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Staggering $220,000 fine for seemingly harmless lockdown hobby

·3-min read
Aerial view of colourful indoor cactuses, Australian $100 notes.
They're colourful and fun, but trading the wrong types of cacti can land you in serious trouble. (Images: Getty).

Australians bought a record number of plants during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, but there’s a darker side to the roaring business, NSW Crime Stoppers warned on Tuesday.

Plant sales increased by $200 million in the 2019-20 financial year, according to a Nursery Industry Statistics survey released earlier this year, with Australians snapping up some $2.6 billion worth of leafy friends.

However, NSW Crime Stoppers is calling on leaf mums and dads to pause before picking up some new foliage, and take particular care when buying cacti.

In an alert issued on Tuesday, Crime Stoppers said to be cautious of the prickly pear cacti as they have barbed bristles that can lodge in skin and eyes and that can impale pets, livestock and native animals.

These plants can also establish dense walls of vegetation barring wildlife from accessing needed shade and water, and are considered illegal to sell or swap in several Australian states including NSW and Queensland.

Australia nearly won the prickly pear war, but the plant is back with a vengeance

Close image of prickly pear plant in desert.
Prickly pear spikes have been known to seriously harm pets and wildlife. (Image: Getty).

The prickly pear was introduced in the 19th century and at one point had claimed around 24.3 million hectares of land in NSW and Queensland before 80 per cent of it was eradicated with the 1925 introduction of the cactus moth. 

However, it's since been making a resurgence. 

“Many people may not know the cacti they see for sale at their local market or online are illegal to sell or trade so we have developed information to help people identify the types of cacti. If you have one of these plants do not sell or swap them,” said NSW Crime Stoppers CEO Peter Price AM.

“These cactus infestations cost millions of dollars to control. Stopping the spread is the only way to minimise the devastating impact these plants can cause.”

People who are found to be selling or swapping these cacti can be hit with immediate $1,000 fines and total penalties of up to $220,000.

NSW Crime Stoppers said spring is often when people begin picking up more plants, and urged the community to be on the lookout for the illegal cacti.

“Community awareness and action will be crucial in preventing the prohibited selling or swapping of these plants,” Price said.

“We are asking anyone who sees these plants being sold online to report it to NSW Crime Stoppers.”

According to wildlife trafficking expert Rachel Nuwer, cacti and succulents are the most illegally trafficked indoor plants in the world

A Mackay seller was caught earlier this month attempting to sell the prickly pests on Facebook, however will face no charges under the Queensland Biosecurity Act. 

“In this case, the person did not realise some of the cactus were illegal, voluntarily relinquished the plants and provided information on where they were sourced from,” a Queensland Biosecurity spokeswoman told the Courier Mail.

“Pests and diseases, including cactuses, have the potential to devastate agricultural industries, the environment and our economy.”

The prickly pear is far from the only illegal plant, with Crime Stoppers listing dozens of different species on its list of plants that are illegal to sell in NSW.

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