Controversial? "Field" Collecting Native Plants?

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

In 2008 we bought property in VA, built a house and moved in Jan. 2010. We both love wildflowers so we decided to build a nature trail on a portion of our land. It had a few flowers but not alot. So we started "moving" things to our trail. Along with what was already there, so far we have about 200 different species and planning on more. Once our trail is established we have dreams of opening it to garden clubs, etc. to walk through.

I know to some digging up plants and moving them to our property is a controverial topic, but here is my take on it. We only plant things that are native to our area and only if we think the habitat we have is condusive to the plant surviving. I think we have had a really good success rate the first year only losing 1 (maybe 2) plants that we transplanted out of about 50. This year we moved in about another 60 or so plants, so we will see what makes it back next year.

Where do we get them?
Some we have bought, but because we have a limited budget, only bought the ones that we thought we would never find.
From neighbors properties, with permission of course.
Friends and familes properties, some even brought down from NJ, our home state (again, only if there are also native here.)
Roadsides, this some might not do, but if the road crew is going to spray them or mow them down, in my opinion they are fair game. (And most rural roads will have a 50 right-of-way)
This year I am collecting seeds and will try my hand at that. If I see a plant I like along the road on my way to work, I place an orange flag next to the plant so I can still find it when the flower color is gone and seeds ripe.

Am I doing wrong? My wife and I have a verbal rule that if the flower/plant that we see is not in a area with lots of the same plant, we won't take any. It has to be a thriving community and we usually take three plants.

Where else have you gotten plants from?

We don't have a water source on our property, but plan on putting in a man-made pond and stream. That will open up all new possibilities of plant habitat and we will be on the search again.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Seems to me you are using a lot of judgement in collecting and care in growing. I would support you.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Put a scarlet letter on your forehead - the mark of the Devil.

Overall, it seems you are applying an appropriate ethic. However, if you were collecting from public lands that I'm the steward of, I'd prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. There is absolutely no excuse for you to take from what belongs to all to improve your sole lot. End of discussion.

You ought to always consult with the land owner or steward, whether it is private property or public rights of way or otherwise. Everything else is theft. Just because it is a plant doesn't make it anymore yours to take than a bench, a streetlight, copper guttering, or anything else.

Many municipalities (mine included) have permit arrangements that can allow for this type of behavior. Negotiated opportunities exist. Otherwise, the resource stands to be destroyed because not everyone restrains themselves.

Unless you are just overjoyed to have your taxes raised to replace everything that disappears...

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I agree--it does feel like you're trying to take a responsible approach, but if everyone did what you're doing, before long all those native plants would be gone. And of course there's the legal issue too, if you want to really take the high road on this I would always get permission from whoever owns/is responsible for that bit of land.

As an alternative way to get your hands on some nice natives without spending a lot of money, you might see if there's a native plant society in your area--perhaps you could volunteer there and when they propagate things chances are there'll sometimes be some extras that you might be able to take or buy relatively inexpensively if they have periodic plant sales.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

To follow on ecrane's advice (and note that the hard edge to the statement above was not meant to be PERSONAL, but general):

There are so many construction and development projects that save nothing, that no one could own enough land to transplant all the plants worth saving to. Watch for road construction, utility line construction, neighborhood/subdivision developments, etc. etc. etc. It becomes second nature to note these things before they happen, and a social network to learn who the people are involved so that they can notify YOU when a project comes on board.

Then, you could become the ambassador for the native plants - and maybe add some back to those public places...

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

I have gotten permission on every place I have collected except roadsides. So what I'm hearing is let the plants be mowed down and sprayed with herbicides?

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

No, and I'll apologize again for the tone above - but I believe very strongly in some order in addressing those kinds of conditions, and I would be irresponsible not to state it whenever the opportunity arises.

Permission is the key. The public officials/employees work for YOU, since you vote and pay taxes - but their job is to steward those resources that belong to ALL OF US. That means: you nor anyone else should believe that you can just take what there is - no matter what ethic or moral value you represent. You can see what "road" that might go down if there were no guidelines or limits.

