The Dudleya farinosa is a beautiful succulent that grows on the coastal range of Northern California. And they’re now at the center of a global black market heist.
Two men from Korea and one man from China have been booked into Humboldt county jail in connection to an operation to steal thousands of the plants from the coastline, send them back to Asia and sell them for a whopping $50 a piece.
These plants are well known to grow on the Northern California coastline, with many in the Mendocino and Humboldt regions, with an endangered species living in Santa Clara County. They have become very popular decorations for China’s growing middle class.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife game warden Patrick Freeling followed multiple tips to nab the Korean and Chinese nationals who were traveling to Northern California to steal the succulent and send them back to black market sellers in China and Korea.
The first tip came from an anonymous caller who noticed suspicious activity in a small Mendocino post office. The caller claimed that a man held up the line at the post office while shipping 60 packages to China. When the caller asked what the man was shipping, he pointed to the ocean and said “something very valuable.” Following the tip, Freeling notified U.S. Customs who discovered the boxes full of the Dudleya plant.
When Freeling received another phone tip, he rushed to the cliffs near Point Arena to find the same man found in the post office security footage. He was caught with 50 Dudleyas in his backpack.
The final blow was when Freeling found a van parked along Highway 1 loaded with boxes. He first suspected abalone poachers, but when they searched the van they found hundreds of Dudleya. The phone tips had suddenly paid off in spades.
They had found the perpetrators – Taehun Kim, 52, and Taeyun Kim, 46, both of Korea, and Liu Fengxia, 37, of China. Following the arrest, officials raided the suspects cabin in Trinidad, uncovering thousands more succulents. That was when they realized this operation had global implications.
Authorities had found out the suspects flew into San Francisco International Airport, rented a van and cruised the Northern California coastline looking for the plant, shipping them to Asia along the way.
There are many implications with the destruction of this coastal land, including a massive hit to the coastline’s ecosystem. Officials were able to replant some of the recovered plants but it’s still unknown how many total plants have been shipped to Asia.
If you notice any suspicious poaching activity, please call CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program, at (888) 334-2258 or send a text to tip411.