CITES, Plants, and You

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Some plants are being loved to death, sometimes for their medicinal properties, but more often for their aesthetic properties. Logging of certain trees for their beautiful wood has made them scarce. Overcollecting of certain cactuses and succulents has wiped out local populations. It was recognized that something had to be done to protect rare, endangered, and threated plants, so the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was implemented in 1975.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international agreement between, at present, 175 governments for the regulation of international trade in endangered species. It does not necessarily forbid the trade in endangered species, but regulates it so that the trade is done in a sustainable manner. CITES concerns both animals and plants but this article deals only with plants. CITES is concerned with the dealing in live plants and plant parts for which the plant must be killed to obtain, such as lumber, roots, and whole dried plants. Usually seeds are exempt. CITES regulates the shipping of plants between any two member countries, regardless of the nativity of the plant in question. Thus it governs the shipping of a saguaro cactus from Germany to Italy as much as it concerns shipping one from the United States to Canada.

Species covered by CITES fall into three categories, Appendix I, II, and III. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction and trade in them is prohibited except for non-commercial purposes, like scientific study. An import and an export permit are required to transport these species. Appendix II species are not currently threatened with extinction but that scenario may result if trade is not regulated now. Species are added to Appendix III if a government has requested the cooperation of other countries to prevent the overexploitation of the species. Legal trade in any CITES species requires various certificates and permits to show that the plant was legally collected or is nursery stock. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss documentation in detail, but further information can be obtained from the web site.

Below is a list of some of the plants covered by CITES. See the CITES web site for a complete list of species and exceptions and other details.

A Partial Listing of Plants Covered by CITES, Appendices I and II
 all Pachypodium species
 Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng)
 all Cactaceae spp. (cactuses) except Pereskia spp., Pereskiopsis spp., Quiabentia spp., and a handful of artificially produced crosses
 all Cycadaceae and Zamiaceae spp. (cycads)
 many Euphorbia spp.
all Aloe spp. except Aloe vera
all Nepenthes spp. (Old World pitcher plants)
 all Orchidaceae ssp. (orchids)
 all Sarracenia spp. (New World pitcher plants)

How does this affect the plant collector? Do not ship CITES-controlled plants to other countries without the proper paperwork. When purchasing plants in your own country, try to make sure that they are nursery stock or were legally removed from the wild. Broadly speaking, legal plants should be more aesthetically pleasing than illegal plants. The legal plants usually should be more healthy than illegally smuggled plants and nursery stock, which is protected from weather and predators, should look more perfect than wild plants. If purchasing plants from another country, make sure that the sender is knowledgeable and will provide all of the necessary paperwork. Also be aware that CITES is not necessarily the only ruling in effect. Countries, states, and regions may have their own laws about what may be shipped into the area. Checking first with customs and agricultural departments can spare you the expense and disappointment of confiscated plants.

CITES might seem like another bureaucratic organization that makes it more difficult to buy, sell, or trade plants, but in the long run, it should encourage the production of nursery stock. This would ensure a steady supply for collectors and possibly bring down the price, all the while protecting plants in the wild.

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