OAKLAND — Eight bonsai trees, including one 100 years old and another stolen but recovered once before, remained missing Tuesday after being taken last week during a burglary at the Lake Merritt Bonsai Garden, according to staff and the police.
Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing and shaping miniature trees; Plants are iconic symbols of peace, harmony and strength and the practice has been around for centuries.
Suzanne Muller, deputy director of the facility, said the trees “can’t be replaced, so you can’t put any amount of money into them.”
The theft of what was described as “living works of art” left visitors and employees “devastated,” Muller said.
What happened, she said, was “heinous.” It’s criminal. They are stealing from the Oakland community. The garden is a gem in the Oakland community.
“These trees we call generational trees. You cannot grow a tree in a single generation. Many people have touched these trees to make them as beautiful as they are. It’s not just a tree in a pot that we let grow. They have style and are very popular.
The garden, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary later this year and attracts hundreds of visitors a week, “is very well known all over the world,” Muller said. “It’s mentioned in travel guides as a place you would want to come visit.”
The theft was discovered early Thursday morning in the garden, which is in the 600 block of Bellevue Avenue and is home to about 100 trees. This is the fourth time in several years that trees have been stolen from the garden.
The majority of the trees in the garden were donated. Often, they are left in the garden by the relatives of a previous owner after that person’s death; the garden is often a better shelter for plants than a windowsill or corner of a house, where they do not receive the same level of care.
Whoever stole the trees cut a fence surrounding the garden and took the trees by hand. Police said CCTV captured the image of a masked man, but did not show a vehicle that may have been used to remove the trees.
Muller said all of the trees were between 18 and 20 inches tall and weighed between 20 and 60 pounds. They were all in pots and on benches.
One of the stolen items is a Hinoki cypress tree that is at least 100 years old. Another is a flowering apricot that was stolen in recent years but later recovered after garden volunteers located it on eBay.
Muller said thieves might try to sell the trees or keep them for themselves or someone they know. But she said the stolen trees already bode poorly for the level of care they might receive in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to care for them.
“Every tree is unique,” Muller said, “and the problem with something that’s a living work of art is if you don’t know how to take care of it, it could die.”
Muller said the center’s only source of funding is donations and everyone who works there is a volunteer. They hope to set up an online fundraiser soon and will use the money earned “for a more robust security system,” she said.
Muller asks the thief to “please report our trees to either a local police department or fire department.” No questions asked. We just want them to come back.
Anyone with information about the trees is asked to call police at 510-238-3728.
California Daily Newspapers