Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The One About Plant Theft

Sheba and I stopped to admire and photograph this Zantedeschia outside an insurance office in town when the agent inside saw us and came out to say hi. We'd met her before, on a walk, so this was cool. I explained my presence as being because of the Zantedeschia, and she said something to the effect of, yeah, we used to have two pots this size, both with callas in them, but somebody stole one of them so now there's just this one.

The Zantedeschia in question.

Oh. Well it's a very nice wait a minute did you say somebody stole one?

Yup. The theory was that it may have been someone in town for a funeral (there's a funeral home right across the street from the insurance office), because it didn't seem plausible to her that someone who lived in town would do this. I mean, it's a small place: someone would know.

Well, maybe. But it wouldn't surprise me if it were someone in town.

This is not the first such story I've heard from around here. One of the people I worked with at the garden center sold daylilies and hostas (among, possibly, other things) from her home as a side business, and on multiple occasions in 2008, she came home to find plants missing. It was a specific weird number, too, every time, like she came home and found she had 31 fewer plants than before. Presumably whoever was taking them could only fit 31 in their car/pickup/whatever. It was really upsetting her. It kind of upset me to hear about it.

Hemerocallis fulva, I think. Hers were probably much nicer than this.

For readers who are commencing a knee-jerk reaction about how this happened because of whatever your particular theory about What's Wrong With the Kids of Today is (people today don't respect their elders; they think everything's a video game; it's all been downhill since the Supreme Court took prayer out of schools; schools don't teach the subjunctive mood anymore, etc.), catch that knee. This has been going on for generations. People suck now, because people used to suck in the olden days:

A Chicago Daily Tribune article from June 1876 bemoaned a crime wave at a city park: "Rare plants and flowers were ruthlessly dug up from the hot-beds and other places, and the old gardener grew greatly annoyed, and scarcely knew how to catch the thieves," the paper reported. Even after a police stakeout, 10 "splendid geraniums" went missing.

In 1901, Hyde Park was up in arms over bandits who snipped blooms from bushes, and in 1909 six newly planted trees were illegally "wrenched from the soil" near Armour School. "People of the neighborhood are incensed over the latest depredation," the Daily Tribune reported.
(Source: Chicago Tribune)

Sadly, the more serious thefts are apparently usually the work of people who resell them to unscrupulous (I don't want to say "shady") landscapers, or at least that's the explanation I've seen on-line. Which makes sense: I can't imagine any real gardener taking plants from another gardener's yard without permission. And it would really only pay to steal large numbers of plants if you could "launder" them somehow. I mean, if someone plants 500 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies in their yard, three days after all the Stellas within a 30-mile radius disappeared, you know, people would figure it out.

But even if the problem is mostly organized theft for resale, that's not what happened here with the Zantedeschia. I mean, there was a matching plant right there next to it, and they didn't take that one. Sometimes people are just greedy, or lazy, or impulsive.

I suspect this is going to happen more often, as the economy gets more dire. I can't think of any particularly good ways of preventing it, either.

Pilea nummulariifolia. Keep reading to find out why this picture is here.

There's also the issue of sneaky theft: the people who leave the whole plant, in more or less the same condition, but take leaves, seeds, offsets, or whatever without asking anybody first. That's a whole different thing, and if you want to see a bunch of people all get really self-righteous and angry with one another about where to draw those lines, this thread at Garden Web will make your day. Though remember to un-roll your eyes regularly. Whatever side you're on, you're going to want to do some eye-rolling.

Personally? I'm not pure as the driven snow on this one. I do believe it's wrong to take leaves / seeds / offsets without asking, whether it's a big box store, a mom-and-pop nursery, someone's personal garden, whatever. But I've still done it. Possibly this makes me a hypocrite; I prefer to think of it as just error-prone.

