Hugo Huynh was in his East Vancouver kitchen brewing coffee when the thief struck, making off with his front garden centrepiece: a beautiful Japanese maple.
He only realized something was amiss when he left for work and spotted the hole that was left behind.
“I was like, ‘What? Is there a rodent or a mole in my yard,'” he said. “And then I went, ‘Wait a minute, my Japanese maple is gone!'”
Footage from a security camera revealed how the crime unfolded.
A man in a grey van does a drive-by at 6:41 a.m. Monday morning. Fifteen seconds later he circles back and parks in front of the house.
Watch | Tree thief caught on security camera
After making sure the coast is clear, the thief gets out, opens the front passenger door, walks calmly up to the two-year-old tree before ripping it out of the ground, running back to the van, stuffing it in the open door and driving off.
The brazen act takes about 30 seconds.
“You know, you feel a bit violated,” said Huynh. “It’s not something you think people are going to try to steal.”
About four kilometres away, Heather Kidd also found herself staring at a big hole where the pride of her front garden — a flowering magnolia tree — was supposed to be.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” she said, “the feeling of someone trespassing in your yard.”
Kidd posted photos from before and after the theft, only to learn how many neighbours had similar stories.
“This was news to me,” she said. “The reason I had a before photo of it is that I loved that tree so much, so I often took photos of it when it was blooming.”
Related to COVID-19?
Vancouver landscaper Stuart Grills says petty plant theft has always been a problem, but usually it’s smaller annuals like pansies and marigolds that get pilfered.
He wonders if supply problems stemming from COVID-19 slowdowns in combination with a shady operator are behind the thefts.
“The supply chain issues are a bit frustrating at the moment,” said Grills, owner of Yard Ventures.
“I have a feeling that guys who haven’t been in the industry long … and are just doing it for a quick buck see this as an easy way to get plants instead of doing it the legitimate way.”
A spokesperson for the City of Vancouver said plants do disappear from city gardens, but it isn’t normally a major problem.
Two years ago, Queen Elizabeth Park was targeted by a green-thumbed shrubbery thief who would dig up plants in the middle of the night.
Vancouver police Const.Tania Visintin said it is impossible to speculate on charges the man in the video might face if caught based on the footage alone.
Huynh did report the robbery to the VPD. He has no immediate plans to replace the tree, worried that something freshly planted will present another appealing target.
“I’m not sure what I can do in the future to prevent this,” he said. “It’s so odd.”