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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Thieves take off with rare banana plants

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

This rare variegated banana plant from the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens was targeted by thieves last week.

Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond

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KAHULUI, Maui Thieves uprooted and removed about a dozen young variegated banana stalks from the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens last week, setting back production of the rare native plant by two years.

The plants' leaves and fruit have a striking green and white coloration that is highly prized. The plant's unique striping was the result of a mutation that occurred "who knows how many hundreds of years ago," said Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, executive director of the nonprofit gardens.

"During ancient times, it was perpetuated by Hawaiian farmers and reserved for ali'i consumption because it was so unusual."

Thieves apparently used a machete and hammer to dig up and separate the banana keiki from the mother plant, which was on public display. "The fact that this rare and valuable banana variety was targeted leads us to believe that it is someone familiar with the gardens and involved with the landscaping industry," Schattenburg-Raymond said.

There were two reported break-ins at Maui Nui Botanical Gardens. The first occurred Sept. 4, when five 70-pound bales of Sunshine No. 4 potting mix, several large pots and a large container of Roundup herbicide were reported stolen. The following night, security gates were damaged, doors on pesticide and tool sheds were broken, and $1,000 worth of chemicals, a drill, a new radio and a wagon were reported stolen.

The wagon, loaded with some of the items, was found the next morning hidden in some bushes at adjacent Keopuolani Park, Schattenburg-Raymond said. Also inside the wagon were shade cloth and items reported taken from the county's plant nursery, located behind the botanical gardens, she said.

Maui Nui Botanical Gardens sells variegated banana plants to the public when they are available. Two such plants were offered during the organization's August plant sale, with a 5-foot specimen selling for $125, well below its commercial value.

"It's still very rare and not a lot of people have them. We're trying to make them available. That's our mission: to get rare and unavailable plants back into the community so they can be enjoyed and perpetuated," Schattenburg-Raymond said.

Anyone with information on the thefts is asked to call the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens at (808) 249-2798 or the Maui Police Department nonemergency number, (808) 244-6400.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.