I've also realized while writing this that I've conveniently forgotten some instances: when I started, I could only remember the three-inch Pilea nummulariifolia (CLARIFICATION: Normally "three-inch Pilea" would mean a whole plant in a three-inch pot; what I actually took was a single cutting about three inches long. Doesn't make it more moral, but just to clarify your mental image.) I took from a big box store. (Plant is wildly successful; I feel seriously guilty.) Then I remembered the Zamioculcas leaflets from the floor of a mom-and-pop. (Plants are moderately successful; I feel no guilt at all but still should have asked.) Then I remembered the Kalanchoe plantlet from a different mom-and-pop. (Plant was a total failure; I feel moderately guilty.) It's possible there are others.

I would have been mad, if I'd seen someone take these same things from the garden center when I worked there. I wouldn't walk into a bakery and take a bite out of a donut and then walk out without paying; I'm not sure why the situation seems different when it's a plant involved. Some of the people in the Garden Web trainwreck tried to defend it by saying stuff like well, you know, the plant was almost completely dead already, I was just saving some offsets that would have been thrown in the trash. To me, that sounds a lot like "but I took it at 5:30 PM, and the donut was going to be thrown out at 6 PM; therefore it's not stealing because shut up that's why."

So I dunno. I'm not looking for a confessional here, and I'm really not interested in everybody doing a lot of posturing about their personal moral code. We're all good people here (Well, except you there, in the back: you're kind of horrific.); we don't have to prove goodness to one another or convince everybody else that we're the most moralest, bestest person ever.

What interests me is that last question. Why would plants feel like an exception to the general don't-take-it-if-it's-not-yours rule, enough so that people would be at Garden Web defending something that is, at least technically, stealing? (Even, in some cases, arguing that they're practically doing the place a favor by taking stuff -- stuff which clearly has value to someone, because it has value to the person doing the arguing -- without paying for it?) I'm curious. What is it about plants? Or is it specific to plants?


Unknown said...

Food for thought as always, Mr S. I started to read that thread but I rolled my eyes so much they almost fell out of my head. People will share if we ask...I had friends here yesterday and I wrote down the things that they particularly ooohed and ahhhhed at, so that when I can divide the plants and share with them, I will. And I know they'll be back for them, and probably even to help, unlike the woman who just HAD to have a rose campion last year, and I told her I'd dig her up and save her some, and I emailed her to tell her they were here this spring...and she never replied. Guess she musta got them somewhere else.
Plant theft IS a huge problem to some nurseries, that's for sure. A few years ago a local place had all its Japanese maples taken...and they showed up at a flea market in the city. Surprise surprise surprise...

ScreamingGreenConure said...

I've looked at the start of that thread, and it's quite upsetting that people will lose bits of plants from their own homes at garden parties. That's terrible.
If there really IS a leaf on the floor at some random huge big box store, I don't think anyone should really freak out over grabbing it, but I guess you could always ask a passing employee if it was ok and save on the controversy and angst.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I think pinching plants falls into a separate ethical category in the minds of many because plants are "natural." There's a blurry line dividing right from wrong. All around us are trees, weeds, wildflowers, etc. growing, spreading, and dropping seeds. That's what they do. For the most part, even non-gardeners recognize plants are propagating all around and much of the time. So thoughts crop up like: What's the big deal. Just grow another one. They can't be THAT expensive. It's only going to get thrown away...tonight, tomorrow, in September, etc.

I'm not innocent. I've got a nice crop of columbine from a few seeds I 'rescued' from the front yard of a 'neglectful gardener.' Ahem...there are other examples, but this is your blog.

Of course you might ask, "Well why not dogs or cats or horses?" The penalties are more serious with animals. And I believe that plant ownership is a dodgy idea in the minds of many.

I wish someone would steal the Goutweed from my beds!


Joseph said...

