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Owner of stolen P10-million plant: ‘Alagaan niyo lang siya’

By Tanya Lara Published Nov 13, 2020 5:06 pm Updated Nov 13, 2020 9:19 pm

It’s not about the money.

In an exclusive interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, horticulturist Boyet Ganigan reveals details about his Sansevieria BG regale hybrid, which was stolen from his Bulacan nurseries on Monday, Nov 9.

“Yung attachment ko kay BG, malaki. It feels like a part of me has disappeared. If the thieves don’t want to return the plant, huwag lang nilang sasaktan yung halaman, wag nilang pababayaan.”

Ganigan couldn’t help but break down when he said, “Sana wag nilang itapon kasi sayang, mahirap mag-create ng ganoon. Maybe ibigay nila sa mga tao who know how to take care of it para maalagaan kung nahihiya sila to come out in the open or return it.”

Horticulturist and creator of Sansevieria BG regale Boyet Ganigan with his “baby” (right), which was stolen on Nov. 10

If the thief decides to return BG, he said, “No questions asked. They can feel secure that we wouldn’t press charges.”

Ganigan refers to his plant as “BG.” It’s not just a plant to him, it’s his baby. After all, he spent 10 years and millions of pesos creating Sansevieria BG regale.

“It took a lot of effort and knowhow. Imagine, you’re altering the cells of a living thing.” After BG was “born,” he took it around the country like a proud father, sharing it with other horticulture enthusiasts.

If they return the plant, no questions asked. They can feel secure that we wouldn’t press charges.

It was a source of pride for him and the country. “Tandem kami eh,” he said. “BG helped raise the level of the Philippine plant industry. When collectors saw it, they almost couldn’t believe that a plant such as this was created only here.”

He traveled with it to Zamboanga, Cebu, and exhibited it at MOA. When BG was first exhibited, it was priced at P1 million. Shortly after, he received an offer for P10 million, which he turned down because he felt the original plant should stay in the Philippines.

BG was not the first unique plant that Ganigan has created. Years ago, he sold an original to a foreign buyer who later claimed he was the one who created it. “We had one plant na lumabas sa Philippines and they claimed that it was their creation. It hurt me so much, that’s why I didn’t sell BG despite the big offers.”

Ganigan once turned down P10 million for his BG regale.  

His nurseries, however, have sold two plants from BG—they have similar variegations but they are smaller in size and color. “Iba ang trademark ni BG, mas marami siyang color.”

Ganigan added, “When they informed me of the theft, at first I felt nothing, but when reality sank in, it really hurt. How many years kasi kasama ko siya.”

BG is something he can never recreate, he said. “It’s not about money, it’s not about anything else. Ang importante ay yung plant ay nasa amin.”

It’s not the first time he’s had plants stolen from his Bulacan nurseries either—but they were returned because the thieves couldn’t sell them. BG might be a different story as the plant has attracted the attention from collectors all over the world.

He kept it in Bulacan because “the plant was born there. “Doon siya ginawa. That area is a good environment for its growth.” There was no security “because we believed yung mga tao hindi siya gagalawin kasi nag-iisa lang siya eh.”

A police officer at the nurseries of Arids and Aroids, where the plant was kept and stolen. Photo from the FB page of Arids and Aroids

The police started an investigation this week and are still interviewing suspects.

In a Facebook post, Ganigan’s Arids and Aroids page said, “There have only been two plants of BG regale released from the nursery—one to a local collector and one abroad. So if there are any other BG regales that would find its way on the market, it’s from the STOLEN PLANT.”

Friends and fellow horticulturists have been consoling him all week, he said. And he is still hoping that BG would be returned. “No questions asked.”

Poaching and illegal trade around the world

The newly discovered Begonia cabanillasii in El Nido, Palawan. Photo by Yu Pin Ang/Mongabay.com

In August, Mongabay.com reported that a new species of begonia was discovered in the forests of El Nido, Palawan. Named Begonia cabanillasii, after the researchers’ field guide William Cabanillas, it’s the 25th begonia species found in El Nido and the 133rd in the Philippines.

