Conophytum acutum

Assessor: Sarah Schumann

Sensitive in 2010
Reason for the sensitivity status
This species and several others 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. Two known subpopulations makes this species highly vulnerable to population loss and is threatened with over-collection. Releasing data on this species can exacerbate threat and vulnerability.
This species is extremely rare in the wild and is known to be exploited, utilised or traded. The localities of remaining populations need to be protected to avoid any further exploitation, which is likely to drive it to extinction.
Exploitation extent
Significant - wild individuals of the species are known to be exploited, collected, traded or utilized in a targeted manner, and utilisation is widespread, affects the majority of wild populations and/or is causing rapid decline of the wild population.
Justification and references

According to the IUCN Red List Assessment, this species is Critically Endangered as it is experiencing population decline due to the threat of illegal collection of mature individuals for the international trade in ornamental succulents as well as habitat degradation and past habitat loss (Young 2022). This is likely to increase in the future as this species is sought after by collectors, difficult to cultivate and the number of species and volume of plants targeted within the genus since 2019 has increased (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). Plants of this genus were among those targeted and/or confiscated during recent criminal prosecutions of illegal plant collecting (Majikela 2020; Myburgh 2021). There has been several recorded confiscations of the species and others of the genus from illegal plant collection (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). This suggests that this species and genus is being targeted and is threatened with over-collection. 

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

Hammer, S.A. & Young, A.J. 2015. Conophytum acutum L.Bolus. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1.

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:

Hammer, S.A. & Young, A.J. 2015. Conophytum acutum L.Bolus. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1.

Young, A. 2022. (assessment in prep 2022) Conophytum acutum. 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 12 km² and an estimated population size of less than 5 000 mature individuals within two known subpopulations (Young 2022).

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

Targeted demographics
Mature (breeding) individuals are killed, significantly weakened or are permanently removed from the wild, OR immature individuals are targeted and this significantly impacts mature (breeding) individuals.
Justification and references

Whole individuals are recorded in confiscations.

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

This species has a restricted range which makes it vulnerable to population loss (Hammer 2002; Young & Desmet 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.