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Succulent smugglers target local public land

Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 18, 2019

A plant that is native to California is making its way overseas and thieves are making a profit by stealing them from local public lands.

The trendy succulent is called the Dudleya Farinosa, and it sells for five to seven dollars at Los Osos Valley Nursery. Overseas, it can sell for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

This February, two Dudleya poachers pleaded no contest to charges including felony grand theft and felony vandalism after they removed more than 1,800 plants from Big Sur.

It was the fourth successful Dudleya prosecution in California in just over a year.

California Fish and Wildlife officials are cracking down, going undercover to stop people from wiping out San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County’s public lands.

“We’re finding that they’re coming from far, far away. So there’s a pretty lucrative market in it,” said Todd Tognazzini, Patrol Captain with Fish and Wildlife.

The succulents are being shipped to Japan, Korea, and China, where climates aren’t conducive for succulent growth.

Steve Super, owner of Steve Super Gardens, custom grows and breeds plants for collectors in Asia. He says thieves steal plants from the wild because buyers want the large, overgrown look, which can take decades to achieve.

“They want the long stems and for some reason, they love the dead growth on it, they call it ‘old pile’,” Super said.

Places like Big Sur have been hit by succulent smugglers, and Super says he’s seen people taking succulents from Montana De Oro, as well.

“Anytime someone poaches from the wild, it destroys the ecosystem. There are things that depend on those plants,” Super said. “It’s no different than poaching animals. People think oh, it’s just a dumb plant. But that plant has a purpose.

Tognazzini says taking succulents from cliff sides can also worsen erosion.

To report suspicious activity, submit an anonymous tip through CalTIP.