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It’s rare to go into anyone’s house these days and not see a selection of houseplants dotted around and, although it does provide a nice array of greenery to surroundings, there could be something more sinister at play.
According to a report in The Telegraph, a boom in the number of houseplant photos being shared on Instagram and TikTok has led to a significant rise in smuggling from parts of Africa on the black market.
The report claims that poachers are threatening the survival of several rare species of plants from Kenya and South Africa, with workers now facing threats from criminals looking to exploit the demand for the plants from overseas, especially in Asia.
Dr Cornelia Klak, from the University of Cape Town’s department of biological sciences, is quoted as saying: “The Asian market for these plants is insatiable. It is gigantic. 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. 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.”
Mike Sherman, a plant expert from Johannesburg added: “It is illegal. They are crooks. They are destroying our wildlife. Permits are needed for this kind of trade. It can all be done legally. But those who sell to collectors are thieves – they will pay anything to have the whole set of one species.”
Many of the smugglers are said to come from China and South Korea and are said to pay locals low wages to dig up the plants to then be taken back to Asia. From there they are sold onto the wider global market and made available from major hubs like Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Authorities are beginning to crack down on the illegal trade, though. South African publication IOL reported in April 2020 that an American man was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail after attempting to smuggle 8,000 species of the endangered Conophytum plant.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in the number of people purchasing houseplants. In the UK alone there was said to have been a 500 per cent increase in plant sales since March 2020.
A poll published in July found that the average Briton spends around £300 a year on houseplants with the Gen Z population said to be the most enthusiastic group for plants. For instance, Insider reports that the #PlantTikTok hashtag has 3.5 billion views on TikTok alone and there are more than 12.2 million posts on Instagram about succulents.
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