This module is a resource for lecturers


Key issues


Terminology (Scale & Scope)

There is no single, universally-agreed definition of the ‘illegal exploitation of wild flora’. Different organizations, national authorities, and authors tend to use a variety of terms to refer to crimes against flora. Technically, the ‘illegal exploitation of wild flora’ is part of the illegal wildlife trade, as the term ‘wildlife’ encompasses both wild fauna and wild flora, yet, the term ‘wildlife’ is typically used in reference to wild fauna. This module focuses on the illegal exploitation of wild flora in all its manifestations, referring to the harvesting and trafficking of all types of flora (trees and non-timber species) from their natural habitat both in- and outside of forests. This focus is important as illegal activities surrounding non-timber flora products tend to be neglected (Margulies et al., 2019).

In this module, the term “illegal exploitation of wild flora” refers to the taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consumption of wild flora, including timber and non-timber products, in contravention of national laws or international frameworks. The term ‘wild flora’ includes timber, burls, orchids, cacti, carnivorous plants, vanilla, etc., as well as many others. The module will also look at charcoal as a wood product.

Table 1 provides an overview of commonly used terms related to the illegal exploitation of wild flora.



Forest crime

The term ‘forest crime’ only recently entered the scientific literature. The term has no fixed or agreed definition and can encompass a large range of illegal forest activities (Humphreys, 2016; Blaser and Zabel 2016). Forest crime is sometimes used as an umbrella term to include various illegal forest activities. As the name suggests, it refers to the spatial locations of “forests, which regularly includes rainforests but also temperate and boreal forests. This term falls short of encapsulating crimes against wild flora that take place outside of forests.

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs)

Non-timber forest products are commodities other than timber that are obtained from the forest (De Beer and McDermott 1989). Some examples include medicinal plants, resins, bamboo, fruits, nuts, seeds, and fungi.

Non-timber flora

Non-timber flora refers to all flora other than timber, regardless of the biome in which it is located (forest, grassland, desert, etc.).

Illegal forest activities

This term refers to “all illegal acts that relate to forest ecosystems, forest-related industries, and timber and non-timber forest products. They range from acts related to the establishment of land rights to corrupt activities to acquire forest concessions, and activities at all stages of forest management and the forest goods production chain, from the planning stages, to harvesting and transport of raw material and finished products, to financial management.” (Tacconi et al., 2003, p. 3; Tacconi et al., 2016, p. 25).

Illegal logging

One of the best understood and most described categories of illegal activities involving wild flora concerns illegal logging. The term ‘illegal logging’ commonly refers to the illegal harvesting of trees; however, various authors use a broader definition of illegal logging by also including related illegal activities along the timber value chain. Kleinschmit et al. (2016, pp. 18, 133-135) defined three categories that fall under the term ‘illegal logging’:

  1. Illegal forest conversion: the act of clearing forest land that is in violation of land use laws and regulations, and/or without required licenses for the purpose of creating space for other land uses, such as agriculture
  2. Informal logging: forest harvesting that is often carried out by small-scale producers who may operate illegally due to unclear legislation or otherwise unreasonable and disproportionate costs of compliance
  3. All other illegal forest activities not covered in the two former categories, including large-scale illegal logging, which may, in some cases, be considered organized criminal activity

Plant poaching

Plant poaching “involves the illegal removal of rare and endangered plants from their natural habitats. Poaching can occur on government land or on private property when plants are taken without regard to laws and regulations created for the plants’ protection.” (Serrano, 2020, para. 5).


The sub-pages to this section provide a descriptive overview of the key issues for lecturers to cover with their students when teaching on this topic:


Next: Wild flora as the target of illegal trafficking
Back to top