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By Susan Krzywicki.

Native Plants: Good News, Bad News

Popularity is always a double-edged sword. While it is nice to see California native plants gaining recognition and becoming increasingly more apparent in San Diego, there is a dark side: the perceived value of rare species has lead to poaching of our heritage. Asian collectors have been searching the globe for rare succulents to acquire, as part of their newfound consumer prosperity.

The current craze for hardy succulents, which started in South Korea and spread to China, has resulted in organised gangs stripping [California] of a plant crucial to its fragile coastal ecosystem.

The Post's Asian black market plant in question is Dudleya farinosa, commonly known as bluff lettuce, which grows along California's northern coastal bluffs.

How They Got Caught

Mendocino County authorities first became aware of Dudleya farinosa's place in the black market last December. California Game Warden Pat Freeling was phoned by the first of several tipsters who "told Freeling that she'd gotten stuck in the post office line behind a man, shipping dozens of large cardboard boxes to east Asia. When asked what he was shipping, the man apparently told the caller that it was something very valuable, and gestured toward the coastline.”

In the past, this would have seemed like some serious abalone poaching. But in this new era, we are now worried about succulents going missing.

In one instance, concerned citizens helped California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers arrest two Korean nationals when a van filled with over two thousand Dudleya plants were confiscated. This scenario has been replayed many times in the past decade, and is becoming more frequent in recent years.

How They Are Being Restored

While federal and state authorities, conservation organizations, and others have worked diligently to identify, track, and detain plant smugglers, thousands of confiscated Dudleya were, ironically, further imperiled. They sat, waiting and dying, until local community members came to the rescue.

This past spring, a variety or nonprofit and government sector volunteers gathered to replant more than 2,000 Dudleya succulents. They sorted, cleaned, and gently prepared them. They found homes for each and every one of those hostages. It will take some time to determine the health of these replanted specimens. Dudleya take several years to flower, which is why these were poached in the first place. So, we expect that it may take years for the replanted succulents to naturalize and re-establish themselves on our coastal cliffs where they help to provide erosion control and contribute to the biological diversity that makes California such an amazing place to live.

Prevent Future Abuse

Native plant poaching is theft of our communal California heritage. If you see someone who looks like they are harvesting native plants illegally, snap some pictures of their faces, license plate, and any other identifying information you can safely document. Provide that information to CDFW by calling their tip line at 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258), sending a text to tip411, or visiting CalTIP online.

Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She has been the first Horticulture Program Director for the California Native Plant Society, as well as chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee and is on the board of San Diego Canyonlands.

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