The only thing I take without specifically asking permission is seeds -- and only in public gardens/arboretums/etc, and where the seeds aren't part of the display (ie: I don't nab berries off a holly. I do nab a handful of seeds from a Verbena bonariensis) I never take ANYTHING from a place that is selling plants without paying. Even if it is just a leaf on the floor you can grow into a plant, they aren't in the business of giving away free propagation material.
When in a private garden, one is a guest, and shouldn't even TOUCH without asking. If someone came into my garden and took something, I would gouge their eyes out with my pruners. And I wouldn't feel guilty about it. On the other hand, as Jodi says, if they admire something, I'll happily give them a piece of it. Just ask.
In public gardens, I tend to try to ask if there is someone to ask, but if not, I don't feel bad about a few seeds.

Ginny Burton said...

All the eye rolling plays havoc with the floaters in my eyes and has me slapping at mosquitos that aren't there. But the GW thread reminded me of a survey that I read years ago.

People were asked how much (keeping this PG-13) self-gratification was too much. Responses came in a wide range from "once" to something like "two dozen times a day." Then the respondents were asked how often they indulged. And in each case, the number was less than what that person had described as excessive.

We're all so good at rationalization, aren't we?

Whenever something is stolen from me or my shop, I figure it's karma from my misspent youth.

CelticRose said...

It's not just plants. People seem to have this same attitude toward intellectual copyright. The same person who would never shoplift will happily download songs or videos or make copies of needlework patterns. If you try to explain to them that what they're doing amounts to stealing from the artist, they think that you're just being anal.

I've had to stop loaning things to people because saying "but please don't copy this" tends to ruin friendships, but if I don't say it I feel as guilty as if I made the copy myself.

Melissa said...

There was a person on my campus who was fined after she was caught snipping some blooms off a campus plant for the umpteenth time - she would use the blooms as decoration in her office and department.

I can't really say why people would feel justified about taking a whole plant, but I think the reason people might feel ok about taking part of a plant is that the rest of it's still there and it'll grow it all back. At least, people can tell themselves it will, even if in the end it really doesn't. With plants that are outside, like that plant on campus, the argument might be, "Well, it's outside, it's a living thing, so it doesn't really belong to anyone, and it wouldn't really hurt anyone for me to just take a bit."

Liza said...

People steal from my offices all the time. It boggles the mind. Sometimes, they'll just take a plant from say, the lobby, and put it on their desk. That's still a form of stealing in my book because they didn't ask me if it was ok. I don't rearrange the produce display at the grocery store, but I think I would understand if the manager got upset with me if he found all his produce in with the frozen foods. I'm just saying.

Once when I was a waitress at a fancy restaurant, I watched as a customer coming up the stairs for a birthday party walked over and took a plant from the landing to use as a gift for the birthday girl! I followed her to the table and simply took the plant back to its place. She proceeded to walk over and take the plant again. We did this three times before I took the plant into the kitchen and out of her reach. I couldn't believe she kept trying to steal it when she knew I was fighting her on it! Who goes to a birthday party and decides to find a gift somewhere along the route????

People are complicated. And mostly assholes.

Anonymous said...

Unless it's a plant in a designated garden (private or not) or preserve, I see no issue with taking seeds. Cuttings are another matter.

I also think apts who hire so-called landscaping companies who stuff annuals and rip them out (and trash them) midseason only to repeat the process are fair game as well.

Stores - I'm not personally offended by it, but I'd have NO sympathy (and would probably point and laugh) if they busted you for shoplifting.

As far as the "kids" comments go, in my experience, it's usually people 30+ who steal like this. Kids only do it as vandalism or to get high (datura, poppies, certain cactus, etc.); and that's usually rare anyway.

Anonymous said...

That thread got to be a bit much. Years ago I had some small and freshly planted annuals stolen from my front yard, but I shrugged and blamed the birds. A few days later my potted plants on the porch disappeared. As it was near Mother's Day (and at that time I lived in a quickly declining urban area), I told myself it was probably some kids taking a gift for their mother. In my next neighborhood I had neighbor kids cut down 70% of my tulips to make bouquets for their mother (who promptly came over and apologized profusely). The tulips are one thing; they are a once-a-year shot, but if a plant can spare a leaf for a cutting who cares?