I see two very positive ways to approach this hypothetical. Contacting the agency that manages these properties opens the door for communication. They may say "go for it" and you proceed as always, and hopefully without the specter of being put in the hoosegow for theft. I'd want them to provide a written document that allows the actions you might expect to take.

They may also say no.

A second consequence may be elevating the level of knowledge of these land managers to recognize that the resource is (or can be) a bit more than just grass or a nuisance condition, and they could alter their practices. Reduction in pesticide application is almost never a bad thing, and certainly a cost savings in this era of thin public dollars.

I have had the opportunity and challenge to deal with this kind of situation daily for nearly the past 20 years, as a land manager and steward in Louisville KY's parks system. There are far more people who believe that plants are there for them to take, than the plants can tolerate. I realize that the density of humanity I work with is quite different from rural reaches of this country, but the point really isn't any different.

I think a better answer - in the absence of receiving permissions despite all heroic (and documented) efforts to do so - is to collect seed, as you've mentioned you've done. That method leaves the base resource relatively intact, and the opportunity for change in future practices. As you know, the plant you've presumably rescued was part of a system - a web of life that includes birds, bees, other crawly creatures, bacteria, fungi, soil nutrients, water, light, air, and on and on. Making more of that = good in my book. Taking part away = not so good.

Wow - I've got to stop being so preachy this early in the morning...

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

I agree with ViburnumValley and ecrane; in the Pinelands the taking of plants is a serious problem and has extirpated whole local populations of native species, some of which are endangered to begin with. My husband was involved in a botany course which included field trips in which the participants were taken to see uncommon species on land privately held by a conservation group. One of the participants went back and removed some the plants for sale.

This is a slippery slope and caution is advisable. I know that the original poster is using a very careful and respectful approach to the practice, but one never knows whether the plant taken from a stand of the same species would have been the only one with viable seeds to repopulate the area next year.

Talking to the people who maintain the roadways and also getting involved with native plant groups is an excellent way to go.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

As I attemp to collect road side seeds, stopping every few days as the flowers fade, I wait for the seeds to ripen. I also hold my breath as I come back home from work, as to if today was the day they mowed everthing down. What could be thriving, expanding communities of flowers ends up never happening, because the seeds are never given time to ripen and dispersed.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

I knew this was a touchy subject and that was why I brought it up. (My attemp to jump start this forum.)

I also have heard thoughout life and have adhered to conservation efforts and I am hearing them again in this thread. I agree with 99.5% of the reasons.

I also collect fossils and on my trips out west to do so, knew you can not collect vertebrate fossils on Public or Federal lands. I never did, but I also would voice my opinion against the crazy law. Not collecting a fossil just dooms it to the freezing, thawing, rain, wind, flowing water, etc, all the things that cause erosion and what was once a beautiful fossil, gets cracks, breaks apart, chips and flakes, then turns into dust. Don't pick it up, take it home and preserve it. It's better off turning into dust. I never understood that, never will.

This message was edited Jul 28, 2011 8:25 AM

Portage, WI(Zone 5a)

About the fossils, I have also collected fossils in many states. I agree that when I first heard the rule, it did not seem logical. My guess is that the finder should notify some authority about the find and the "offical" collector will come out and scoop them up. At least that is what I think they had in mind.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

No "official collector" will take the time to collect a section of a lower jaw of an oreodont. They have hundreds of thousands, all they need for study. It will turn to dust.

I have in Kansas after finding fossils of scientific importantance (only the 46th specimen to be found), donated them to the Sternberg Museum (they gave me a cast of my find, very nice of them). As a collector, I research what I am collecting and know what is rare and what is not. I would not disturb rare and threatened species. I would report them to the proper authorities as to their location.

My point being that if the scientific community had their way, all the amauter collectors would be banned from field collecting. Then the thousands of square miles of fossil bearing strata would then be surveyed by the 2 staff scientists, who don't have the time to do 1% of that because they are at the museum dealing with administrational duties.

