Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

'Plant Nazis' hunt for outlawed trees

Ecologist Graeme Platt says officers who raided his house looking for banned trees were 'maggots'. Photo / Michael Craig
Ecologist Graeme Platt says officers who raided his house looking for banned trees were 'maggots'. Photo / Michael Craig

Biosecurity officers hold dawn raids

Biosecurity officers have raided the Auckland Botanic Gardens, apparently looking for an exotic relation to the kauri tree that may have been illegally introduced to the country.

The homes of the gardens' curator, Jack Hobbs, and veteran Albany ecologist Graeme Platt were also targeted by Ministry of Primary Industries staff in simultaneous raids just after dawn on Thursday.

Officers were believed to be looking for evidence of agathis silbae, an exotic member of the kauri tree family native to several Pacific islands.

Hobbs said he had been told by an Auckland Council lawyer not to speak to the media. A council spokeswoman also refused to comment.

Platt said those behind the raids were "plant Nazis" influenced by an "idiot New Yorker".

The raids were so extreme he first thought a family member had been in an accident, said Platt, who runs the New Zealand Botanical Research Institute on his property.

"I was sitting at my computer in my undies and the next thing a police car came roaring down the driveway, followed by five more cars. I thought something very tragic must've happened. The policewoman was lovely, the others were maggots."

Officers would not tell him what they were looking for, but Platt, 71, believed it was evidence of agathis silbae. The tree cannot be brought into New Zealand because it was not in the country before a 1997 law banned new plant imports.

But Platt said the tree was here before 1997 under a different name, agathis macrophylla.

It had two names because New York botanist John Silba mistakenly thought he had discovered a new species and named it after himself.

"This clown has named it after himself, but it's the same as the agathis macrophylla. (The ministry) have even called the raids Operation Silbae, for a non-existent tree due to one idiot in New York."

The tree was no threat and fears it could cross with native kauri were wrong because a hybrid could never wipe out the original, Platt said.

Officers removed computers and plants and ordered him not to not sell or remove plants from the property that were part of the kauri or Norfolk pine family.

Platt said after the raids Hobbs told him computers were also taken from his home and the botanic gardens, and plant samples were taken from the gardens.

"He's extremely upset and staff at the botanic gardens are outraged."

The ministry refused to comment before the Herald on Sunday deadline.

- Herald on Sunday

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