‘Poachers’ a blight on local boxwood crop


By Terri Flagg - tflagg@civitasmedia.com



DOBSON — ‘Tis the season, apparently, to steal boxwood.

A string of thefts involving the slow-growing evergreen shrubs have been reported to the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, which, according to a spokesperson for the department, is not uncommon during the holiday season.

“Happens every year,” said Sgt. Det. J.D. Briles.

“The trimmings are sold at various locations who pay by the pound for the trimmings which are then shipped all over the world for wreath production. It is quite lucrative,” he said. “That is why half of Surry County is planted in boxwood farms.”

On Nov. 23, a break-in was reported at the home of Billie Jo and Joseph Blizard on Lovers Lane in Mount Airy.

Neighbors witnessed a male and female suspect at the residence and detained them until law enforcement arrived.

“It was determined the suspects had cut boxwood trimmings from the residence and forcibly entered the residence as well,” Briles said.

In addition to $60 of boxwood trimmings, the stolen items included a homemade gold dredge valued at $200, an $80 wooden lawn chair and pruners. A window screen was also damaged.

The suspects, Eddie Lee Simmons, 46, of Burke Road, Mount Airy, and Diana Dixie Blankenship, 25, of Linville Road, Mount Airy, were each charged with breaking and entering and attempted larceny; they are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 18.

In a second incident reported on Nov. 27, a neighbor again helped crack a case involving $500 in stolen trimmings.

The neighbor, observing two subjects trimming boxwood bushes at the home of Paul and Carolyn Carter on Old Rockford Road, Dobson, obtained a vehicle description and license plate number.

The vehicle was later located in Yadkin County, which led to the arrest of Christy Lee Ashley Hayes, 41, of Styers Mill Road, Yadkinville, and Clayton David Bullins, 34, of N.C. 54, Chapel Hill.

Both were charged with felony larceny of crops and scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 17.

Last week, an unknown suspect stole two window air conditioning units, valued at $150, as well as three boxwood bushes valued at $900.

The Dec. 2 report lists Nelda and Jay Coe, of West Kapp Street, Dobson, as victims.

The incident occurred at the Rockford Road home of the victim’s deceased mother, Briles said.

“This case is still open,” he said.

Surry Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Agent Joanna Radford explained that boxwood “poachers” are indeed a problem in the county.

The “micro-climate” of the Lowgap area, where boxwood farms and fields are plentiful, fosters the growth of the popular shrub, she said.

“It’s kind of a hidden little treasure we have,” she said. “A lot of folks have planted them for future generations.”

In 2011, a blight with no cure hit the local crop.

“It’s hurt a lot of our boxwood growers,” said Radford, adding that poachers make fighting the disease more difficult.

“It’s unlikely people doing this act sanitize their equipment,” she said. Without proper sanitation to kill the spores, the disease, which can also be carried on clothes or shoes, can be easily transmitted.

Those who purchase clippings might not think to question if the trimmings were obtained legally, Radford said.

“You wouldn’t think they were stolen,” she said.

By Terri Flagg

tflagg@civitasmedia.com

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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