Jared D. Margulies

Jan 24, 2024

The Cactus Hunters

Desire and Extinction in the Illicit Succulent Trade

University of Minnesota Press 2023

Cacti and succulents are phenomenally popular worldwide among plant enthusiasts, despite being among the world's most threatened species. The fervor driving the illegal trade in succulents might also be driving some species to extinction. Delving into the strange world of succulent collecting, Jared D. Margulies' book The Cactus Hunters: Desire and Extinction in the Illicit Succulent Trade (U Minnesota Press, 2023) takes us to the heart of this conundrum: the mystery of how and why ardent lovers of these plants engage in their illicit trade. This is a world of alluring desires, where collectors and conservationists alike are animated by passions that at times exceed the limits of law. What inspires the desire for a plant? What kind of satisfaction does it promise? 

The answer, Margulies suspects, might be traced through the roots and workings of the illegal succulent trade--an exploration that traverses the fields of botany and criminology, political ecology and human geography, and psychoanalysis. His globe-spanning inquiry leads Margulies from a spectacular series of succulent heists on a small island off the coast of Mexico to California law enforcement agents infiltrating a smuggling ring in South Korea, from scientists racing to discover new and rare species before poachers find them to a notorious Czech "cacto-explorer" who helped turn a landlocked European country into the epicenter of the illegal succulent trade. A heady blend of international intrigue, social theory, botanical lore, and ecological study, The Cactus Hunters offers complex insight into species extinction, conservation, and more-than-human care.

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