- This is a stapelia gigantea.
This is called a voodoo lily.
Philodendron silver stripe.
- So house plants, they're having a moment right now.
Social media feeds are full of them and there are online communities dedicated to their care and feeding, and let's be honest to showing 'em off.
Now, seven out of every 10 millennials considers themselves to be plant parents.
Unfortunately, this has also meant an increase in plant poaching.
Many rare and endangered plants are being taken from their natural habitats and sold for profit and this can be super lucrative.
So does this mean that we need to stop our obsession with house plants?
How can we keep loving our leafy friends without also endangering them?
(light music fades) I'm not actually a millennial, but plants have always been a part of my home.
I like having something to care for and bringing a little bit of the outdoors, indoors.
That's the same reason that this guy got into house plants.
Meet Stephen Camp.
He's a plant parent, and he even owns his own greenhouse and has a TikTok channel dedicated to plants.
- Is today the day?
Is today the day?
Today's the day!
These flowers are very ephemeral meaning they don't last for very long, a day or two max.
- I feel like we all kind of have a desire to be around nature.
Most people especially in their twenties and thirties, don't have large yards, either live in the city or live in apartments.
Having house plants is a really easy way to do that.
- So, how many plants do you have in your home?
- I'm getting up there in the towards the triple digits.
Like many other people, I got into house plants during the pandemic and it just spiraled from there.
- Now people have kept plants in and around their homes for thousands of years, but for much of that time, it was a pursuit of the wealthy.
Flowers and fragrant plants were brought inside both because they were pretty, but also because their good smells helped cover up some bad ones.
During the Victorian Era, the care and keeping of plants began to be more widespread.
Global shipping became easier and more frequent and buildings began to be designed to accommodate plants.
But it was nothing like what we're seeing now.
- I definitely consider myself a plant parent, I think that's a great term.
You have to do what the plant needs, kind of like taking care of a kid.
I'm not the most patient person, but that doesn't work with plants.
They need high humidity, constant moisture, enclosed environment, and a lot of my plants throw tantrums.
So it forces you to do things on their terms and not your own, but it's one of those things where it's extremely rewarding to watch things grow.
I really enjoy having plants in the home.
(bright music ends) - Do you think that the role they play our lives is different now versus in earlier decades?
- Yeah, I think in a way it is.
The demand and excitement for house plants is definitely way crazier than it's been in the last few decades.
There's places where people talk about what plants might be popular, what plants might be falling outta popularity.
It's kind of like the stock market.
- Well it seems like, when you create a financial market, you can risk undermining the more intrinsic value of the thing.
It's a real issue right now.
(gentle music begins) All right, let's see if we can find the most poached plant in California.
So what's crazy about this plant is it only grows on these cliffs here.
It's got a very limited range.
It's gonna be a challenge to try to find it, but we're gonna try to find it.
(gentle upbeat music) So this is the plant we came all this way to see, dudleya farinosa.
This plant has been poached almost to extinction because it's such an infamous and rare plant in the collector market.
- When we hear the word poaching, most of us probably think about animals, like poaching elephants for their ivory, but if you're just thinking about animals, you're missing a huge part of the issue.
People have been poaching ginseng, orchids, and ferns for years.
In fact, a third of all cactus species are endangered and poaching is their biggest threat.
What's going on, Steven, like, who's behind this?
- There's organized groups behind it, but there's also just private collectors.
But unlike animals, plants don't have a great PR system.
- Yes, there are laws against plant poaching.
California just passed the law forbidding people from taking dudleyas outta the wild.
- Recently, someone was caught with a little more than a quarter million worth of plants.
First time someone's actually been sent to jail in California for that as well.
- Also, North Carolina passed a law back in 2015, making it a felony to poach wild Venus fly traps.
But these laws on their own, they can be pretty hard to enforce.
- Most of these house plants, it tends to be more like an art heist where it's a very precise, very organized thing that happens right under our noses quite often.
- Now add online shopping and everything just gets worse.
Plants aren't just being sold in shady backroom locations and alleys anymore.
Endangered, ill-gotten plants are being sold on sites like eBay and Amazon.
- A lot of times if you're shopping for plants online especially, and you notice a plant that looks pretty weathered, it's probably poached, greenhouse-grown plants don't look like that.
- Stricter laws.
More resources from officials.
Supply chain transparency.
These are needed to ensure that our plants are being protected.
- There are companies that is actually flooding the market with these really cheap amazing versions of this poached plant.
These things come from seed or through tissue culture, where you take just a few cells of a poached plant.
Through different agar, and chemicals, and hormones, you can actually create a bunch of clones of itself.
Everyone has access to them.
The poachers don't have a reason to go out and poach them anymore.
The market for these plants are just going away.
- Is there anything that we can do to help limit plant poaching?
- Just be aware that it's happening.
Most people don't even realize it's going on.
- Are you a part of the plant's PR system, Stephen?
- I try to be, yeah.
I'm collecting these seeds of these endangered plants and also giving them to nurseries or conservation groups to propagate them.
I just wanna teach people about plants, why they're so great, and how we can protect them.
- Plant poaching isn't new, mostly it's just not on our radar, and one of those reasons is plants aren't on our radar.
- You don't realize how important plants are.
You don't realize that they are more than just a backdrop, and that's plant blindness, and once you understand those things, the blindness goes away effectively.
And I think that having house plants is a really easy way to do that.
You almost are forced to connect to the plant to be a good plant parent.
But it is a balance.
We really have to find ways to still have the world we enjoy, but also protect the natural world as well.
- Do you have faith in people's ability to actually be able to find that balance?
- So I think everyone has a capacity for good, I do have faith in people.
Most people given the right knowledge and given the opportunity to, do good things.
- [Baratunde] Stephen, why do you care so much about plant poaching and making sure that we are aware of and start to care about plants?
- [Stephen] I think that plants are charismatic.
Maybe not everyone shares my opinion.
Without plants, nothing gets done.
They're key stones in environments.
Because of that, I think that we should be paying attention to plants and care a little bit more about plants.
- I love the idea of plant parenting.
I love the idea of humans seeing ourselves deeply related to nature, and it doesn't matter where we have a relationship with the outdoors.
So much so that it can include the indoors, and that's a true embrace.
When you bring it inside your home, make it a part of your life, and use language like parenting to describe your relationship to a plant, that's really beautiful.
These snake plants behind me, they're actually older than me, so in this case, they are plant parents of me.
They basically helped raise me.
It's kind of the other way around.