Yes, I know there are scrupulous collectors, I'm not one of them.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

I get your drift on the "treatment of everything as a museum - DON'T TOUCH" attitude. Your point on fossils is just slightly but significantly different. The fossil is inanimate and inorganic, and no human practice is going to change the inevitable geologic degradation of the material.

Living plants and systems ARE manipulated by man - and that is your main complaint - but they don't just up and disappear when left alone. So I say: change the manipulation to the betterment of the whole system, and everyone wins. Leave it alone and only save the piece you want - you end up happier, but the same degradation continues to the detriment of all.

It is not easy - most good things aren't. It has been a task not unlike that of Sisyphus to alter for the better the landscape practices here. Trees were often replanted in the same site year after year, because no one monitored the quality of the plant nor the installation, and no one was responsible for the aftercare. Additionally, mowing crews treated trees as posts and killed the low percentage that managed to survive the overall neglect.

The employment I came from had 100% survival as the expectation, and for the plants to thrive. It was depressing to now experience such low standards, and I set about to implement the strategies that would change this. I'm happy to say that there now are many trees still living that I helped install back in the '90s when I started, and that the operation of the landscape division here has advanced by relative light years. But - it requires constant vigilance and diligence to keep everyone focused on the values and practices.

I believe that it would be a substantial challenge to begin to change the habits of public lands management by road crews and others, but it'd be worth it just to bring up the subject with those who expend your money and see where the chips fall. You may have far more allies than you know, and your voice may become a tipping point for positive change.

Citizens don't always realize that public employees (especially elected ones and upper administration) respond much more quickly to inputs from voters/taxpayers than they do to the exact same sentiments from their own staff. You are much harder to ignore, because they are accountable to you.

Whee! Civics on the soapbox.

Now - 'splain to me what an oreodont is. And I won't be suckered in by "it was a dinosaur who likes cookies".

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

You sound like you are well spoken and write very well. I know fossils weren't a great analogy, but that gripe was also on my back too, so I got it off.

An oreodont is an extinct sheep size animal that roamed the plains of the mid-west. Their fossils can be found by the millions in the badlands of NE, SD and WY.

They do have heads and tails, but to have to click on the picture to see them 8~)>

This message was edited Jul 28, 2011 10:35 AM

This message was edited Jul 28, 2011 10:36 AM

Thumbnail by NativeVA
Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Griping is certainly allowed, and often expected and exulted (in).

That looks like a fun little beast there. What immediately came to mind with that image was Eohippus or something like that, an early horse form? Remember reading about those things as a kid.

Thank you for your comments. I'm a landscape architect with the parks here, and communications (especially with the public) is part of the education and expectation. No room for too many sharp edges.

I go back before this career as a horticulturist and landscape manager for farms in central KY - so the interest in plants is home grown. Metallurgical engineering was before that.

I've always liked geology - missed a calling there, but use it a lot in the current gig.

Thanks for creating the stimulation - gives the gray matter a good work out.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

No money in paleo.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Sometimes it's just going to all the cool places that nobody else does...

No money in Landscape Architecture either - but I enjoy the heck out of it.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Isn't that the rule?
"No money in _____ but its what I love to do!"

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

That's why I've only made it a hobby.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

That's what I did with painting until I retired. Then you can do what you like!

Coon Rapids, MN(Zone 4b)

Thanks for starting this thread. I'm trying to "go native" in my suburban yard, and it takes lots of time, money, patience, and research. There are a few points to consider that I didn't see brought up.

One point is that some plants are protected, and even if you have the permission of the landowner you may not be permitted to take them legally. So whenever you are harvesting a plant, make sure you know what the regulations are that apply to that particular plant for that particular locality.

Another issue is moving plants from New Jersey to Virginia. It's important to pay attention to the genetic source of the plant you are planting on your property. The gene pool varies from locality to locality, and if you move a plant from a different genetic source to your yard, it may have an impact on the local population of that plant.

