When I hear the word poaching, my mind typically jumps to endangered animals, not dainty houseplants. Nonetheless, the black market for succulents is a global operation with foreigners illegally securing rare and fragile flora to market overseas. Several African countries are poaching hotspots, such as South Africa which is home to around one third of all succulent species. For example, two South Korean individuals were apprehended in Capetown earlier this year. The pair had 60,000 plants in their possession possibly worth millions of dollars.
Now stealing and selling poached goods from a foreign country is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that this practice is likely propagated via social media. With folks cooped up inside during the pandemic, many took to cultivating houseplants as a positive way to pass the time and spruce up their homes. In turn, succulent care videos on TikTok and Instagram have exploded, with #PlantTikTok possessing upwards of 3.5 billion views. It is through these apps that buyers and sellers are able to connect and maintain this illegal market.
While your average plant enthusiast may not be involved with succulent poachers, there is certainly a strong demand in the United States for exotic plants. Just last April, a man was arrested in Los Angeles for poaching 8,000 South African succulents. In turn, he was given a two year jail sentence and won’t be stepping a foot in South Africa ever again. While millennial moms may think the plants look cute and quirky in their windowsills, taking this many succulents from their native environments can wreak havoc on local ecologies. Long story short, if you want a cactus on your kitchen table, just play it safe and hit the home depot garden center. Life is too short to be imprisoned for a plant.