Is there a statute of limitations for poaching?
You see, one of my interests is carnivorous plants, and I’m particularly fond of pitcher plants in the genus Sarracenia. (Proof: I own Sarracenia.com!) These plants are easy to grow, and there’s a large horticultural community that loves them. They’re great plants — dramatic, showy, and just plain cool.
Unfortunately, some species are crushingly rare in the wild. The Nature Conservancy, other conservation organizations, and state agencies have preserves where these rare plants are protected.
While you might think that the community of pitcher plant growers would be tightly allied with the conservation workers, it just ain’t so. Why? Because a small fraction of growers poach plants from the wild, earning the ire and mutual distrust by everyone to everyone.
This is where it gets really interesting, at least from an ethical point of view. One of the really rare species, Sarracenia jonesii, has a mutant form that does not have red pitchers like all the others do — instead, its pitchers are bright lime green.
Horticulturists wet themselves at the sight. Poachers have been so busy stealing this mutant from the wild that they have poached it out of existence. Now, it can only be found in plant collections.
Like all other pitcher plants, Sarracenia jonesii is fairly easy for the specialist to grow and propagate. I frequently see it for sale by private horticulturists, nurseries and even in gift shops at botanical conservatories. Setting aside for the moment the issue of permits (it is illegal to sell S. jonesii across state lines without Fish & Wildlife permits), I ask you…do the descendants of plants poached from the wild ever lose the taint of their unethical ancestry?
I help manage a university collection of carnivorous plants, and a visitor recently offered to give our collection a specimen of the mutant Sarracenia jonesii. The plant was a division from a seedling the grower had created by self-pollinating his own plant, which in turn he had originally bought from the gift shop at a botanical garden in Georgia. He had records documenting all this.
The plant is beautiful. But I know — I know in my heart — that this plant is the descendent of a plant that came to cultivation by the actions of some jerk who jumped a fence and dug a plant from the wild.
So my question du jour is: Do these plants ever become “clean”? Or should they forever be considered ethically unacceptable?
I will decline stating whether I accepted the plant for the university.
(Image: Sarracenia pupurea subsp. purpurea in Canada. Credit: Barry Rice.)