How to make sure your houseplants are sustainable

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OVER dinner with friends, one half of a couple proudly declared that his resourcefulness in finding local, sustainably caught fish had allowed a watershed for him, a carnivore, and his partner, a vegetarian-leaning pescatarian. Sustainable fishing is of critical importance, because demand for seafood has caused populations of fish and shellfish around the world to become endangered, as well as leading to habitat destruction.

When I mentioned that discussions of sustainable practices for harvesting plants and gardening are also increasingly recognised, and likewise hotly debated, my friends seemed surprised. However, gardening practices and the growing of houseplants can have significant sustainability issues.

A surge in interest in gardening occurred during the pandemic. In response, many people began to sound the alarm about myriad unsustainable ways that coveted, and sometimes exotic, houseplants were being obtained, from the energetic costs of commercial glasshouses and transport to the destruction of plant communities and ecosystems due to poaching.

Recent accounts of plant poaching abound. Plants targeted include in-demand Californian succulents, carnivorous pitcher plants found in the Philippines and endangered species such as succulent button plants and lithops in South Africa.

Since 2010, the slipper orchid has been rapidly depleted; less than 1 per cent of its original population remains, threatening it with extinction. And habitats are often damaged or destroyed by those illegally harvesting plants.

While the economic benefits for the poachers are driving much of the illegal trade, the long-term economic implications have yet to be fully counted by most.

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