Threats from Trade

There are four main types of illegal cycad trade (as shown in the organogram below). Cycads are illegally harvested from the wild and either traded: (1) at an international level; (2) at a local level; (3) incorporated into collections as parental stock so that the progeny can be traded as artificially propagated; or (4) traded for traditional medicinal purposes.

The different types of illegal cycad trade threatening wild cycad populations (J Donaldson, adapted by A Pires).

Cycads are favoured amongst landscapers as feature plants in gardens. Often it’s not the volume of the cycads required but rather the size of the cycad itself that serves as the greatest threat. However, it is illegal to trade with wild adult cycads that have a diameter greater than either 15 cm or 7 cm depending on the species (the latter usually referred to as dwarf species) and large plants are not commonly available from nurseries. As a result cycads are often collected from the wild to satisfy national and international demands. Different types of cycad collectors include:

  • ‘garden enthusiasts’, who don’t necessarily look for specific species, and therefore normally purchase what is available at nurseries. Although they won’t collect or harvest wild plants they may be tempted to purchase wild collected plants if they offered for sale;
  • ‘hobbyist collectors’ are the kind of collectors that like to gather a full set or partial set of cycad species. Typically these collectors will belong to cycad societies and will purchase plants from specialist nurseries and swap plants, seeds or pollen with other collectors. They might collect seeds from wild cycad populations in accessible areas or be tempted to purchase wild collected specimens. But they probably won’t go as far as to invest large amounts of money or time to acquire rare cycads;
  • ‘serious collectors’ will go to great lengths to obtain rare cycads and are willing to invest much of their time and money. There are serious collectors who have legal collections and comply with legislation, however within this group there are individuals who illegally collect and trade in wild cycads.