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Cactus Trafficking Is Hurting the Planet—Here's How to Shop Ethically

Cactus trafficking is real, and it could have some detrimental effects on our biodiversity.

Written by
Kristine Nguyen

Cacti aren't just cute, low-maintenance plants you can display in your home. According to new information that's surfacing, they're also the subject of illegal global trade. And cactus trafficking is really impacting our ecosystems.

Cacti are some of the most sought-after plants in the black market, and it's only been made more evident by a recent case of cactus trafficking that's picking up attention online. Andrea Cattabriga, cactus expert and president of the Association for Biodiversity and Conservation, found more than 1,000 rare cacti that valued at over $1.2 million in a bust called "Operation Atacama" in Italy last February. Many of these plants came from Chile, which doesn't allow them to be exported.

This news may come as surprising, but it's actually a prevalent problem that's been swept under the rug. Trafficking plants is not only illegal, but it can pose a very serious threat to the environment. According to a study by the journal Plants, People, Planet, there's a wide variety of plant species that are threatened by illegal wildlife trade. But due to plant blindness, they're largely ignored.

This ignorance can have some detrimental effects when it comes to biodiversity conservation. According to an article published in the journal Nature, upwards of 31 percent of all cacti species are threatened with extinction, and 47 percent are impacted by illegal horticulture trade and ornamental purposes.

Thankfully, many of the cacti involved in Operation Atacama made their way back home to Chile in late April of this year after receiving temporary care at the Città Studi Botanical Garden of Milan. Now, this news may have you wondering: What's the best way for a plant enthusiast to buy cacti without inadvertently supporting the succulent black market? Here are some suggestions on finding ethically-sourced cacti (and plants in general).

Tips for Finding an Ethically-Sourced Cactus

1. Do Your Research on Retailers

Taking the time to find an ethical nursery or plant retailer is an important step in finding an ethically-sourced cactus. (Or any plant, for that matter.) Where is the cactus originally from? Is it grown at the nursery itself, or is it being plucked from a different country? Does this nursery implement sustainable practices?

It's always best to stick to the trusted plant retailers who have proven to source plants in an ethical and sustainable manner. A few of our favorites include The Sill, Bloomscape, and Rooted.

2. Learn About the Cactus You Want

When shopping for a cactus, it's best to not just impulse-buy the cutest one you see at the store. Make sure the cactus you're interested in isn't part of an endangered species.

If you're on the hunt for a rarer species, get in touch with some plant experts near you to find the best ethical and sustainable options in your community. You can't always trust the random retailers selling those options online.

3. Grow One Yourself

If you're worried about finding a sustainably-sourced cactus, why not grow your own? You can grow your own cactus from seeds, or propagate cacti from leaves and cuttings. By growing your own cactus, you'll know for sure that your plant is ethically-sourced. You'll also get the satisfaction of watching your spiky plant baby grow into its own.