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Nonfiction in response to Life On Land
March 2019

Plant Poaching: A Growing Problem

By Georgia Bernbaum

I’m sure you have all heard about poaching animals. Poaching is the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals. The most prominent example of this is elephant poaching. People will illegally hunt and kill elephants in order to profit from their ivory. This problem has gained international attention and has been growing for years; despite a ban on the international trade of ivory elephant poaching continues. According to the UN, 7,000 species of animals have been reported in illegal trade involving 120 countries. But have you heard of poaching plants? I’m going to take a wild guess and say probably not. A much less well known problem yet still a serious issue. Many expensive plants with precious benefits are being poached. One example of this is the Ginseng plant.


The Ginseng root provides many physical and health benefits. It is known to boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and treat diabetes. It is also used to treat infections like the flu, HIV/AIDS, and intestine infections. It can also aid someone mentally by reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and improving memory less.  Because of this, Ginseng has become very expensive and can sell for a large sum of money on the black market.  In fact, Ginseng costs around $500 to $600 per pound. The monumental cost results in people stealing Ginseng roots from private properties and national parks. Since 1992, park rangers from the Great Smokies have recorded more than 15,000 illegally harvested Ginseng roots.


Kim Murphy is one of many who have experienced Ginseng poaching first hand. A Winter Park, Fl native, her family has property in North Carolina that happens to have a surplus amount of this “magic” plant. Murphy had been mapping the various plants on the property for some time and soon realized that the ginseng plants had begun to disappear. She had also heard talk around town about plant poaching and put two and two together. As people began to learn more about the wealth Ginseng holds there was a “gold rush for Ginseng” joked Murphy, and the problem escalated. Kim Murphy, along with others, are continuing to map their plants and cutting the plants but leaving the root. In doing so poachers are unable to find the precious root without the recognizable plant. Murphy tells of what national parks are doing to combat this problem on a wider scale, “they mark their roots with a fluorescent dye… and they dust the root with this powder along with a tiny microchip”. This ensures that if their plants are sold the poacher is arrested immediately as the fluorescent dye makes the park’s plants disguisable.


In a search for profit, these poachers end up harming the Ginseng plant. The poaching has escalated to the point of Ginseng endangerment in many states. In others it is threatened or on the brink of endangerment. According to Murphy, “poachers take the entire root of the plant because the root is what is worth money. And if the root is gone there is nothing left to reproduce”. Without the organism, Ginseng plants cannot continue to grow resulting in a declining population of these plants. Society is constantly searching for more: more wealth, more success, and more fame. However, in doing so we are destroying the very earth we live on and the plants that inhabit it. This may be the first time you are hearing of poaching plants, but it is a serious issue that will continue to get worse if not dealt with.

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