I've had some success with just giving Mother Nature an opportunity to do her thing. I stopped mowing an area in my yard for a couple years and discovered a patch of Solomon's Seal and False Solomon's Seal. Some of the local birds have kindly provided me with American Red Elderberry and Woodland Strawberries, and some Thimbleweed just showed up out of nowhere.

Good luck with your efforts. I second ercane's suggestion to check out your local native plant society. You'll find all kinds of information there, and lots of people with plants to swap.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

Quote from NativeVA :
As a collector, I research what I am collecting and know what is rare and what is not. I would not disturb rare and threatened species. I would report them to the proper authorities as to their location.

I'm quoting myself here. That was meant for all that I collect.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

Another crazy law:

You need a permit to pick up a feather, nest on the ground, bone, turtle shell or any remains of an animal you find on a walk in the woods. Then you have to report its location and what you are going to do with it.

I am trying to teach my son to be an avid naturalist (don't read nudist into that) and to learn about the things God created!

I better conceal my location, they are going to come and arrest me.

This message was edited Jul 29, 2011 9:07 AM

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Are those VA laws, or federal law? Or do they only pertain to public/federal lands?

Naturists are the nudists, I think - at least the ones in the wild...

Portage, WI(Zone 5a)

But, I'll bet there is a law against collecting them.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

VA requires you to have a permit.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)


gasrocks rolls...

Coon Rapids, MN(Zone 4b)

Protection status varies from state to state, and state protection status is separate from federal status. Federal status does generally require that you follow all state and local laws pertaining to that plant. I'm not familiar with the VA laws -- just Minnesota. In Minnesota there are threatened plants that are illegal to transplant or move even if they are on private land, regardless of whether you're a naturalist or a naturist. Many of these plants don't transplant well, anyway.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

Quote from l6blue :
Another issue is moving plants from New Jersey to Virginia. It's important to pay attention to the genetic source of the plant you are planting on your property. The gene pool varies from locality to locality, and if you move a plant from a different genetic source to your yard, it may have an impact on the local population of that plant.

Could someone explain this to me? I have heard this before, but I always thought genetic diversity is good. In the animal kingdom, the smaller the population the more chance of inbreeding. A larger gene pool allows for a healthier population passing on the good genetic traits to the newer indivduals. Why isn't this good for plants?

I think of the American Chestnut Tree. They were killed off by a blight, but some trees, a very few, ended up being tolerant. Those seeds are now being used to cross with others to bring out the best in each to try to bring back these majestic trees.

Portage, WI(Zone 5a)

The Zebra Mussel comes to mind.

Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

As I understand it local plants have grown in conjunction with native insects and bloom at the correct time for both.
When a new plant is introduced from another local initially there is a stronger generation produced from the cross but
in a short time that advantage is lost and subsequent generations show less vigor.

Now, that being said it is very difficult to get a local plant in many areas if you aren't a specialist who can ask for a native plant nursery to grow it for you.

Coon Rapids, MN(Zone 4b)

Genetic diversity is good, but with natives it's usually better to let nature decide. Even within the same species, there will be some variations between populations that are adaptive to their particular surroundings, and transplanting from other populations messes with that. Although they may not appear to be, each plant population is unique. Although a larger gene pool does allow for more robust populations, we still want to give nature the opportunity to weed out the characteristics that aren't adaptive for that particular environment. And homogenizing a species makes it less interesting. If you transplant too much across communities, you can get rid of the adaptive differences between communities, making the species in general less diverse.
What happened to the American Chestnut is tragic, but some botanists say that it was actually our interference that did them in. In our rush to prevent the spread of the blight we went around cutting down even non-blighted chestnut trees. We very likely removed some trees that would have been blight resistant if we'd left them alone. If we'd let the blight do its worst, we may have been left with a smaller but more robust population due to the removal of non-resistant trees from the gene pool.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

Edited (This refered to the Zebra Mussel comment, as I wrote my comment two others came in.)

But that is an invasive species.

I was told by "I6blue" that bringing a plant that is native to NJ, from NJ, to the state of VA that has that same plant as native is wrong.

