PUNTA GORDA — For some residents in Punta Gorda, theft of fruit from their trees is becoming more and more of a problem in their neighborhoods.
In Punta Gorda Isles — a mostly waterfront community in the city — the unauthorized harvesting has gotten so bad that some homeowners are opting to cut down their trees to prevent strangers from stealing, according to PGI resident Roland Ziegler.
“We have a mango, an avocado, a starfruit, an orange tree, plus some pineapples,” Ziegler wrote in a recent letter to the Sun. “The theft of our fruits have been increasing in the last years.”
Ziegler also wrote that many of his friends and neighbors are “really upset about these fruit thieves (so much so that) some of them are cutting down their precious trees to avoid further anger.”
“Outside visitors, contractor workers and (a) few residents not only trespass into our property but steal the fruits from our trees. Even a pineapple was stolen,” Ziegler wrote.
Mangoes, specifically, have been at the root of controversy this past summer.
In June, PGI resident Donald Mueller, 73, was arrested by the Punta Gorda Police Department after being accused of spitting and making racially biased comments against two women picking mangoes in the area.
Mueller believed the two were stealing mangoes from his neighbor, according to the PGPD police report.
One of the women claimed they had gotten permission from the homeowner in the past.
Another incident occurred involving a similar misunderstanding, according to Lt. Dylan Renz, public information officer for the Punta Gorda Police Department.
“An individual was picking mangoes from a tree after being told he had been given permission by a neighbor,” Renz said. “The owner of the tree confronted him. The individual apologized and returned the four mangoes. The owner did not want to pursue charges.”
PGI resident Gary Skillicorn said he hasn’t experienced issues with fruit theft but he would be disappointed if it happened.
“I’ve been nurturing a crop of avocados, awaiting their ripening,” Skillicorn said. “I would be most upset if someone helped themselves.”
Skillicorn, who grows a variety of fruit in his yard, said he and his neighbors usually have to give a lot of their fruit away.
“I had a lime tree before Hurricane Irma took it down (in 2017) and I had a lot of limes,” Skillicorn said. “You can only (use) so many limes so I would put a box out on the curb, on a stand or a table or something and people would drop by and pick up a few. I even put bags out there for people to use.”
Skillicorn said he does have a couple of mango trees, but they haven’t been producing too well.
“My next-door neighbor has a mango tree and freely shares the abundance with people they know,” Skillicorn said. “I often see boxes of mangoes in front of people’s homes — maybe with a sign — offering (for people) to take some mangoes.”