the secret life of plants

Is Your Succulent Sourced From a Criminal Cactus Market?

A big cactus.
A big cactus. Photo: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

The quenchless thirst millennials have for plant life that requires little water or care but greatly improves the aesthetics of a tiny bedroom is fueling a dastardly criminal market putting an entire ecological habitat at risk.

According to the Guardian, cactus theft in the deserts of the United States is at an all-time high as the succulent market hiked into the tens of millions. Since 2012, there was a 64 percent spike in the sale of cacti.

“People try to steal all kinds of things from the park, even rattlesnakes,” Ray O’Neil, the chief park ranger at Saguaro national park, told the Guardian. “But cactus has always been the biggest target.”

Apparently, the cactus resale market is highly profitable. Cacti go on the black market for about $100 a foot, meaning that there’s plenty of incentive to invade places like Saguaro’s Cactus Forest in order to profit off of an East Coast’s blogger’s meager attempts at interior design.

According to reports from park rangers, thieves are ripping cacti from the ground in order to steal them. The illegal method is much faster than raising cacti from their infancy; it can take 15 years to bring up a certain strains. But the people going into this line of work don’t even care about the well-being of the plants.

“You could tell the people who stole the plants were money lovers, not cactus lovers,” a greenhouse manager in Texas named Karen Little said. “The plants were just yanked out of the ground and stuffed into garbage bags.”

The thefts have become so bad that some of the cacti in Arizona were even implanted with microchips, so they could be tracked in case they were stolen. The scale of the problem has practically created a whole new division of law enforcement.

“When I first started we rarely investigated cactus theft,” one anonymous U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detective told the Guardian. “Now we are prosecuting cases involving thousands of plants at a time. The demand is so high that I fear we can’t stop the illegal trade going on.”

It might not prevent the reckless and volatile trade of cacti on the black market, but the next time you’re going to buy a succulent to put on the window sill of your apartment, make sure you’re buying one that’s ethically sourced.

Is Your Succulent Sourced From a Criminal Cactus Market?