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Stolen Beauty

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image Mitch Traphagen Photo

The fragrance of the tropics has gone missing along Apollo Beach Blvd.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

APOLLO BEACH — The blossoms are beautiful but the scent, oh, the scent is heavenly. It encompasses the beauty of the tropics, everything you can imagine. The Florida tourist board only wishes it could include the scent in the television commercials it plays for people in northern states. Tourism would jump overnight. Plumeria, also known as frangipani, is the flower of the tropics. It is difficult to imagine that anything could detract from its beauty, but there is one thing: theft. In Apollo Beach, a plumeria plunderer is on the loose.

Angela Yoho replanted the first of her own plumeria three years ago in some of the flower boxes along Apollo Beach Boulevard. Yoho isn’t looking for recognition for her beautification efforts, but she is hoping that whoever took the plants will stop.

“I can’t believe if people are trying to make things more beautiful, then don’t mess it up,” she said, speaking to the person or persons who took the plants. “There is an older guy suffering from cancer who drives around to water these plants. Please don’t mess this up.”

The theft of a mature plant wasn’t necessarily a spur of the moment act. Someone had to have noticed the plants and came prepared to take them. They are hardy and resilient, but a three-year-old plumeria is not necessarily small enough to grab and run. The plants disappeared about a month ago.

Yoho knows why someone would be motivated to steal the plants.

“They are expensive,” she said. “To go and buy one of those that was stolen, it could be $200. Even one little stalk could cost $45. I think it was either someone who knows how much they cost or maybe a landscaper, I don’t know.”

Plant theft is more widespread than many people would think. In some cities, law enforcement agencies report of thriving black markets for stolen plants, everything from ferns to azaleas become targets for those who lack the will for green thumbs yet have sticky fingers. One newspaper in Washington State ran an article with reader suggestions as to how to curb plant theft, ranging from inserting exploding dye packets into the roots of the plants to help later identify the thieves, to burying small rattlesnakes with the plants (the latter included an acknowledgement of possible legal and ethical problems involved). In Savannah, Georgia, a security camera captured one man as he casually walked up onto the front porch of a home and unhooked two large ferns and simply walked away. For the victims, it was more than the theft of plants they had lovingly kept alive; it was a violation of the victim’s sense of place — just as the thefts in Apollo Beach are a violation of the entire community.

Perhaps the theft of plants appears to be a victimless crime, yet it is anything but that. In this case, one person lovingly planted the beautiful flowering trees and another lovingly cared for them year after year, all with nothing more than the idea of beautifying their community as compensation. With so much ugliness in the world, even the smallest petals of beauty can and do make a positive difference. And yet a selfish act of one or, perhaps, a few, has stolen beauty from many.

Some people may feel as though it is a crime of little interest to law enforcement, but that is not the case. While now little might be done, law enforcement officers appreciate knowing of any and all issues in their communities and reporting a crime could help to deter the next one.

Angela Yoho (Mitch Traphagen Photo)The very first plumeria planted by Angela Yoho on Apollo Beach Boulevard is gone now, in its place is a replanted stalk that will take a year or more to blossom. Tied to the plant is a yellow tag in which Yoho has written, “Please do not steal.”

Although perhaps slightly more jaded now, Yoho isn’t giving up. The plants are the essence of the tropics, a perfect visual reminder for those returning to their Apollo Beach homes of why they live here. Yes, they are valuable. Yes, they can be and have been stolen. But hopefully that will stop now. Perhaps for the thief, frangipani obtained by nefarious means will not smell so sweet.

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