Conophytum piluliforme subsp. edwardii

Assessor: Sarah Schumann

Sensitive in 2010
Reason for the sensitivity status
Several species of the genus are known to be targeted, exploited and illegally removed from the wild, causing population decline. Evidence shows that the Conophytum genus is in high demand in international horticultural trade. Although this species is not known to be threatened by collection, it is thought to become a target in the upcoming years. Were exploitation to take place, the taxon has a small population size and poor regeneration potential as recruitment is low and dependent on appropriate weather conditions. Releasing data on this species can exacerbate threat and vulnerability.
This species is either similar to another sensitive species or belongs to a group containing sensitive species, and is extremely rare in the wild. The localities of wild populations need to be protected to avoid loss to exploitation, which, due to its rarity, could drive the species to extinction within a very short time.
Exploitation extent
Uncertain - No data exists yet showing that this species is exploited in the wild, however it has one or more relatives or look-alike species (found in South Africa or globally) that are known to be utilised. This species has a similar life form or other relevant traits to its exploited relative(s), making it highly likely that it would be exploited for the same purposes.
Justification and references

According to the IUCN Red List Assessment, this subspecies is Critically Endangered as it is threatened with habitat degradation and is not currently threatened by illegal collection but it is likely that it will become a target in coming years as the majority of other species in the genus have been increasingly targeted and threatened with illegal collection since 2019 (Young 2022). As of 2019, this genus has become popular in trade and there is a high demand from international and domestic horticultural markets for wild collected plants as indicated by media, police reports and several online marketplace, e-commerce, and auction sites (Friedman, 2021; Tshuma, 2021; Trenchard, 2021; Hyman, 2020; Young, 2020). Plants of this genus were among those targeted and confiscated during recent criminal prosecutions of illegal plant collecting (Majikela, 2020; Myburgh, 2021) (Confiscation Lists (2019-2021) provided by Cape Nature, SANBI Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, SANBI Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, SANParks Sendelingsdrift Botanic Garden and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment). Rare Conophytum species remain potentially threatened by collecting (Young et al. 2015). This suggests that this genus is being targeted and that this subspecies may be threatened.

Friedman, B. 2021. 24 May 2021. South Africa targeted for rare plant poaching placing biodiversity at risk. Cape Talk. Available at:

Hyman, A. 2020. 1 February 2020. Koreans fined R5m as poachers target SA's succulent treasure chest. Times Live. Available at:

Majikela, M. 2020. 31 January 2020. Hefty sentencing for possession of Conophytum plants. Media Statement. South African Police Service Office of the Provincial Commissioner Western Cape. Available at:

Myburgh, A. 2021. 20 January 2021. Man behind bars for possession of endangered plants (Conophytum). Media Statement South African Police Service, Office of the Provincial Commissioner North West. Available at:

Trenchard, T. 2021. 31 July 2021. In South Africa, Poachers Now Traffic in Tiny Succulent Plants. The New York Times. Available at:

Tshuma, N. 2021. 20 May 2021. Collectors drive a spike in theft of indigenous plants in the Western Cape. IOL. Available at:

Young, A.J., Raimondo, D. & Hammer, S.A. 2015. Conophytum hermarium (S.A.Hammer) S.A.Hammer. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1.

Young, A.J., Raimondo, D. & Vlok, J.H. 2015. Conophytum piluliforme (N.E.Br.) N.E.Br. subsp. edwardii (Schwantes) S.A.Hammer. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1.

Young, A.J. 2020. Conophytum armianum S.A.Hammer. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. 

Young, A. 2022. (assessment in prep 2022) Conophytum piluliforme subsp. edwardii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Population vulnerability
Population is vulnerable: size is <= 2500 mature individuals OR the number of known subpopulations is <= 5 OR range is <= 100km2 OR species at risk of localised extinctions
Justification and references

This species has an extent of occurrence of 81 km² and has a population size thought to consist of between 5,000-15,000 mature individuals (Young, 2022).

Young, A. 2022. (assessment in prep 2022) Conophytum piluliforme subsp. edwardii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Targeted demographics
Regeneration potential
This species has a slow population growth rate, or the growth rate varies depending on habitat, and there is a poor chance the wild populations will recover from exploitation OR a collector might feasibly harvest the entire extant population removing the chance of subsequent recruitment.
Justification and references

High levels of endemism and a restricted range makes this species vulnerable to population loss (Hammer, 2002; Young & Desmet, 2016; Young & Rodgerson, 2016). Regeneration potential for the vast majority of the Conophytum genus is very poor as recruitment is low and dependent on successive, appropriate weather conditions. Seeds are not known to disperse. Regeneration will take decades. (Young, personal communication 2021, 5 October)

Hammer, S. 2002. Dumpling and his wife: New view of the genus Conophytum. EAE Creative Colour, Norwich.

Young, A.J. and Desmet, P.G., 2016. The distribution of the dwarf succulent genus Conophytum NE Br.(Aizoaceae) in southern Africa. Bothalia-African Biodiversity & Conservation46(1), pp.1-13.

Young, A.J. and Rodgerson, C., 2016. The dwarf succulent genus Conophytum NE Br.: distribution, habitat and conservation. Aloe52(2).