Cycads are the most threatened group of plants in the world. These ancient plants date back about 280m years, before the age of the dinosaurs, and they look primeval, with a rugged chunky trunk rising into a crown of stiff feathery leaves.
They are disappearing as their tropical forest habitats are rapidly vanishing, and they also face extinction from an illegal multimillion-pound global trade in wild cycads. The rarer they become, the more their value increases, with some individual specimens selling for millions of pounds each.
The loss of such rare plants removes their gene pool from the wild, depletes their numbers and brings them closer to extinction. Poachers can also destroy whole habitats plundering the plants, and the trafficked plants are at risk of disease. Trying to protect the cycads is highly dangerous, and rangers in Kruger national park in South Africa have been killed in order to steal the plants.
There are no dedicated funds or organisations to combat the illegal cycad trade. If these were giant pandas, black rhinos or elephants there would be an outcry – a familiar story for other endangered, rare plants.