Foreign nationals, primarily from Asia, are reportedly disrupting West Coast ecosystems by arriving in the United States and stealing succulent plants from U.S. state parks.
A detailed report by the Washington Post reveals how foreign nationals from Asia are increasingly coming to the U.S. to rip succulent plants out of the ground at state parks to sell them in their home countries of South Korea, China, and Japan.
The Post noted the most recent case in which wildlife detectives caught three South Korean nationals stealing succulents after arriving in the U.S.:
But wildlife detectives who had been tracking the three South Korean nationals since they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in October 2018 noticed that their rented minivan was full of boxes and rubber totes — not the typical gear for a week-long vacation. The men chatted on handheld radios as they explored the parks and always seemed to wear bulky backpacks. Watching from a distance, wardens saw what they were stuffing inside: Dudleya succulents, which have spiky blue-green leaves immediately recognizable to anyone on Pinterest and Instagram. [Emphasis added]
On Friday, the three men were charged with stealing more than $600,000 worth of wild succulents from public lands and attempting to smuggle them into Asia, where a lucrative black market for the trendy houseplants is flourishing. The bust, which led to the seizure of more than 3,700 plants, was part of a larger crackdown on succulent poachers who are believed to be part of international smuggling rings. Overseas, the plants retail for as much as $50 each, according to wildlife officials, and are a highly prized consumer good among the growing middle class. [Emphasis added]
The trio allegedly made repeated trips to three state parks in Northern California, filling up their two rental cars with Dudleya plants before returning to the nursery to unload their harvest. They had just dropped off approximately 3,715 succulents at a commercial exporter’s warehouse when the wardens pulled them over. [Emphasis added]
Now, environmental and wildlife experts are worried the stealing of thousands of succulents on the West Coast by foreign nationals, who sell the plants back in their native countries, will disrupt ecosystems and potentially lead to the extinction of particular plants like the Dudleya, which helps fight erosion in California.
Law enforcement officials only became aware of the issue in 2017 when they noticed that thousands of succulents were being ripped up by foreign nationals living in the U.S. In the most recent case of the three South Korean nationals stealing succulents from state parks, one of the men actually operated a nursery in San Diego County where he allegedly would package and ship the succulents to Korea.
Every year, millions of legal immigrants, nonimmigrants, and tourists from around the world are admitted to the U.S. Specifically, the U.S. brings more than 1.2 million legal immigrants to the country annually. The vast majority are low-skilled nationals who arrive from Central and Latin America, China, and India.