Are you sure the houseplant you bought was not illegally traded?

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

What is the equivalent of zoo animals in the plant world? Potted plants? Do you think plants miss being in the ground, connected to other plants around it?

Can we call a bonsai tree a well-trained plant? We can definitely call it a domesticated plant, just like domesticated animals.

Domestication of plants is not a new concept. It is the process of adapting wild plants for human use – food, clothing, shelter or for ornamental reasons. Just like domesticated animals.

Domesticated plants, also known as cultivated plants, are used to the conditions humans provide them to grow. Therefore, they are less likely to grow and reproduce on their own without human intervention. They have lost their wildness over the years.

Food: As per National Geographic, the first domesticated plants in Mesopotamia were wheat, barley, lentils, and types of peas. Nearly 70% of the calories that humans consume are supplied by only 15 crops.

Clothing: The most commonly used plants for making clothing comes from hemp, ramie, cotton and flax.

Ornamental and other reasons: Indoor plants too are a subset of domesticated plants that seem to be a millennials’ thing. In the U.S., houseplant sales have increased 50 per cent since 2016 to $1.7 billion, according to the National Gardening Association. Online nurseries in India can attest to this trend with an estimate market size of ₹100 crore. Online plant nurseries like Ugaoo and Nurserylive in Pune, India have also seen an increase in sales.

But where do indoor plants come from? Why do they need different type of care? Some need more water, while others need more heat and dryness. Here’s a slideshow of how some of the most popular indoor plants look like in the wild.

Just like animals, plants are poached too because of growing demand. They are illegally traded across borders. Are you sure the indoor plant you bought was locally grown?

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments that exists to protect plants. It entered into force in 1975. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

The Government of Canada has a list of houseplants for personal use (examples of eligible and non-eligible plants). It mentions “CITES may be required” for some plants.

India supports CITES as well. Its ENVIS network has three lists/appendices which include the list of animals and plants according to different degree of threats due to over exploitation. This report has all the Indian plants included in these 3 lists. Here’s who you can reach out to in the many Indian cities to inquire about this topic.

How do we ensure that our green thumb doesn’t lead to the extinction of some of these species? It doesn’t seem feasible for everyone to look into these lists and reach out to the authorities every time they buy a new houseplant?

The mere demand for houseplants won’t keep the numbers up. Active conservation is a must, just like we do for wild animals. How can we make an informed decision when buying something as simple as an indoor plant?

How about houseplants that come with certification saying they have been sustainable sourced and are CITES approved?

Do you have any other ideas?

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