(Originally published on Aug. 24)By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A St. Paul couple is asking for the community’s help in identifying the thieves who stole a number of their bonsai trees over the weekend.

The couple, who does not wish to be named, says the trees were stolen from a display outside their home in the West 7th Street neighborhood. The thieves took several of the small, meticulously cultivated trees from an outside display, even though they were drilled to a bench and lit by flood lights.

The owners calculate the loss to be in the thousands of dollars. One of them has been working with bonsai trees for about five years.

(credit: CBS)

The first theft happened two weeks ago, when one of the largest trees was stolen. After that, the owners strapped and bolted the remaining trees to the display bench. They had initially planned to put a fence around the display, but the cost became an issue.

Early on Saturday, surveillance video captured three people stealing several of the remaining trees. The video shows the thieves pull up in appears to be a minivan, and, in less than three minutes, they cut the strips holding down the trees and make off with at least half a dozen plants. In their rushing back and forth to put the plants in the van, one of the thieves trips over a lawnmower.

The couple shared surveillance video on social media, and they’re asking anyone who recognizes the thieves to come forward. The owners say they’ve filed a report with St. Paul police. WCCO-TV is working to verify that.

Bonsai is an ancient artform that’s been practiced in Japan since the 6th Century. It typically features trees or shrubs grown in small containers, and growers spend hours cutting, wiring, and fertilizing the plants to create a unique living display.

(credit: CBS)

Nicholas Ehlers, the director of outreach for the Minnesota Bonsai Society, says that while a new plant from a nursery could cost between $10 to $50, an exhibit quality tree, like the ones on display at Como Zoo and Conservatory, could cost hundreds or thousands.

“Even if it isn’t show quality, you still have to put hours of work into watering and maintaining the trees to get them to that point, which can take years,” he said.

While Ehlers says that bonsai thefts don’t occur often in Minnesota, it has happened in the past.

“We are very careful with the information that we give out about members for this exact reason,” he said.