Orchidelirium: How a Modern-Day Flower Madness Is Fueling the Illegal Trade

All over the world, rare plants are being stolen from the wild, and from botanical gardens. London’s legendary Kew Gardens employs security officers and cameras 24 hours a day. Its orchids, however, need extra protection. Many are displayed in locked glass cabinets to prevent theft. The rarest aren’t put out for visitors at all. Spurred on by social media, with orchid influencers and unboxing videos, illegal global markets are sadly thriving. The true size of the illegal trade isn’t known, but many varieties are being driven into extinction. Before species can be scientifically described, they’re stripped from the wild by poachers. As a result, botanists must hide locations of new finds, and work to reintroduce and protect endangered varieties. Kew scientist Mike Fay explains why orchids inspire such delirium: “They don’t have a normal lifestyle. They indulge in strange pollination, they have to have a relationship with a fungus for the seeds to even germinate, they have weird and wonderful flowers that are incredibly variable. Some are difficult to keep going, so it’s a way of showing you are a good horticulturist.”

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