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Hey succulent thieves, you suck

We know SA has a huge crime problem, but we were still astonished to discover that not even our succulents are safe. There’s no need to get a guard dog for your plants just yet: thieves are focusing their attention on a succulent that’s indigenous to one SA region and part of Namibia. International syndicates operate as part of a brisk black market trade in the rare plant  (which has not been named, to protect it) is a type of dwarf succulent found mostly in the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve. It stretches from Namibia through the Northern Cape and parts of the Western Cape and is home to nearly 2 500 rare succulents. These are protected by both provincial and national legislation and it’s illegal to harvest, possess or sell such plants without a permit. That hasn’t stopped the syndicates: In the past three years, GroundUp reported, 1.5 million of these dwarf succulents were removed from the wild, mostly for export to Asian countries. 

It’s not known what’s driving the demand, though some speculate it’s used medicinally and others believe its rarity makes people covet the plant. GroundUp reported that our high unemployment rate has pushed some into the illicit plant-poaching business – each succulent is sold for between R30 and R100. The cost to our biodiversity is far higher. Once these plants are harvested, they cannot be replanted and it takes close to six or seven years to grow from the seed. 😕

In happier plant news, big shot Hollywood director Ridley Scott was smitten with SA’s foliage while shooting his acclaimed sci-fi series Raised By Wolves in the Western Cape recently (it’s the biggest budget show filmed in South Africa to date!). Scott told Forbes: “Half the work was done, just by the location.” He was particularly taken by our quiver trees (also known as kokerboom trees); they ended up forming a key part of the storyline. Scott got local permission to replant them. If only all fans of our plants would be as respectful! 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 24 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.