoking gun right there,'' he said. ``The only way he could have gotten those plants was to go in or have someone go in for him and grab these plants.''
On Feb. 18 he contacted the state agriculture department, which investigates trafficking in illicit goods.
The agriculture investigators went to Bienemann's home, but he wasn't there. The agents couldn't help but notice, however, the 200 orchids in his yard. In their report, the investigators said the endangered and threatened plants they found were removed from the wild, not grown in a greenhouse.
The agriculture investigators tagged about 100 endangered or threatened orchid plants in the yard with serial numbers. The tags prohibited Bienemann from moving or selling the plants.
Bienemann didn't contact the agriculture agents as he was instructed to on the tags, so a DEP investigator visited him at his Clearwater home Feb. 28. He admitted his involvement, officials said.
Mike Owen, state biologist at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, said Bienemann is the first person arrested in connection with theft of orchids from the park since Laroche in 1993. That doesn't mean there hasn't been some poaching in the interim. Owen, who testified in Laroche's case, has documented 11 orchid plants that have been taken in the past 11 years.
``It happens, but it's not very common,'' Owen said. ``And the ones I'm monitoring are not very hard to get to.''
It's not known whether Bienemann patterned his pilfering after Laroche, officials said. He was, however, interested enough to read Orlean's book and see the movie. He told the DEP agent that ``the movie did not do the book or story justice.''
Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (813) 259-8303.