The newly discovered begonia belongs to the section Baryandra, “known to thrive in the Philippines, which also holds 6-7% of this entire genus.”

Unfortunately, Palawan’s unique endemic species are also attracting illegal traders.

Poaching of plants classified as critically endangered carries a punishment of six to 12 years and a fine of P100,000 to P1 million. Poaching and theft of rare plants is more common and going on longer than one might think.

As far back as the 19th century, western horticulturists reportedly paid poachers to procure rare species from Asia’s rainforests and mountains, sometimes ordering them to burn down the forests to stop further propagation of the rare species.

The endangered Rothschild’s Slipper Orchid or Gold of Kinabalu

Early this year, South Africa arrested two South Koreans for poaching rare succulent plants. They were fined 2.5 million rand each (P7.5 million).

South Africa’s Sunday Times reported, “And while one of the men has been declared persona non-grata the other has started an extradition process to the US, where he is wanted for poaching succulents in California…. The law enforcement source said that it was the fourth conviction of Conophytum poachers in the last five months. The plants are prized by collectors in Asia, but the poachers also included two Czech citizens.”

The Times’ source did not disclose the value of the poached succulents so as not to encourage other poachers.

Last week it was also reported that the medicinal plants of Kashmir are being poached and traded illegally.

The orchid thieves

The Ghost Orchid is at the center of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and Charlie Kaufman’s film Adaptation. Photo by Keith Davis 

The Illegal Wildlife Trade reported in 2017 that trade in rare plant species shows no sign of abating. The year before, Heathrow Airport made 220 seizures of illegally traded plants.

“The desire for and interest in these ‘luxury plants’ has led to the coining of ‘orchid mania.’ Their appeal attracts thousands of visitors to Kew’s orchid festival every year (Willis & Fry 2015), while orchids for sale as cut flowers and pot plants is a trade worth millions of pounds (USDA 2015).”

In 1995, writer Susan Orlean made the subject of orchid poaching mainstream (and entertaining), when she wrote about the arrest and trial of Florida plant dealer John Laroche in an article for The New Yorker. Laroche was accused of poaching a rare Ghost Orchid in Florida’s Fakahatchee State Preserve.

Orlean expanded her article into a book, The Orchid Thief (one of the few non-fiction books I truly enjoyed reading). The odd character John Laroche at the center of the story opened up a whole world of competitive plant collecting, poaching, and the intransigent behavior of collectors who are obsessed with acquiring certain species of plants.

The 2002 film adaptation was also so fascinating—in part because Charlie Kaufman’s script was less of an adaptation and more about the process of adapting the book. Naturally, it was titled Adaptation instead of The Orchid Thief. Even to non-plant enthusiasts, both the book and film were riveting.

Speaking of rare plants, here are three of the world’s most expensive and rarest plants.

Shenzhen Nongke Orchid

The Shenzhen Nongke orchid was sold for P10.2 million at an auction.

This orchid was created by Chinese agricultural scientists at Shenzhen Nongke University, where the plant takes its name. It blooms only once every four or five years and was sold at $209,800 (P10.2 million) at an auction.

Rothschild’s Slipper Orchid or Gold of Kinabalu

This is said to be the rarest orchid in the world and grows only on Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia. Unfortunately, its rarity makes it all the more attractive to poachers, hence its endangered status and protection under the Malaysian government.

A single stem can cost $5,000 on the black market. It blooms only once in 15 years.

Another nickname for this plant is “the aristocrat of all slipper orchids.” As the name suggests, the orchid (Cypripedioideae) is characterized by pouches on the flower that look like a lady’s slippers, and there are 165 of them in this sub-family of orchids.

Locals, on the other hand call it “Sumazau orchid,” after the region’s traditional dance as its side petals resemble the outstretched arms of a dancer.

Juliet Rose

Named after Shakespeare’s heroine, it reportedly took 15 years and $3 million to create this hybrid by horticulturist David Austin. It sells on the black market for around $5,000 per stem.

It took $3 million to create the original Juliet Rose

Banner photo from Legazpi Cactus and Succulent Corner