I've got a lot of boning up to do on happenings in the orchid world, I'm afraid. I let the cantakerous postings of the Orchid Digest pile up unread over the last couple of months, until last week when the news broke that another high profile somebody got busted for orchid smuggling. Scandalicious!! My ears always perk up for a good smuggling story, the media headlines are positively torrid.
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....
Plant thieves are making life miserable for botanical gardens and collectors of cyads in the Southern United States.
The thieves (are) after cycads, palmlike plants so prized that a rare
specimen can fetch $20,000 or more on the international black market.
Some species have been around since the time of the dinosaurs but are
now close to extinction.
In September, thieves broke into the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
in Coral Gables, Florida, taking advantage of the evacuation for
Hurricane Frances, and stole more than 30 cycads. "In the black market,
some species of cycads are like a fine piece of art -- like a Picasso,"
garden spokeswoman Nannette Zapata said at the time.
Some species are essentially priceless and, if stolen, couldn't be displayed.
would be like having a stolen Picasso. Everybody would know that
plant," said Julian Duval, executive director of Quail Botanical
Gardens in Encinitas, which locked its most precious cycads in a
greenhouse after a theft nearly two years ago.
The Financial Times breathlessly reports that Columbian drug dealers have secretly worked with foreign scientists to develop "super" coca plants through genetic modification. They are supposedly hardier, taller, herbicide resistant, more potent, and yield 8 times as much cocaine.
Toxicologists dismiss these claims, saying that the plants are simply the products of extra fertilizer.
Finally, the last of the mopping up of the Phragmipedium Kovachii debacle. Last January I reported that Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and its top horticulturalist, Wesley Higgins (head of the orchid identification center) had to take their licks for their role in smuggling a specimen of this new discovery into the U.S. to be identified. The government of Peru and former Selby employee Eric Christenson, were already in the process of identifying what's been described as the greatest orchid discovery of the last 100 years. But Selby beat them to it, thereby pissing off a lot of people.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Merryday, of Tampa, told Kovach, of Goldvein, Va., he narrowly escaped doing prison time.
"I'm resolving some doubts in your favor owing to your status as a
first offender," Merryday said. "But some of your explanations here are
very nearly, 'The dog ate my homework.'"
Sadly, George Norris -- who got caught in the crossfire -- did get prison time. Rabid U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials, on the hunt for illegal importers of Phrag. Kovachii, caught George in a scheme to fudge paperwork on other, artificially propagated, orchids. They figured he was trading in Phrag. Kovachii because his supplier was one of three growers in Peru with a legal permit to cultivate them. Nope. But he was an easy fall guy -- elderly, bellicose, and unable to afford a good lawyer, apparently.
As for the fabulous orchid, it was stripped from the wild by poachers as soon as word got out that it existed.
Eric Hansen, who wrote Orchid Fever, "An extraordinary, well-told tale of botany, obsession, and plant politics" (U.S.A. Today), may want to start thinking about that sequel.
MIAMI -- An orchid dealer was sentenced Wednesday to a year and five months in federal prison for scheming to smuggle prized tropical lady slipper orchids into the United States.
George W. Norris of Spring, Texas, was also sentenced to two years probation. Co-defendant Manuel Arias Silva, a Peruvian orchid grower, pleaded guilty in June and was sentenced in July to a year and nine months in prison.
Norris instructed Arias to ship through south Florida because federal inspectors at Miami International Airport were more lax than their counterparts in Houston, according to papers and e-mails seized in the investigation.
The investigation was based on a tip about Norris offering endangered species for sale on the Internet.
The Peruvian lady slippers are considered seriously endangered in the wild and are protected by international treaty. Nursery-raised varieties can be exported with government permits.
Norris and Arias used invalid permits for the shipments and falsely labeled many of the plants to cover up the lack of a valid permit, prosecutors said.
The forums are silent so far. It would be interesting to know if any new evidence came out of the court proceedings, or if in fact it's just another example of the American justice system's overenthusiasm for incarceration. Is there anyone left on the outside in that country? Well, I'm very sorry for Mr. Norris and Mr. Arias. They made a mistake by trying to take some short cuts to get around nonsensical regulations (endangered species? always read the news with a healthy dose of scepticism). I hope the feds are pursuing real poachers with the same enthusiasm.
Having lived in North Vancouver, B.C. for several years, I know first-hand how jealously people protect their "views". A elderly neighbour once told me that she snuck down to the local waterfront park one night and removed the bark around the perimeter of a very large Douglas Fir to try to kill it, because it was blocking her view, and the city had refused all demands to take the top off the tree. She thought I would be pleased with her because, being her neighbour, the tree partially blocked my view of the water as well.
Ugh. I've always felt badly that I didn't report that ignorant old bag. But she's not alone in her attitude, many a neighbourly war has been fought between those who love trees, and those who'd like them all reduced to the size of bonsai plants.
A West Side woman says if mature trees aren't planted in place of the ones poisoned on Beach Avenue earlier this month, a dangerous precedent will be set.
"If whoever did this gets away with it, people will look at that and say 'Hey I can do that too,'" Adele Kowsewg said. "How would the city look if everyone just cut down trees to improve their view?"
Three of the five 30-year-old trees, two London planes and an oak, died after they were were injected with a powerful herbicide available only in the U.S. Police believe the poisoning was motivated by a resident wanting to clear the view of trees. Horrified at what happened, Kowsewg wants to start a fund to help the parks board replace the trees with others of the same size. She's willing to put up $100 and has already recruited a friend to throw in another $50.
"Darn it, no one should be able to get away with this," she said. "These were beautiful trees that gave shade to the public. They should have been left alone."
These folks need some help from PlantAmnesty("PlantAmnesty’s mission is to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs."). Here is an excellent article from their Web site, 5 Reasons to Stop Topping Trees.