The social media houseplant craze is driving illegal poaching of succulent plants from Africa. Kenya and South Africa have been identified as key destinations for succulent plant traders. The traders pay locals pennies to dig up the plants, which are then sold internationally at high prices.

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Botanists warn that the trend may wipe out important and rare succulent species. Dr. Cornelia Klak, from the department of biological sciences at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, said in an interview that the appetite for plants is high in Asia. “The Asian market for these plants is insatiable. It is gigantic,” said Klak. “There is a collecting mania. People want these wild plants which can grow for up to a hundred years. They are being taken out by local people, some of whom have lost jobs throughout lockdown.”

Related: Thousands of California ‘hipster succulents’ are being stolen in plant poaching crisis

More concerning is how the plants are being uprooted. Klak says that the plants are dug out without considering their age. “They are cleaning out the populations, including all the very, very old plants. This is the tragedy; they are not just picking off the seeds.”

South Africa is home to about one-third of all succulent species in the world. Experts warn that if the trend continues, Africa may end up losing these natural wonders.

Demand for house plants skyrocketed in 2020, at the peak of COVID-19. With most people locked indoors, indoor gardening drove the demand for indoor plants to the ceiling. The Telegraph reports that some plant retailers in the U.K. have seen a 500% sales increase since the beginning of the pandemic.

In a statement, Dr. Emily Wabuyele of Kenyatta University in Nairobi said that most of the local plants are poached and sold internationally either as indoor plants or for their medicinal value.

“I think succulent plant poaching is quite rampant [in Kenya]. They are ornamental things and people like to grow them in gardens and houses,” said Wabuyele. “When you look through the international catalogues you will find a lot of Kenyan plants. They are disguised as vegetables and taken out of the country. If a succulent has any medical qualities they’re even more at risk.”

Via The Telegraph

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