$20K worth of bonsai trees, some over 100 years old, stolen from free, volunteer-run Calif. garden

Eight stolen trees may sound like a small number, but some of these trees are 100 years old.

J.R. Stone Image
Sunday, January 21, 2024
$20K worth of bonsai trees stolen from Oakland garden
Several valuable bonsai trees worth $20,000 in total were stolen from the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland in a bizarre burglary.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Several valuable bonsai trees were stolen from the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland in a bizarre burglary.

The location is a volunteer-run, free admission Japanese style Garden.

Initial surveillance images show that thieves went in at 9:21 p.m. Wednesday and got through two fences to get to the bonsai trees.

Volunteers who run the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt need your help.

"Somebody broke through the fence and stole eight trees and these trees are smaller in that they're able to carry out through the fence," said Gordon Deeg who is the director of the Bonsai Garden.

MORE: 50 koi stolen from San Jose's Japanese Friendship Garden, officials say

Empty platforms could be seen where those Bonsai trees once stood. Eight trees may sound like a small number, but these are bonsai trees that may be older than you and I.

"There was a very rare Hinoki cypress tree that had a very large trunk. The tree was only 18 inches tall but had a girth on it of about 8 inches," said Gary Tom who is curator at the Bonsai Garden.

In fact, it's estimated that that Hinoki cypress tree is 100 years old, now it's been stolen and it's whereabouts are unknown. Sadly, this is the fourth time the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt has been hit in four years but by far the worst. Volunteers tell us that thieves went through an interior fence and somehow got through a separate fence surrounding The Gardens of Lake Merritt.

Jonas Dupuich is a bonsai expert in the Bay Area and creator of Bonsai Tonight. He says the theft of Bonsai trees is becoming a real problem around the world. Recently nurseries in Southern California, Seattle, and even Japan have all been hit.

"Now, there is definitely more theft around the world. It seems to be far more sophisticated, people casing the joint ahead of time, cutting the cameras when they get there, and then the trees just vanish very quickly," says Dupuich.

It's unclear how sophisticated this theft was seeing that the thieves were unable to get this Redwood out and left it by the fence.

VIDEO: Real-life Grinch steals Christmas tree from Bay Area family's car

A man says he and his wife picked up a Christmas tree in San Mateo on Friday only for it to be stolen right off the roof of his car.

There's a belief that these trees are either being sold cheap online, to nearby nurseries or for big bucks elsewhere.

This flowering apricot was stolen and you can still see some of the petals that fell as it was taken.

"It's so sad that people can't respect something that everybody comes and enjoys and can just come by to a very peaceful place," said Deeg.

Volunteers reached out to Oakland police but say they got no response and no officers showed. We reached out to OPD and also got no response about the incident.

"A pot can be replaced. A car can be replaced. These bonsai trees can't be replaced, they all are unique and all have a legacy," said Deeg.

"We hope that having this coverage is going to bring more attention to our particular plight and people who recognize bonsai and say hey, that tree was on the news and maybe refer the authorities or us where this tree might presently be or sold to," says Tom.