More than a year after several native and endangered plants were stolen from his Kaneohe greenhouse, Rick Barboza remains hopeful that he will recover the agricultural treasures he nursed for 15 years.
He received lots of help and sympathy from the community, including amateur sleuths who went as far as checking different island nurseries, scanning through online markets, and even a woman who spread the word on TikTok in a video that got over 1,000 shares. So far no luck, but Barboza has not given up.
“I have a feeling they’re going to turn up one day, I really do,” said Barboza, who co-founded Hui Ku Maoli Ola, Oahu’s second commercial nursery devoted entirely to Native Hawaiian and Polynesian-introduced plants. “I don’t know how I’m going to react when that happens, but I can’t wait.”
More than a dozen plants, worth more than $5,000, were taken, including numerous species of Ohia Lehua, some native ferns, and Olulu, which are extinct in the wild. Also stolen were hundreds of seeds from Loulu trees - native palms that were once considered dominant on Oahu but are now exceedingly rare. They take over seven years to flower and collect fruit.
While no motive has been confirmed, the August 2020 theft underscored concerns about the poaching of rare native plants and endangered species in Hawaii, especially since plant collecting became a popular hobby as the Covid-19 pandemic kept people closer to home.
Buyers will pay a lot for exotic plants from another state, and sellers will hunt for the rarest plant species in the forests. While the demand for house plants has been succulents, cactuses, and Hoya, some of the plants sold online are endangered, according to Patrick Shirey, assistant professor from the University of Pittsburgh.
DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said that while “there is no direct evidence of rare plant poaching,” the agency is aware of people posting on social media about taking plants or seeds in Hawaii without a permit. It is prohibited for threatened and endangered plants to be collected and advertised for sale on social media.
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