Wendy at Muck About said...

Three points:

1) After having a newly installed three-foot arborvitea stolen from a public garden I was working, I doused the replacement in one of those gag-a-maggot deer repellents. That plant remained firmly in place.

2) What about helping oneself to cuttings from a garbage can? What if the can happens to be on nursery property? What if it's at a suburban curb?

3) A single bud plucked from a streetside rosebush in the course of a romantic summer stroll means more than a dozen red roses.

Ivynettle said...

I do steal seeds. Not often, but a few of my vegetables and outdoor flowers came from botanical gardens.
I don't know what the difference is. Mostly, I suppose, what Melissa said - "It'll grow back." I've tended to justify my seed-stealing with, "Well, it's not like they're saving the seed" (although now I know that botanical gardens are involved in a plant swap program, that excuse doesn't work so well any more), and, "but I can't get them anywhere else! No-one sells them! (And if I don't ask, they can't say no.)" - pure desperation. ;)

Cuttings... ahem. Not at other people's gardens, botanical gardens or shops, but at work, yes. Plenty. A considerable number of my plants were cuttings from work I neither paid for nor asked for.
But I'm not ashamed about that. Mostly because ... well, it's not really an excuse but with that crappy management, they deserved it.
I don't do it at my new job, though. No stealing from nice bosses.

mr_subjunctive said...

I find myself wondering whether theft is, for some, a way of avoiding the embarrassment of asking for scraps. When I took the Zamioculcas leaves from the one store, I felt totally justified in doing so because they were already on the floor, I hadn't put them there, they'd been there long enough that they had shoeprints on them, and obviously if the place had valued them they would already have picked them up. But I didn't ask, because (I think) I was concerned about what they'd think of me asking for trampled Zamioculcas leaves. It's like dumpster diving.

That's the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense, for some of the situations in the GW thread. Your average Lowe's employee is not going to give a crap if you take a broken Saintpaulia leaf (though they may think that you broke it just so you could take it, I suppose). So there's very little danger of being rejected. You are, however, admitting that you're the sort of person who values broken Saintpaulia leaves, and not only that, but you're saying you'd rather have a leaf for free than shell out the $2.50 to buy the whole plant.

I also suspect CelticRose is on to something with the intellectual-property comparison. Serious gardeners would know differently, but a casual observer has no idea just by looking at the plant that it took six months for it to grow that leaf he's about to snip off, or that the plant is the last thing the owner has that used to belong to his/r deceased grandmother, or that the plant cost $150 to buy from Asiatica, or that this is the first time it's flowered in the six years the owner's had it. The value of the plant to the owner is frequently not about what it would cost to replace. So it's easy to wind up taking a lot more than you think you're taking.

Similarly, what plants have in common with an mp3 music file, a photograph, or a book is that it's much easier to duplicate one than it is to produce it in the first place. It's very easy to ignore the original effort when duplication is as simple as cutting a piece, pushing a button, or whatever.

Wendy at Muck About:

W/r/t your 2nd question: Why wouldn't you ask the person who owns the trash can, though? Odds are they'll say yes, right?

And about your third: If it's more valuable, then why would it be okay to get it for free?


I don't count the stuff I took from work as theft, because 1) it went both ways: as much stuff that I took home from work because I didn't have one, I also brought stuff to work because work didn't have any. And 2) also because taking home stuff that would otherwise have been thrown out was generally understood to be one of the perks of the job (possibly the only perk, actually): the boss knew it happened, everybody else knew it happened, nobody really cared. I paid for the stuff that was sellable, and took the stuff that wasn't. Sometimes that worked out, and sometimes it didn't.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with CelticRose that the mentality you're discussing isn't just limited to plants. I think it is more about anything that seems regenerate-able/limitless.

Kenneth Moore said...

Maybe because I am a gardener, but I view plants as more like pets and less like music files. Now, if pets have babies (offshoots, seeds, etc), I'm more than willing to share--but maybe I want to keep them. Asking is just plain courteous.

