Rare plant stolen from Penang Botanic Gardens

Beautiful specimen: The Alocasia Cuprea leaves can grow to 10 times the size of a child’s hands. — Photo courtesy of Q Z Lee

GEORGE TOWN: Some people just cannot leave pretty things alone, not even a beautiful plant.

A thief went to the Penang Botanic Gardens recently and snuck out a rare plant that is treasured for the ornamental value of its extra large leaves with glistening, coppery undersides and thick ribs of contrasting green hues on top.

The thief even knew what he or she was doing because the person evidently snipped off the large leaves and left them behind so that he or she could casually walk out the front gate with the rhizome or roots in a bag.

The Alocasia cuprea, which is a native to Borneo and the only specimen in Penang Botanic Gardens, was discovered missing on Jan 5 after gardeners found the cut leaves rotting on the ground inside the orchardarium.

The garden’s research officer, D. Thachayni, said looking at how the thievery took place, the person who took it obviously wanted to replant it elsewhere.

“The thief unearthed the corm of the plant and probably wanted to replant it as it is similar to yam, which can be replanted with the corm,” she said.

A check showed that a small specimen of Alocasia cuprea with just two leaves sells online for RM20 to RM60.

Large, mature specimens sell for over RM1,000 and more.

The sad part is that this is not the first time.

Thachayni said small plants in the gardens were regularly found unearthed and taken away.

Penang Botanic Gardens director Nur Syazwani Ismail said the plants displayed in the garden were public property and must not be vandalised or destroyed.

“The plants here are for conservation for future generations. If we don’t protect them, they will be lost to us,” she said.

With a history stretching back to 1794, Penang Botanic Gardens is one of the oldest in the country and is part of the Unesco Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve.

At 29ha today, the gardens is a repository of plant species found nowhere else in the country.

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