If justice proves successful, a soon to be influx of Asian criminals to California penal institutions will have to answer the perennial question put to newcomers: “Whatya infor?”
“Poaching wild succulents” will be their only response. “Very valuable.”
Succulents are some 45 species of plants of the genus Dudleyawith the most common Dudleya farinose. At any U.S. plant store, they run from $2.00 to $12.00 each. In newly affluent neighborhoods in Asia, the same plant commands $40 to $50. That sub rosa markup has spawned an international organized black market industry. Numerous arrests have occurred in recent months, but no one knows the number of plants already illegally shipped across the Pacific.
The three gentlemen now in custody plucked over 1000 of the plump, liquid-filled, star-shaped plants that look like small aloe cousins. Also known as bluff lettuce, powdery liveforever, and powdery dudleya, the rosette shaped plants are favorites of migrating hummingbirds and highly desirable in Asia because they resemble lotus flowers thanks to their wide, pointed, spade-shaped leaves. For that reason and the social status they’ve come to symbolize, the plants are prized throughout households in Korea, Japan, and China.
D. farinose (or bluff lettuce plants) are native to the rugged bluffs and coastal hillsides along Oregon and northern California, and in particular, the Monterey Cypress forests at Point Lobos and Del Monte Forest in Monterey County.
Patrick Foy, captain of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says the plant poachers enter the U.S. on tourist visas for the single purpose of shipping stolen plants back home. They scour lofty areas where they cannot be seen and pluck every plant they see. They drive the coast searching for likely areas, then ship them by the hundreds. Plants recovered from poachers are replanted.