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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Orchid Grower Says Partner Waltzed With Pricey Blooms, Leaving Him the Runts

MADISON, WIS. (CN) - A propagator of rare orchids claims his partner cheated him of thousands of Peruvian Phragmipedium kovachii, which fetch $400 apiece or more from collectors. Fritz Schomburg sued Glen Decker in Federal Court.

The Phragmipedium kovachii is a showy orchid with 8-inch blooms that is controversial in itself.

The Peruvian government asked U.S. authorities to investigate how the endangered and protected plant had turned up at a greenhouse in New England sometime after 2001.

The orchid's "discoverer," Michael Kovach, pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act, in Tampa Federal Court in 2004. Kovach was fined and sentenced to probation. In sentencing him, U.S. District Judge Stephen Merryday said he spared Kovach prison time because Kovach was a first offender, "but some of your explanations here are very nearly, 'The dog ate my homework,'" according to contemporary press reports.

Orchid collectors maintain they "save" plants from extinction by taking them from the jungle for propagation.

No allegations of smuggling are made in this case.

Schomburg describes himself in his filing as "an internationally known propagator" who operates out of Madison. He claims Decker and his New York-based business, Piping Rock Sales, got five stud plants from Alfredo Manrique, owner of Centro de Jardineria Manrique Peru, who had a permit from the Peruvian government to collect the plants.

But Schomburg says Decker had "minimal success" propagating the flower, so "Manrique and Decker approached Schomburg and proposed developing a three-way partnership with all profits to be shared equally." They signed an agreement in December 2005, Schomburg says.

Schomburg says he grew 6,000 to 10,000 seedlings and shipped them to Hawaii, where his putative partner was to "grow out" the plants for sale. But he says Decker took two-thirds of the healthiest and most valuable plants, announced he was terminating the partnership, and left Schomburg the runts as his one-third share of the business.

Schomburg claims that "throughout the partnership, Decker took all of the flowering plants to use for orchid breeding for the partnership" without compensating Schomburg for them.

He demands punitive damages for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

The Manrique Gardens Web site lists Phragmipedium kovachii, in various states of growth, for sale from $75 to $400 apiece, with the price of other specimens available upon request. The Web site, viewed this morning, claims to grow and distribute the orchids through "joint ventures with Glen Decker from Piping Rock Orchids, USA, Fritz Schomburg from Tropical Propagations, USA" and a Canadian dealer.

Schomburg is represented by Peggy Lautenschlager.

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