But I download movies and music willy-nilly. I pay some artists, especially if they're not, say, Lady Gaga.

Then again, I refuse to pay for plants that are crazy invasive and easy to propagate--I would ask someone whether I could have them for free, when I come across such a situation. I volunteer for a lot of public gardens, so there are often plants for the taking--but never without foreknowledge of the plants' caretakers (parents?).

Thomas said...

Way back in time when I was in school (landscaping & env. horticulture) an instructor told a story of a customer in a greenhouse he worked at who snapped a stem off a geranium when she thought no one was looking & slipped it in her purse. He followed her to the register and added "...and a 1$ for the geranium cutting."

I was at HD, and reached in back of the display and grabbed a small succulent, and in the pot was a piece of another plant. Should I have taken it out and left it?

I used to go to the nursery a block over and pull plastic pots out of the trash & reuse them, they don't sell them. Now they lock their dumpster.

Retailers want you to buy stuff, the profit margin is pretty darn slim. They aren't cutting gardens. And damaging plants - ANY plants - that aren't yours is vandalism. Period. No matter what. No excuse.

Also, I can't help but think of the Petrified Forest National Park. Each person probably said "no one will miss this..." (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/28/us/petrified-forest-shrinks-one-stolen-piece-at-a-time.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss)

And equating a dropped leaf to a credit card is a dumb analogy.

I'm done; this soapbox is giving me vertigo...

Once again, a great post. Thanks Mr. S.

Ivynettle said...

I totally didn't limit myself to the unsellable plants at the ex-job (I probably shouldn't admit this, but then again, what's the chance of anyone who knows me IRL figuring out this is me? Maybe I'm a bit too paranoid.) Or even to unrooted cuttings. What can I say - working there sucked (and I couldn't leave until I was done with my apprenticeship), I had so totally no respect left for my superiors, and ... well, everyone else also took what they needed.
As for bringing plants to work, I did that once. And soon wished I hadn't.

I hope I never feel that way about my current job. So far, I don't see it happening.

Paul said...

Ivynettle - I completely appreciate your style. Nothing wrong with a 'bonus'!

Maybe I'm just bent, but I see clipping/stealing blooms (esp bulbs!) for decor is slapworthy; but taking seed is good. If you're sincere, you're showing an interest in propogating the species...which to me is way more honorable than being a good little consumer.

If you're dead set on an 'exotic' your neighbor has, just talk to them. The art of social interaction has been reduced to twitter and facebook- we could all stand that sort of exercise.

ScreamingGreenConure said...

This made me remember something, actually. Years ago, I was walking through a public park with a mate. It was spring, and the daffodils - planted there on purpose, FYI - were just up.
"Oh, the first flowers of spring!" says my mate - and pulls up a quarter of them.
It really upset me at the time. Those flowers were there for everyone to enjoy. Like Thomas mentioned regarding the petrified forest, if everyone just take a little bit - a bud or flower here or there, or something - from plants in public parks and gardens, you're left with nothing.

Liza said...

Wow, mr_s., you sure know how to get conversations flowing! I've been thinking about this all day. I wanted to step back in to the conversation because I think it doesn't matter if we're talking about seeds, cuttings, office equipment, or music - it's all stealing. We were taught long ago that stealing is wrong. Period.

We're great at justifying it - no one will miss them, the bosses suck, the cutting was on the floor - but at the heart of each one of these examples is the little voice that says, "I know this is wrong, but I'm doing it anyway."

I'm no angel - I took post-it notes from work, and I liked my bosses. I justified it because I was fresh out of school and very poor and I really wanted them. Around that same time, I found a cutting of a zebrina on the floor at Target. I stared at it awhile before picking it up and slipping it into my coat pocket. It was the plant that transformed my relationship with houseplants - it inspired the person I am today. But if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't take it, because no matter my justification, I took something that didn't belong to me, without asking, with deceit.

