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Illegal loggers detained in western Georgia

6 April 2017
Box tree (Nodar Tskhvirashvili - RFE/RL)

On 5 April, Georgia’s Ministry of Environment revealed the illegal felling and transportation in western Georgia of Colchis box trees — a species of slow-growing, endangered evergreen shrubs.  

A case was reported in the Martvili District of Samegrelo Region, near the spa resort of Lebarde. The ministry’s Environmental Supervision Department stopped a car carrying box tree branches.

Cutting down or damaging box trees is prohibited in Georgia, and is punishable by fines of ₾150–₾500 ($60–$210). If the environmental damage from cutting box trees exceeds ₾1000 ($420), a criminal investigation will start.

The ministry reported that the environmental damage in this case amounted to ₾49,000 ($20,000), and a criminal investigation has been opened.

Box trees are widely cut in Georgia every year. Their branches are used during a religious ceremony to mark the ‘entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem’. According to the Bible, people greeted Christ with palm branches on the Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday — celebrated a week before Easter — is observed in predominantly Orthodox Georgia, but palm leaves are replaced with box trees. In Russia a species of willow is used.

In 2017, Palm Sunday (bzoba in Georgian) will be observed on 9 April. Orthodox Christians in the country usually buy box tree branches to celebrate the holiday. Despite the Orthodox Church discouraging the overconsumption of the plant, it is still endangered.

The Colchis box tree or Buxus colchica (Georgian: kolkhuri bza), is an endemic plant to the region, and is included in Georgia’s Red Book — a state list of rare and endangered species of animals and plants in the country. On top of widespread cutting, it is also under threat from a fungus — Cylindrocladium buxicola.