Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press

Jared D. Margulies. The Cactus Hunters: Desire and Extinction in the Illicit Succulent Trade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2023. 304 pages, $100 cloth, $24.95 paper.

“How do succulent plants move people toward pro-environmental action? Focusing on the positively prickly relations of humans and succulent species, Jared D. Margulies’ ‘The Cactus Hunters: Desire and Extinction in the Illicit Succulent Trade’ offers fascinating answers through ‘more than one-hundred interviews with law enforcement officers, cactus collectors, botanists, conservationists, commercial succulent dealers, and, yes, succulent poachers.’ Exceptionally informative as well as highly readable, ‘The Cactus Hunters’ provides a rich context for contemplating the global movements of succulent plants – including the forces driving popular potted varieties to extinction in the wild – by moving beyond simply documenting botanical lives and deaths, and tapping into the unconscious desires of people whose lives come to be shaped by them.

“Of special appeal to everyone who has ever cared for a houseplant while wondering about the broader environmental impacts of potted life are the details with which readers are invited to piece together the author’s own slow and deliberate journey in curating his hobby collection through getting to know all kinds of succulents and their plant-people. The methodological openness of multispecies ethnography allows for fascinating investigative turns, for instance, into the disorganized crime networks responsible for stealing plants from California and Mexico and shipping them to markets in South Korea.

“As the book’s subtitle indicates, when profit motivates disregard for conservation laws, collectors risk contributing to the anthropogenic extinction of popular succulents in the wild, along with severe collateral damage to humans and other animals and plants whose lives have become entangled with them. Fortunately, the stories that Margulies documents often flag up more sustainable models, and indicate how the penchant for plant-people to swap and share plant material can nurture mutually beneficial networks that help us to learn how to love as well as ‘leave wild cactus and succulent plants where they are.’ ” — SUSAN MCHUGH, English professor at University of New England

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