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Cacti & Succulent Obsession: The Dark Side

In recent years, the love for indoor plants has boomed, giving a massive spike to the nursery business. 2020 especially witnessed millions of lone souls trapped indoors stepping into the trendy plant-keeping hobby. Today, the cacti & succulent placed on study tables and window sills are ruling Instagram. But, this close-to-nature hobby is endangering many cacti and rare plant species around the world, pushing them to the verge of extinction.

Let’s understand how plant-keeping hobbies have given rise to black marketing of cacti and succulents? What are the implications of the theft? And how we, as plant-keepers can know if the plant we are purchasing is smuggled or not?

The Outbursting Love For Cacti & Succulent

In early February, a woman was arrested from New Zealand’s airport for a very peculiar smuggling attempt. 38-years old Wenquing Li was trying to smuggle 1,000 different cactus, plants, and seeds species, out of the country. It consisted of eight of the most endangered or threatened species of cacti, and the entire material cost above $7,000. This weird smuggling attempt caught global medias’ focus on the increasing demand triggered black marketing of the rarest species of home plants, especially succulents from their native ground. This was not the first time when someone was trying to smuggle a plant out of a country. In 2014 alone, the U.S. border seized about 2,600 stolen cacti.

The inspecting officer, Simon Anderson, said, ” (Wenquing Li’s case is) a good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted.”

According to a study by Conservation Biology, house plant obsession has put one-fifth of all the cactus species at risk of endangerment; some are on the brink of extinction. The booming black market triggered by skyrocketing demand of these unique groups of spiny plant species is causing severe habitat loss, invasive bugs, and poaching.

Why Are People Extensively Drawn Towards Indoor Planting?

The house plant obsession is not more than a decade old. In the U.S. alone, about six million residents, especially millennials, adopted gardening in 2015. Today, the obsession with plant-keeping hobbies has skyrocketed, especially by the COVID-triggered lockdowns. It gave the people time to decorate their homes, and the social media trend of plants, made cacti & succulents the apple of everyone’s eye.

Between 2012 and 2017, the market of cacti and succulent have surged by 64%, and now worth millions of dollars. The pandemic increased the sale of house plants by 84% in the U.S. and near about a 32% increase in the nursery business.

Experts believe that the house plant demand has surged mainly because of the climate crisis. Keeping live plants is a form of repercussion for centuries of damaged done to the environment. This newest global obsession is a way of relieving ourselves from the guilt of wrecking the planet. Furthermore, along with beautifying our houses, having plants around us makes us feel more connected to our planet.

Cacti & Succulent Obsession: The Dark Side

But, the out bursting love of indoor plants has overwhelmed the market, thus making ways for black marketers to smuggle the rare species of plants, especially cacti and succulents. A few cactus species could take decades to reach their full size, like Saguaros, which can take more than 70 years to reach the 6 feet benchmark, which makes such species more susceptible to be smuggled. Poachers have been extensively smuggling the taller Saguaros, thus making it one of the most costly cactus, $100 for one foot.

Researchers fear that the growing black market might result in the complete extinction of many rare cacti species from the wild. In the past, the hipped demand of Tulip resulted in Tulipomania, which turned many Tulip gardens into bare land. In the 1800s, the craze for Fern gave way to decades of Fern theft. Air plantOrchid, and Venus Fly Trap are the most recent examples of how increased demands led to voracious black marketing of plants from their native lands.

The living rock cactus that is native to Texas, U.S., faces grave danger of extinction. Given the fact, it grows nowhere else, makes it an immediate target of smugglers. This little cactus can take a decade to mature fully, and this would mean that once they are out of their natural habitat, it would take decades to repopulate the land with the cacti.

The extinction of a plant species from its natural habitat affects the cohabiting species of animals, reptiles, and birds in the region. Cactus is the source of food, water, and shelter to birds and invertebrates, and their endangerment is severely affecting the life cycle of the deserted regions.

Cacti & Succulent: The Bigger Concern

The biggest problem is that this black marketing is not happening in the quote-unquote darknet but on online shopping sites like eBay, Amazon, etc. It is tough to recognize which plant is smuggled and which is grown from seeds in the nursery. The fact that these cacti species can stay without water for a longer time makes their smuggling easy.

So, is there any way we can find whether the cacti we are purchasing is grown in a nursery or illegally smuggled? Though it is difficult to say for sure that any plant is grown, or smuggled, there is some precaution that we can keep while buying these spiny plants:

  • It is advisable not to buy cacti & succulent from an international seller who does not possess a permit from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  • If buying online, try to go for the domestic seller, who clearly shows that their plants are grown from seed.
  • While buying from the nursery, you can ask where the cacti is from. Also, look out for scrappy-looking cacti, as they have higher chances of being smuggled because the nursery grows succulents, and cactus are mostly symmetrical.