December 1, 2020
Melissa has begun to intrigue me with her cacti and succulent propagation. After we talked about her plans to make these little guys flourish, I went online to find out more. As I surfed, I came across a site about the ten rarest cacti in the world. I opened the first picture and recognized this as one of the cacti in our collection. As I scrolled through the list, I recognized at least two others we own. All were listed as rare or endangered. I asked Melissa about this and she confirmed we did own at least three of the ten, and probably one or two others. When I read the fine print on the site, they stated the varieties were “rare in the wild,” but were common and in demand among growers.
The Sand Dollar Cactus or Astrophytum asterias (also called sea urchin cactus, star cactus, or star peyote) is a rare spineless cactus that is native to parts of Texas and Mexico. Although there are only about 2000 wild plants, it is widely cultivated by succulent and cacti enthusiasts. The Sand Dollar Cactus has been a popular ornamental succulent since it was first collected in the mid-1800’s. It is this popularity that makes the wild version vulnerable, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List reports that people from around the world illegally remove the cactus from the wild and mail them home. They stress the Sand Dollar Cactus should not be removed from the wild because it is quite easy to grow from seeds and cuttings. Melissa told me that most of the rare and endangered species are being targeted by poachers. She also informed me all our plants are grown and raised in reputable nurseries and are not from the wild.
When I checked poaching online, I found that cacti across the American southwest are being stolen from public lands in increasing numbers. This ranges from the soaring saguaros (for landscaping) to tiny, rare species (indoor house plants). The global demand is driving a booming underground market that risks destroying the sensitive species. In 2015, US officials made a large seizure of Ariocarpus fissuratus and all 3,500 of those plants ended up at a greenhouse in Alpine, Texas, belonging to Sul Ross State University. Authorities suspect the plants were stolen from nearby public lands. “Cactus theft is a huge issue in the Trans Pecos,” said Karen Little, Sul Ross’s greenhouse manager. “We have whole genetic lines of cacti that have been wiped out by poachers.” Again, it is all about me.
Thoughts: When I worked with the State of Utah, I assisted management of the resources on state and federal lands. My federal counterparts were rangers and carried pistols. This was a needed precaution against the armed poachers they encountered on the protected lands. It is illegal to remove ANYTHING from state or federal lands (including cacti), and illegal on private lands without the permission of the owner. Melissa knew several of her cacti were defined as “rare,” but she did not know how rare they really were. Since we are expecting several nights in the low 20F, she decided to move them from the front stoop to the inside foyer to avoid freeze. You protect what you are passionate about. That is true for Melissa, and the Rangers. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.