STEALING SUCCULENTS: Crimes Against Nature

by Lynn KirkFeb 14, 2022

succulent poachers


Poacher. That’s a term we seldom hear in the U.S., but perhaps we should discuss it more! In this case, we’re not talking about those who exploit wildlife for its furs, horns, antlers, and such. Nor are we delving into trappers who catch big game, exotic birds, and unusual reptiles for resale as 'pets' for so-called 'animal hobbyists.'

There’s another type of poacher in our midst whose sole focus might surprise you. This poacher illegally steals and deals in plants. You read that right: plantsIt may be hard to fathom stealing succulents when one potentially faces exorbitant fines plus a prison sentence if caught. Yet, thousands do just that every year across the U.S. And, the situation has become a global trade since many of the poachers ship their illegally wild-harvested plants abroad . . . and vice versa!


Collectibles. Plant collectors always crave one more, especially when a plant is considered rare and one-of-a-kind. Perhaps they are marketed on social media and websites as extraordinarily beautiful, yet they can’t be purchased legally from retailers. That's when the black market becomes an option for some. Other times, it’s a seemingly innocent hiker who sees tiny succulents growing along the trail. He can’t resist them, so he takes back 'souvenirs.' Regardless, even digging up one native succulent in a restricted area, such as a state or federal park, is considered illegal poaching. The same applies to endangered and threatened species. In both of these cases, it’s not innocent collecting; it’s breaking the law.

Decoratives. Mature plants can create an instant oasis. Why wait years for slow-growing succulents, such as cacti, to reach their peak when money can buy large specimens and transform landscapes overnight? In America, bigger is almost always better -- at least in some people’s minds -- so the black market becomes a source for landscapers, retailers, and property owners who are willing to ignore the crime in order to get the 'prize.'

Medicines and Mind Trips. Some consumers value the byproducts of succulents due to the inherent healing properties. For example, aloe sap doubles as a natural ointment for treatment of burns and wounds. Others seek cacti with mind-altering properties. The mescaline content of the peyote and San Padro cacti can create hallucinogenic reactions. Knowledgeable poachers know they only need take just the crown of the cactus to obtain this byproduct, but that butchering can harm the remaining plant's health and aesthetics.


Ecologists and biologists suggest that wild collecting of these and other protected succulents is more than a crime against the law; it is a crime against nature. Here’s why:

Species Survival. Indiscriminate removal of succulents reduces the native  plant population in that area, which pressures the remaining plants in their drive to survive. This type of human exploitation can threaten a plant species’ long-term survival — especially if non-native plants move in as invasives. The consequences are worse for those plants already earmarked as protected and/or endangered.

Century of Growth. In one fell swoop, a poacher digs up and removes a mature cactus from a remote part of the desert with hopes of selling it to a plant retailer, landscaper, or homeowner. What’s sad is that even if a legally propagated cactus is replanted that very day, it could take 150 years or more for the replacement plant to gain any size of merit. That’s because some cactus species, like the saguaro, grow ever so slowly — sometimes only 1 to 1 ½ inches during their first eight years!

Ripple Effect. Not only is the plant itself affecting by poaching; the surrounding ecosystem takes a hit, too.  Researchers documented that as many as 100 animal species depend on the saguaro cactus alone. So, when a poacher wipes out a whole section of this cacti, he reduces the  area wildlife’s food source (fruits and flower nectar); water supply (gnawing of cactus limbs and sipping of flower nectar); nesting sites (cavities carved in and among branches); predator protection (offered by the plant’s hiding places); and sun protection (provided by the cacti's shadow). None of that matters to the poacher, though, whose goal is the $100+ per foot that he’s paid for a mature saguaro specimen.


It’s always best to purchase the succulents from a reliable source, like Succulent Market. This three-generation California grower doesn’t take short-cuts or dabble in questionable or international trade. ALL Succulent Market plants are legally propagated on site. ALL are domestic products. And ALL are nurtured with an emphasis on plant survival and eco-stewardship for America and beyond.

Visit and order your next succulents the right way: legally and responsibly (plus quite easily!).


Source: The National Wildlife Federation,