Police in a South African goldmining region are hunting a gang of thieves who have been targeting palm trees planted on town streets to sell on the black market in Europe.

The mining town of Nigel has had pavement palm trees uprooted for export to Europe for huge profits, investigators said.

Chief Supt Wilfred Kgasago said: "This illegal harvesting of palm trees impacts negatively on the concerted effort of the council to green the environment and to add aesthetic value to our city.

"Residents are cautioned that trees on the sidewalks are the property of the council and that there exists bylaws governing their planting, pruning and removal.

Palm trees can fetch anything from hundreds to even thousands of dollars on the black market, depending on their height.

The two most well known species - the date palm and the coconut palm - are popular in hot climates.

It was suspected that the gang has links with plant exporters who send the trees to markets in Europe.

"I always warn the people who want to plant them in the front yard that it is better to plant them in the back yard where they can keep them under lock and key," a local resident said.