A Tauranga retiree who spent more than 50 years tending to his beloved bonsai tree collection is heartbroken thieves stole half of them.

Richard Fenn lives in central Tauranga, just off Cameron Rd. He was preparing breakfast on Sunday morning when he noticed his back porch area was startlingly sparse.

"All I had was a big empty shelf where they should have been," he said.

"They've taken all of the smaller trees, about 12 of them. It's absolutely devastating."

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The retired builder spent years tending to, growing and manicuring his 24 trees. He said it was a labour of love which he was devoted to. Every tree had been grown from cuttings.

As he talks about each tree's attributes, he points to a photo on his phone of a larger, lush bonsai sitting on his back porch.

"This tree here is over 50 years old. You can imagine the hours I've spent looking after it," he said.

"These trees take a long, long time to grow. To have them stolen is kind of like having your babies stolen. They can take my shirts or my car but to have these stolen is quite heartbreaking."

Mr Fenn said could not understand who would want to take the trees but stopped a man in the process about two weeks ago. Mr Fenn said the man tried to take one of the trees over the back fence in the middle of the night.

"He said he wasn't stealing them, just taking them over the fence."

Mr Fenn saved his tree that day. He wishes he could have saved it again this time around.

They can take my shirts or my car but to have these stolen is quite heartbreaking.

Bonsai trees are fragile and would not survive two days without water, he said. They require much attention and care.

Mr Fenn doubted the thieves would know how to look after his beloved trees.

"If you are feeling sick or have the flu, you don't say 'I'm not up to watering it'. It's like your baby. If you don't feed your baby, it dies. You can't forget about it. These are the same."

Mr Fenn has plans to protect his remaining larger bonsais, which he believes the thieves will come back for. But all he wants is the return of his "babies".

A police spokeswoman confirmed the bonsai theft. A forensic examination has been completed, and officers were pursuing lines of inquiry, she said.

"Police would like to hear from anyone who witnessed anything and would encourage anyone who sees suspicious behaviour, or who believes they are the victim of a similar crime to contact police," she said.

Tauranga police can be contacted on 07 577 4300 or information can be provided anonymously on Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The art of Bonsai

The Japanese art of bonsai originated from the Chinese practice of penjing. From the 6th century onward, Imperial embassy personnel and Buddhist students from Japan visited and returned from mainland China. They brought back many Chinese ideas and goods, including container plantings. Over time, these container plantings began to appear in Japanese writings and representative art.

Source - Wikipedia