For example I go for a walk on the Appalachian Trail which is 3 miles from my house and I find the native plant, seeus wantus. Now everyone would agree that digging that plant up that I saw would be wrong. As well as if I saw in in a State or National Park. But I make a trip to NJ and go on a friend's or familes' property and with permmision dig up seeus wantus (where it is flourishing and plentiful) bring it back home to VA, and plant it in its correct natural habitat. It is not invasive, the bees, butterflies enjoy it (and sometimes unfortunatley the deer). Where is the harm?

This message was edited Aug 2, 2011 9:49 AM

Coon Rapids, MN(Zone 4b)

I found this USDA document online. It explains the importance of genetic source much better than I can. -

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

Unless I read that article wrong or am biased (maybe both), it sounds as if there could be as much of a danger to the local population of native plants from hybridized plants and home owners flower gardens as in planting a non-local native. Everybody stop your gardening unless you can do it it a greenhouse and can garantee that an insect will not enter and take pollen outside to touch another plant.

Portage, WI(Zone 5a)

Aren't there already are weeds that started out as a garden plant? I forget the name of the flower I am thinking of.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Lots of 'weeds' started that way--or at least intentionally brought from elsewhere by people trying to cultivate it. But I don't mean to digress from the original question. I'm not implying that NativeVA is about to start a scourge of Seeus wantus in VA.
Then again--the genetic question may bear on a question of a species being in balance in one area, due to its genes, but may not be able to live in the same balance in a different community. Or am I showing my naivete? Invasives species show extreme examples where a species does not live in the same general balance in every community. My uneducated guess would be that a locally genetically- same group could do the same thing in a new place, but on a less severe scale. (Oh, maybe I should go back and read the article.)

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

With the idea that moving a plant from one area to another will somehow upset the balance of the ecosystem, then can't we take it the next step and forbid the propagating and selling of native plants to someone who does not have that plant in their garden or with the possibility that a new gene pool will wipe out an exsisting community. Or what about this, because of all the new flowers in the garden in your garden, the bees and butterflies are attracted to your and now ignore the native plants, they don't get pollinated and start to die off.

Of course I'm kidding, but sometimes I think scientists and those that are highly educated in one subject end up having so much passion for one thing, that they end up with these dooms day senarios for their love of that one thing because they become so protective. But in real life there is only a slim chance of that happening. Nature will take care of it's self. (I don't know if that made sense or not. My thought process was much better that the typing process).

So many things on earth have gone extinct by the results of what man has done, but 10,000 times more have gone extinct without our help.

I'll be called a demon for saying this, but as much as I like my native plants, I am not a "tree hugger". Man has dominion over the earth. I will continue to plant and develope my trail, just as you flower gardeners will continue to toil in your gardens to make them a thing of beauty. With that being said, I also know that we have to be good stewards of the earth we have been given and take care of it. In my opinion, that doesn't mean a hands off approach to gardening. If it did none of us would have our hands in the soil, doing all that we do.

Craig Co., VA(Zone 7a)

O.K. Everybody has me worried that what I'm doing is wrong, so I just read some more about "Ecotype" planting:


Two websites describing the process: and

I have come to the conclusion that the destruction of a ecosystem will only happen with large restoration projects as with praries or river and stream bank restoration.

I believe what I am doing is only basically a long thin shade garden. A garden along both sides of a walkway under trees. Except for the half dozen plants that came from NJ (which was from the same type of habitat, but different region), I can't find anything wrong with what I am doing. I will be able to sleep tonight.

This message was edited Aug 4, 2011 9:30 AM

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

I read through this whole thread (took a while) and weigh in with NativeVA. Responsible collecting is OK in my book. I have cultivated flower beds around my house/yard, which I am gradually introducing more natives to. I am also 'editing' my wild areas - snipping out invasives and introducing or encouraging existing natives. I have no qualms about digging up roadside (key word) plants that I know will eventually be 'ditched' by the DOT. Or gathering seeds from natives further afield. It's all good.

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