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How A Thief Saved Echo Park Lake's Lotus Bed From Extinction
When the drained and restored Echo Park Lake opens up later this month, the old lotus plants that had disappeared by 2008 have returned thanks to a thief with a green thumb.
In 2005, horticulturalist Randy McDonald technically violated the city's municipal code by pilfering a cutting from one of the lotus plants on the lake. Not that it was too hard to get away with, he recalls in Column One:
Randy McDonald darted his eyes between the lotus bed and a pack of police officers, wondering if he could get away with it. He figured it was worth a try and walked from Echo Park Lake back to his car. After opening the glove compartment, he pulled out a hacksaw blade and stuck it into his back pocket. He tugged his T-shirt to cover it and returned to the lake.
He worked his way through the thick crowd of revelers gathered for the 28th annual Lotus Festival and then crouched down at the water's edge. Five quick cuts freed a single strand of tiny tubers from the tangle. He shoved it in a plastic trash bag and walked away. He smiled. No one had noticed.
The theft would end up being quite profitable for McDonald. He took the snippets back with him to Reseda where the lotuses flourished in the Valley heat. McDonald bragged, "My specialty is reproduction. If you ever read the Bible, the fish and the bread growing like crazy, I'm that kind of guy when it comes to plants."McDonald sold lotus plants that he grew from those original cuttings at his nursery, but customers mostly had no idea where they came from. But when the city began planning to drain and restore Echo Park Lake, the landscape architect caught wind of McDonald's secret. McDonald admitted to pilfering the cutting. Realizing that he had something valuable—a symbol of the area that had been around since the 1920's and the inspiration for a local festival—he figured out a way to profit.
There was talk of bringing in other species from other countries, but eventually McDonald ended up selling 376 lotus plants in exchange for $30,000.