Over the winter, I happened to look out the window as some school girls were walking home, they were young. They stopped and began collecting Morning Glory seeds from my plants. They didn't take many, and I wasn't angry. Rather, I was impressed.

But now hearing all these stories, I wonder if I shouldn't have gone out there and somehow encouraged their love of nature and at the same time, let them know it's important to ask permission first.

Megan said...

Succulent be-heading is common in my neck of the woods. I know several people, including myself that have found all their succulents chopped. In my case they were selective, and only took the graptopetalum. We have a cute little public garden across the street that lost three newly planted trees in a row. I really enjoyed the old timey history of plant theft. Great post!

Liza said...

I'd just like to note that my previous comment was my longest ever, and also most righteous. Haha, who I am?

ScreamingGreenConure said...

You know, I wonder if snapping bits off a plant in a store or somewhere seems justified to people because they're going to do something constructive in growing it?
I know plants don't feel grateful to us for taking care of them. They have nocognition going on whatsoever. But people tend to anthropomorphise living things, so I can imagine that it could feel more like "rescuing" than stealing. Especially when you stop to think about peoples' attitudes to big box stores and plants - they're often not well cared for, etc, which in that GW thread seems to be used as a rationalisation, so it seems less like shoplifting than saving a sad, dying piece of plant from a horrible fate.

mr_subjunctive said...

The more I think about it, the more I'm wondering if it doesn't just condense down to the line in the original post, sometimes people are just greedy, or lazy, or impulsive. The people who take cuttings or leaves or whatever from the store aren't, usually, actually unable to buy the plant. They could buy it just fine. Especially in the case ScreamingGreenConure is talking about, where they think of it as "rescuing" the plant.

And it's a similar deal with taking plant material from other gardeners -- most of the gardeners I know are the sorts of people who, if you asked for a cutting of whatever, they'd run in the house, come out with a pair of scissors, and give you five cuttings of the plant you asked for, plus two of some other plant they also think you might like.

So there's never a need to steal. It's just that we don't stifle those impulses to the same degree we do others, for whatever reason, or it's easier to rationalize, or something.

Garden Groans, for what it's worth, I described the comments to the husband, and he likes your idea about natural stuff just feeling like it belongs to everybody.


It's a little different if it's kids. I remember one time when I was a kid (maybe 8-9?), I and another kid from church, after church let out, went next door to one of the member's gardens and threw her cherry tomatoes all over the damn place. I don't remember it well enough to have a guess as to how many of them we destroyed, but I do remember getting yelled at pretty intensely afterward (not least, probably, because I'm sure some of the tomato got on my clothes and we still had to drive back home).

I was old enough to know that it would have been wrong to go into her house and smash her china sets to powder, but somehow tomatoes didn't seem like "property" until it was forcefully explained to me that they were.

I'd still be mad if the neighbor kids came over and shredded the Big Damn Screw Pine (currently by the front door, outside),[1] but I wouldn't be as mad as if an adult slipped the Ardisia berries into a pocket while visiting. Adults should know better. Kids not so much.


Whether to remove the dropped succulent leaf in the pot or not is between you and your conscience. I would personally not be bothered by it that much, if A) I hadn't put it there and B) I was buying something else anyway. Hell, at the garden center, I sometimes encouraged customers to take dropped leaves if I knew they were buying something else.


[1] Though the BDSP can, to a degree, defend itself, which is some of the reason it's there.

Steve Asbell said...

Great article as always, and I have to tell you that our prized potted seagrape specimen with an underplanting of succulents, sea glass and seashells was stolen from our front porch overnight after our neighbors got evicted. There's a huge difference between this and sneaking a cutting or seedhead from a city park, of course. I've obtained some of my bromeliads from an abandoned lot that was on the market and unkempt for years.
The dilemma I've had for 3 years involves a sizeable alpinia nutans clump in front of a city recycling facility. Its neglected, unprotected in winter and still has a massive root system. All I want is a little tuber but the facility inside isn't open to the public so I can't ask them. Someday I'll just wait at the entrance until one of their trucks drives by so I can ask...

