The $175,000 shrubbery

Hiding the manzanita

Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

It cost $175,000 to move a shrub in San Francisco. Apparently it was a bargain.

The big-ticket bush is called a Franciscan manzanita, thought to be extinct in the wild since 1947. Workers building a highway spotted the six-metre-wide hedge last year, and once the county realized it was about to bulldoze over the world’s last wild specimen, it was decided that the shrub had to be carefully transplanted off the road’s path.

This required the construction of a sanctuary in a nearby gulch, a project that involved a slew of geologists, botanists and climate experts and cost $35,000. Another $140,000 was spent digging up and transplanting the bush to its new secret home under cover of darkness (the city didn’t want amateur plant enthusiasts stealing clippings), bringing the total up to a whopping $175,000.

But county transportation officials say the cost was well worth it, as environmental groups could have sued to ensure the bush’s safety, holding up the construction project and costing taxpayers up to $50,000 a day.

“Dams in this country have been stopped by some very tiny critters. It was entirely possible that discovering a unique plant species in the path of the project could have shut it down,” Lee Saage, project manager for the highway, told San Francisco Weekly. “It could have been hundreds of millions of dollars.”