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Policy on Collection and Sale of Native Plants

One of the major objectives of the Washington Native Plant Society is the conservation of the native flora of the state. Collection of plants from the wild represents a potential threat to rare species as well as local populations of more common plants. There are, however, situations where plant collecting is legitimate and justifiable. In addition, many of the Society's members are avid gardeners who enjoy making use of native species.

In order to guide its members and the general public, the WNPS Board of Directors has developed the following guidelines governing collection of plants from the wild. Many of these guidelines were initially developed by the Plant Conservation Roundtable but have been adapted for our purposes.

Rare Plants - Research and Conservation Only:

  1. Know which taxa are locally or nationally rare. Obtain a copy of the most recent edition of Endangered, Threatened and Sensitive Vascular Plants of Washington from the Washington Natural Heritage Program. Rare plants, or parts thereof, should only be collected for scientific research or in order to salvage them from sites in imminent danger of destruction. These situations are more fully discussed below.
  2. The sale or trade at any event that is associated with WNPS of any plant, or part thereof, which is listed by the Washington Natural Heritage Program as endangered, threatened, sensitive should be discouraged. In addition to the potential threat posed by the initial collection of plant material, such action might contribute to the creation of a market, over which we would have no control, for such species.
  3. WNPS discourages the purchase of wild collected plants or plant parts of rare or protected taxa, even for research, teaching, or herbarium specimens.
  4. In the event that a rare plant occurs within an area facing destruction, contact the Washington Natural Heritage Program.
    1. If a population is no longer going to be in existence, this information should be entered into the database.
    2. Voucher specimens from the site may also be desirable. Contact the Washington Natural Heritage Program and/or herbaria regarding this matter.
    3. To the extent possible, the fate of the "rescued" plants should be documented.
    4. Rare plants should be relocated only under the guidance of a plan which has been reviewed and approved by appropriate agencies and individuals.

Whole Plants vs. Seeds, Cuttings, and Other Propagative Plant Parts:

  1. Many WNPS members and members of the general public use plants native to Washington in various landscaping endeavors. However, the WNPS discourages the use of whole plants collected from the wild for such purposes unless obtained through legitimate ways as outlined in this policy.
  2. WNPS prefers that plants be obtained through the collection of seed (if abundant) or the taking of cuttings or other plant parts.
  3. Members are further encouraged to obtain native plant materials from commercial enterprises which propagate from collected seeds or cuttings rather than whole plants.
  4. Collecting whole plants is legitimate in certain situations.
    1. Voucher specimens may be important to document a species' presence at a given place and time.
    2. Some scientific research and/or educational purposes may require the collection of whole plants.
    3. There are also times when a site is scheduled for imminent destruction. (See Salvage Operations following)
    4. The following guidelines should be applied in addition to those listed above.

General Collecting Guidelines:

  1. Obtain needed permits for any collecting you do on public lands. Obtain the permission of the landowner before collecting on private land. Report illegal or unauthorized collecting that you encounter to the appropriate individuals or authorities.
  2. If you encounter a plant with which you are not familiar, assume it is rare and refrain from collecting until you have ascertained that it is not rare.
  3. Collect discriminately--even in large populations. Collect only the amount of material you will actually make use of. Care properly for any material you collect -- do not let it go to waste.
  4. Collect discreetly so as not to encourage others to collect indiscriminately. Be prepared to explain what you are doing and why.
  5. Avoid unnecessary damage to sites and their aesthetic values. Avoid frequent visits to the same sites.
  6. Teach others about proper and careful collecting. When taking others into the field, visit only non-sensitive areas. Discuss the conservation considerations underlying your collecting techniques.

Scientific Research, Documentation, or Educational Guidelines:

  1. Collecting along trails and in other areas of high impact is strongly discouraged.
  2. Collect only the minimum amount of material necessary for your documentation, research or educational purposes. When feasible, use photography or other methods of documentation rather than collecting.
  3. Avoid collecting from small populations.
    1. Various guidelines use different minimum numbers, but generally you should avoid populations with fewer than 100 plants.
    2. When essential to verify a possible new record for an area or to obtain a scientific voucher, collect only a single specimen. For voucher specimens, take only a small part if this would be adequate for positive identification.
    3. Do not collect whole plants when plant parts are sufficient.
    4. Do not collect samples so large as to adversely affect the population's reproduction and survival.
    5. Never collect the only plant at a site.
  4. If you encounter a plant with which you are unfamiliar, assume it is rare and exercise one of the following options:
    1. If the population is small and it is possible to return to the site, photograph the plant for identification and return for collecting only if the collection would add significantly to scientific knowledge.
    2. If the population is small but the site would be difficult to return to, collect at most a single specimen.
    3. If the population is large, follow these Guidelines.
  5. Before collecting multiple specimens for various herbaria, make sure there is a clear need for the number of specimens you wish to collect. Be sure the plant is abundant enough to withstand the collection of multiple specimens. Collect population samples only as part of a scientifically designed sampling plan for a specific scientific purpose. Collect no more than 5 percent of the plants visible in any population (the recommended one of twenty rule).
  6. Care properly for the specimens you collect. Deposit herbarium specimens in an appropriate, recognized, and publicly accessible collection. Follow standard methods, such as the guidelines issued by the Association of Systematics Collections, for labeling the specimens.
  7. When choosing live plant material to use for scientific research, if possible, use plants or plant parts from existing collections or from propagated sources. If you must collect living plants from the wild for scientific research, collect in a manner least likely to damage the wild population. In order of general preference, collect:
    1. Seeds, if abundant.
    2. Cuttings or other plant parts.
    3. Whole plants.
    4. Leave behind some reproductive or regenerative parts such as fruits, roots, or rhizomes.
  8. When discussing your research results, describe conservation considerations underlying your collecting techniques.

Salvage Operations for Conservation or Restoration Purposes:

  1. Conduct salvage projects only in sites that are scheduled for imminent destruction and only in conjunction with appropriate agencies or conservation organizations in order to ensure that all avenues to provide protection to the site have been pursued.
    Collect only from those portions of the site that will not remain natural.
  2. If the site is public land, maintaining contact will also ensure that necessary permits and documentation are obtained. If the site is private land, obtain prior permission of the landowner.

Approved by the Executive Board: 1989, revised 10/20/2007, revised 4/27/2013.

Printable PDF


On Selling Rare Plants --  Why it's a Concern

Washington Natural Heritage Program

Washington's Rare Plants

Center for Plant Conservation

Native Plant Conservation Campaign

Updated: March 7, 2015
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