Poached Plants Get Second Life


U.S. Customs officials confiscate many smuggled plants (orchids, mostly). Many of those plants get a second life at designated Plant Rescue Centers. (National Geographic News, watch the video below!)

Use our resources to better understand the black market, and how illegal trade affects the environment and world economy.

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News video describes plants that are confiscated at U.S. ports of entry. Why do you think people cannot bring some plants into the U.S.? Read our short encyclopedic entry on invasive species for some hints!
    • Plants that are confiscated by border agents, customs officials, and Fish and Wildlife Service employees are not native to the U.S. They are exotic species. These plants have adapted to life in very different ecosystems than the one to which they are being transported.
      • The impact of such introduced species can be very harmful to native species. Native plants may not be able to compete with their new neighbors for nutrient and water resources. At this point, introduced species may become invasive and native species may become threatened or even endangered.
      • The impact of introduced species can also impact the American economy. In the video, Kyle Wallick, a botanist with the U.S. Botanic Garden, says exotic plants lacking paperwork are confiscated “to protect agricultural crops from foreign pathogens.”
    • Some plants are toxic and their trade is regulated for medical reasons. Read our media spotlight on “locoweed” (native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S.), for an example of a toxic plant whose trade is regulated.
  • Many governments debate what to do with illegal goods (such as confiscated plants, animals, or animal products) seized by law enforcement. It is a very complex question. Watch our media spotlight on “Tanzania’s Ivory Stockpile”, which documents the debate surrounding ivory seized by the government of Tanzania. What are the arguments for selling ivory, exotic plants, or other confiscated material? What are the arguments for burning or destroying the material? What do you think should be done?
    • Sell it. The government could sell the goods legally, and use the profits to create conservation, anti-trafficking, or anti-poaching programs. The government could also use the profits to help traffickers or poachers establish a legal lifestyle. (Tanzania’s ivory, the video says, is valued at more than $50 million.)
    • Destroy it. Governments should not contribute to or support the market for illegal goods. This is the priority for the U.S. and most governments around the world. (Plants confiscated at U.S. ports of entry are not sold at auction. They are cared for at Plant Recovery Centers, such as the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.)

U.S. Botanic Garden, come back, we miss you!

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