Believe it or not, the illegal trade of endangered plant species is a big business. The illicit trade of animals is more well known than plants in part because the trade is easier to track. That's one reason behind a proposal to track endangered plnats using DNA barcodes.
The barcodes, developed by 52 scientists at the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) Plant Working Group, allow big areas of land to quickly be surveyed. Instead of needing a specialist botanist on hand, scientists—or regular citizens—can send tiny samples of a plant to a laboratory for quick identification using two regions of DNA. Eventually, scientists hope that inquiring minds can insert a tissue sample into a handheld scanner for instant identification.
The process can be used for more than just protection from thieves; CBOL scientists expect that it will be handy in forensics, identifying endangered species, verifying ingredients in herbal medicines, and building a DNA database of the of the world's tree species.
A similar barcoding system already exists for animals. And the British company Helveta is hoping to track illegal logging by hammering plastic barcodes into the trunks.