LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — One of the country’s most genetically diverse rose collections was targeted by a thief who knew what they were doing, a horticulture professor at Florida Southern College suspects.
“I think they had to have known that was Pulich Children and why they wanted it,” said Dr. Malcolm Manners. “I think it’s someone with pretty good knowledge of the garden.”
Manners has been growing roses at Florida Southern College since the 1980s and in 2014, dedicated Ruth’s Rose Garden, the college’s largest rose garden.
The college’s purpose in growing roses was to cure them of a disease known as rose mosaic.
In part because of that work, Manners was named the “Great Rosarian of the World” in 2013.
“Not only do we have some rare roses, but a lot of the older roses were infected with that disease and so we make them available to the nursery industry in virus-free form,” Manners said.
The garden has supplied disease-free roses to nurseries in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
It’s home to a Pulich Children bush.
It is a rare, deep-red rose named for the place it was found: on the graves of children in the Pulich family in California.
“No one has ever identified historically as to which rose it was,” said Manners. “Nurseries that are getting interested in growing that rose probably are mostly getting their cuttings from us and we just have the one bush.”
Ahead of the full springtime bloom, Manners said a few weeks ago he was inspecting the status of the roses in preparation for a social media post.
“I was out just looking at buds and thinking that’s going to be open in a week, that one’s going to be two weeks. Walked up to that plant and realized, there wasn’t a single bud on it. I knew it was covered in buds a few days earlier,” he said.
Manners estimates 100 “cuttings” were clipped between the Pulich Children bush and another rose bush called Safrano.
“Looking closely someone had clipped all of the new growth off. It was too early to be cutting cut flowers. I’m sure they were cutting them, rooting cuttings and make new plants,” he said.
Cuttings can create new plants which can be sold to nurseries.
Manners hopes getting the word out about the importance of the garden will discourage people from stealing from it.
There have been talks about getting security cameras.
“I think that’s really devastating because this garden having those rare varieties that’s really important for both scientific work as well as being incredibly valuable so someone coming here and decimating those roses, that’s a real travesty,” said junior Zaphillia Yost.
“I was not aware that a lot of these flowers are of a rare variety. If I had known that, I would take a lot more appreciation, a lot more than I already have for this garden,” said Ian Phipps, a freshman.