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Thief ravages Kaneohe greenhouse, stealing rare native Hawaiian plants

Updated: Aug. 27, 2020 at 5:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than a dozen rare native trees were stolen earlier this week from a Windward Oahu nursery that was preserving them ― and using them to find a way to save the rest of their species.

“Some of them I’ve had for, gosh, years.” said Rick Barboza.

Spend five minutes with Barboza and you’ll feel his passion.

“That one there is an endangered species,” he said, pointing as he showed us around a greenhouse.

For nearly a quarter-century, Barboza, the owner of Hui Ku Maoli Ola, has made it his life’s work to perpetuate Hawaii’s native flora.

“Ohia Lehua used to be found all over the place,” Barboza said. “What I try to do is try to find the ones that are lowest in elevation. The ones that are still holding on to what used to be and preserve those genes.”

But Sunday night, his experimental greenhouse was ravaged by a thief. Fifteen of his most rare Ohia Lehua, worth upwards of $5,000, were stolen ― a hit twice as hard for Barboza to stomach, since the plants are also valuable in the fight against diseases killing Ohia in the wild.

“One was green,” he said. “There were varieties that were from Maui. Unique forms from Kauai. But the majority of them were from Oahu.”

The photo on the left is of the green Ohia Lehua that was stolen from a Kaneohe Nursery...
The photo on the left is of the green Ohia Lehua that was stolen from a Kaneohe Nursery overnight Sunday.(Rick Barboza)

That’s not all. The crook also walked off with at least three Olulu, a plant recently listed as extinct in the wild.

Barboza says the thief or thieves knew exactly what they were looking for, even managing to avoid detection on the nursery’s surveillance system.

“It was pretty heartbreaking,” he said.

One bright spot in all of this has been the tremendous amount of aloha he’s received from the community.

Barboza said: “We had people offer us to come to their house and take cuttings off of their Ohia.”

But he’s holding out hope who ever has his plants, also has a conscience.

“Have your cousin, have your girlfriend, have somebody just come drop them off,” said Barboza. “No questions asked.”

This is a photograph of one of the Ohia Lehua that was stolen from a Kaneohe nursery overnight...
This is a photograph of one of the Ohia Lehua that was stolen from a Kaneohe nursery overnight Sunday.(Rick Barboza)

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