By Caroline Griffith
Note: It has come to our attention that a photo used in a previous version of this article, as well as in the print version, is a photo of Sedum spathulifolium subsp. pruinosum, often
sympatric with Dudleya farinosa. We regret the error.
Poaching is most often associated with charismatic megafauna, like elephants, bears and rhinos, but here on the north coast another poaching trend has emerged in recent years: succulents. In 2018, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) intercepted thousands of poached Dudleya, an attractive succulent that can be sold for up to $1000 per plant on the black market, primarily in Korea, China and Japan. Dudleya, a genus of succulents (26 species of which are native to California and grow along coastal cliffs) has soared in popularity due to social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. The poaching of Dudleya is not only environmentally harmful because its removal can destabilize bluffs and coastal cliffs, but also due to the rarity of the plants; more than half of California’s species are rare and ten are classified as threatened or endangered under the Federal and/or California Endangered Species Acts.
This surge in high-profile poaching arrests led to the introduction of AB 223, introduced by Asm. Member Christopher Ward of San Diego, which would make Dudleya poaching illegal. The bill, which recently passed from the Assembly, makes it explicitly unlawful to steal and sell Dudleya taken from state, local, or private lands, and establishes strong penalties for violations. The bill language stipulates a fine of not less than $5,000 per plant and up to six months in jail for a first offense and a fine of not less than $40,000 per plant and up to six months in jail for a second offense. In addition, violators may be liable for the cost of replanting seized Dudleya. The bill will now move to the California Senate.
Dudleyas are also known as “liveforevers” due to their individual longevity and hardiness, a somewhat deceptive name given the rarity of many species. A quick internet search reveals hundreds of (presumably nursery-grown) species for sale, a testament to how popular these plants are. Those of us who live on the north coast are fortunate enough to be able to visit Dudleya in its natural habitat, so there is no need to take them home. However, we can be vigilant for signs of poaching as we are out exploring the coast, including disturbed earth and dropped plants. Poaching of any kind can be reported to CDFW at (888) 334-2258.