Rise in popularity leads to thorn in cacti industry's side amid surge of uprooting

Local group explains demand, how it's rescuing uprooted plants

SAN ANTONIO – In South Texas, it's not uncommon to see cacti and succulents. But did you know those everyday plants are actually part of a billion-dollar industry across the country, according to the United States Department of Agriculture?

Over the past four years, there's been a big increase in popularity for these thorny plants.

According to Garden Center Magazine, which surveyed plants with Readex Research from 2012 to 2017, sales of cacti and succulents have increased across the country by 64 percent.

Jimmy Black, president of the San Antonio Cactus and Succulent Society, said whether it’s because of social media or hipsters buying the plant, the society has definitely seen growth in its annual show and sale during Fiesta.

“Lots of young people come to these shows now that didn't come before,” Black said.

The demand has led to thorns in the industry’s side.

“(There’s a) huge black market for some plants,” Black said.

He said a lot of uprooting is happening in remote parts of states such as Arizona and New Mexico.

According to Black, people will uproot 100-year-old cacti out of the ground and sell them for lots of money. He said the Saguaro cactus is one of the plants that is most likely to be poached. 

Black said the plants are found in other parts of the country and are sought after because they take decades to become fully grown.

“Those are highly sought after. If you can manage to get one of those, it's a big plant that's probably a ($500) to $600 plant,” Black said.

Black said uprooting these plants can cause certain species to become endangered.

“Because they are being pulled up out of the ground, they are incredibly slow-growing and there is just no ability for that plant to reproduce fast enough to overcome the rate at which it's being poached,” Black said.

When any plants or species become endangered or extinct, it can throw off the flow of the ecosystem.

While there is poaching in other parts of the country and world, locally, the San Antonio Cactus and Succulent Society aims at rescuing uprooted cacti from public property that is being destroyed due to road construction or urbanization.

Black wants to make it known that you can't just walk onto any property and take a plant. The plant must be already uprooted on public property, and it's usually wise for a botanist or someone with experience to handle the relocation. Federal law also prohibits taking or uprooting plants from protected national parks.

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