Sentient Meat said...

One Halloween, a yucca disappeared from my porch. It was my largest potted plant at the time and I felt attached my hefty bit of porch decoration... not least because I had laboriously potted it up from a nursery pot into a new 14" green-glazed ceramic pot (all on a grad student's salary).

I was dumbfounded at this personal violation. It just seemed so... mean! But as days turned into weeks with no sign of my plant, I gave the yucca up for lost.

Months later, I was walking around the neighborhood, when my eye was drawn to the back door of a fraternity house just 1 block from my house. Right there! At the top of a short stairway, in plain sight on a little wooden landing was my green-glazed pot with my Ikea yucca.

I wasted no time plotting the wisest course of action. My heart racing, I charged up their stairs, awkwardly grabbed the heavy plant and pot, and ran... no, walked home as fast as I could with my long-lost 50-lb. load.

Sentient Meat said...

PS Seventeen years later, I still have that yucca. It's on my back porch. In its 24" clay pot, it's still my largest container plant. Pot and plant together probably weigh 350 lbs.

ScreamingGreenConure said...

There's one more thing I thought of, when it comes to "rescuing" plants and not buying the whole thing.
I noticed in the GW thread, when talking about stealing things from other poeples' gardens, and in the comment thread here, there's a sense that people into plants "get it" in a way that others don't. When it comes to swiping bits from stores or public parks, there's maybe this idea that plant people appreciate the plant in a way that the store owners, or whoever looks after the park, don't. The big box store failed to take care of a plant, or will probably fail, so it's not just that you're "rescuing" it - the store has somehow lost its right to profit from, or claim ownership of, the plant. Unlike us srsplant people, these plebs don't know what they have, and don't deserve it, and we do.
I'm not saying this is my point of view. Oh god, not at all.

Sentient Meat said...

I... uh... know someone who, long ago when he was relatively poor and immature, augmented his young plant collection by taking small cuttings off large, mostly overgrown and unkempt plants. (There's that 'plant savior' trope helping... this person... rationalize.)

We don't need complex archetypes to analyze this behavior, though. It reminds me of what Dan Ariely talks about in his terrific book on human nature, Predictably Irrational. He found through lots of clever experiments that many people cheat, but only a little. The majority of people seem to have a small margin they are willing to cheat—but only that small amount and only if they think they are not being watched and cannot be caught. He talked about this in his TED talk and interview in WIRED.

Pat said...

In British gardening folklore it is said that parsley will grow best if stolen. It was so well known that some neighbours would make it clear when they would not be looking so their friends could "nick" a few parsley plants.

The great plant collector Edward Augustus "Gussie" Bowles tells of the time he collected Vinca minor "La Grave", "Bowles' Blue" or "Bowles' Variety", a lovely form of the Lesser Periwinkle. This plant has been used since early Roman Empire times in Italy for funerals. He used his umbrella handle to hoik a cutting over a fence from an Italian grave in a cemetery. He insisted in his report that this was the only time in his life that he had robbed a grave. I am glad he did in this case.

In a topical aside, Bowles travelled so widely partly to escape his hayfever.

On the more evil side of plant collecting we have David Douglas, for whom the Douglas Fir is named. He once stole the entire seed crop of a form of tobacco from a Native American village and had to run for his life when discovered. This was not the only time he pillaged a tobacco garden.

I have harvested 5 Indigofera seeds from some sickly plants in a nursery that were £25 each (like $s but prettier and more expensive). I assumed they must be difficult plants to grow. I now have 5 lovely plants. I don't feel guilty because those pods were open and about to fall off and there was no way I could buy the adults.

I have got several plants in with other plants that had propagated themselves. I paid for them, the assistants could see them, so why not? I have had to destroy enough bloody kalanchoes I didn't want.

Wikipedia has little on Bowles so I link a good page at http://eabowlessociety.org.uk/history.htm