Plant Poaching, Illegal Exporting Rings, and the Endangered Dudleya Succulents

By Christian Paullin, Environmental Journalist

Photo of Dudleya virens copyright Dieter Wilkens. Used with permission

International criminals, poaching, and shipping containers full of illegal plants is not what usually comes to mind when talking about succulents. But succulent poaching across California has seen a rapid rise. The target is the dudleya, a succulent native to California‚Äôs coastal bluffs and cliffs. In southern  Los Angeles County we have our own species of dudleya native to the Palos Verdes coastal hills–the Dudleya virens.

These drought-resistant, colorful succulents have increased in popularity in parts of Asia, specifically South Korea and China. Dudleya, also known as liveforevers, cannot be farmed effectively in wet climates–leading to a high level of poaching along the California coasts. 

Dudleya poaching was relatively unknown to authorities until recently. In 2018, a dudleya exportation ring was discovered by authorities in California. A group of poachers had illegally removed the plants from Northern California and falsified paperwork saying the dudleya came from a farm in San Diego. They attempted to export the illegally poached plants to South Korea where they could be sold upwards of $1000.00 per plant. They were found with $600,000 worth of dudleya in their possession.

It has become a problem across the state in recent years and it is suspected to have started happening in the Los Angeles coastal areas as well. Due to the increasing threat towards these succulents, the California Native Plant Society recently sponsored a bill protecting these special, endangered plants. 

On September 28, 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 223, the first California law to deal directly with poaching of a plant from public and private land. The punishments include fines up to $50,000.00 and 6-month prison sentence after multiple offenses.

Seventy percent of all dudleya species can be found in California. Ten species, including four found in the Los Angeles area are classified as threatened or endangered.  Though our local dudleya, Dudleya virens, is not threatened, it is an uncommon species and it is important to protect these plants. Dudleya are not only threatened by poaching but also wildfires, droughts, climate change, and coastal development. 

These drought-resistant plants are an important member of our ecosystem and are able to hold water more effectively than most plants. Therefore it is a popular food and water source for ground squirrels, rabbits, snails, deer, hummingbirds, and bees. They also provide stability to coastal bluffs and cliffs, which is an issue in the landslide area of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Therefore it is imperative we continue to protect the dudleya not only for future generations to enjoy in the wild, but also to maintain our ecosystems. Though it is not known if Dudleya virens has been poached from the Palos Verdes hills, it is still important to know our community is home to a special species of succulent and we should do everything we can to protect this native plant.

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