Two park rangers disguised as nature lovers used a camera to get their man-bespectacled botanist Steve Brill, a.k.a. "Wildman," who was duly handcuffed and hustled down to the precinct in a police van.
The charge? Eating the flora in Central Park.
Brill confessed in a telephone interview today. "We picked dandelions and a few other common weeds. We ate a few high-bush cranberries. . . a little bit of water mint . . . and some daylily shoots."
For five years, Brill has been conducting four-hour $15 walking tours of city parks, showing urban dwellers the edible plants. They fill their bags with delicacies such as wild black cherries, carrots, blueberries, water mint, mustard and even coffee beans.
Brill, in his trademark white pith helmet, offers recipes along the way.
The Parks and Recreation Department says Brill was warned several times to quit. When he refused, the law moved in.
Brill was taking a college ecology group on an edible tour Saturday afternoon, paying little heed to the couple who "acted a little strange."
"They didn't interact or pick anything. They were a little bit stiff, and sort of quiet. They just kept taking pictures," Brill recalled. "I kept holding up plants for the guy to photograph."
The couple turned out to be undercover rangers who radioed for backup at the end of the tour. Uniformed Parks Enforcement officers arrested Brill on criminal mischief charges.
"I had nothing in my bag-no digging tools or anything," Brill said. "God forbid I would have had a dandelion in my backpack. I'd still be in jail. . . . I'm just trying to get people into nature, to show them they can touch things and smell things and taste them."
"Parks are to look at," said Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. "Our motto is 'Please don't eat the daisies.'"