The Four P's of When It’s Illegal to Propagate Plants

The Four P’s of When It’s Illegal to Propagate Plants

If you’re a plant addict like me, you often find yourself salivating over specimens you stumble upon on hikes, walks, or other excursions. The need to have one takes over, and soon you find yourself contemplating a variety of acts to secure a clipping, pup, or other offspring. As tempting as it may be, you could be committing an innocently intentioned, but ultimately criminal act. Despite my endless hours of watching Law & Order, I can’t guarantee I’ll keep you out of jail, but I can enlighten you to the four P’s of when its illegal to propagate plants.


The Four Ps of When It’s Illegal to Propagate Plants

Generally speaking it is illegal to propagate plants that are:


  • Patented
  • On Private Property
  • A Protected Species
  • A Prohibited Species
Patented Plants


Plant nerds in search of the perfect species are always toiling away breeding and developing new cultivars of plants. Whether they are in search of a cultivar that is resistant to a specific disease, or one with a unique flower color, their efforts are often rewarded with a patent. Growers can pay royalties to the originator in exchange for the right to cultivate and sell offspring of the cultivar in their own nurseries.
As a homeowner or private citizen you may think because you bought the plant and it’s yours and in your yard you can propagate it all day long. Unfortunately no. Now, I know a couple of cheeky monkeys in the audience are shouting, “but if they don’t know!” Again, thats for a real lawyer to sort out and not Charlie Day here. The law says to propagate you have to pay the patent holder their due, so for my own CYA that’s what I will tell you while I cover my ears and pretend I didn’t hear you.


Plants on Private Property


Oftentimes we see the object of our desire in someone else’s yard. The plant is their property, so you can’t give it a trim without their permission, regardless of whether or not you’ll think they will notice. I mean, you only need a little clip to get a good root system going, right? How could they tell? But, just like that one time in high school when you were talked in to doing that thing, if it feels wrong it probably is wrong. No matter how much you want to dress in black and sneak into your neighbors yard to steal cuttings from their rose bush, you really shouldn’t (Christina, I’m talking to you).


It is illegal to propagate plants from private property without permission.


Plants that are Protected Species


Plant nerds are a proactive and passionate bunch, many of which have successfully fought for and won protective status for a number of cherished and endangered plant species. Depending on the location and plant, illegal propagation of a protected species can garnish hefty fines and more. Here in Texas we take our bluebonnets very serious, with numerous penalties in place. You might not end up in jail, but you may end up hog tied, covered in BBQ Sauce, and staked over a fire anthill. Don’t mess with Texas isn’t just a slogan.


Plants that are Prohibited Species
If you’ve read Wicked Plants, you know not all plants are innocuous, but not all prohibited species have deadly tendencies either. Some are invasive or serve as hosts to pests and diseases that have devastating outcomes for critical crops. Typically, prohibited species are regulated by the USDA. A good rule of thumb is anything imported should be checked out, and no sneaking plants in your luggage like Kevin Klein in French Kiss. Meg Ryan won’t always be there to buy your way out of a charge of international smuggling, be it for diamonds or plants. Its best to go through the proper channels and satisfy your cravings with domestic and USDA approved varieties.


So remember, if you find yourself bit by the propagation bug and don’t want to end up in plant jail, remember your four P’s of when its illegal to propagate. If you’re in doubt, check with the property owner, or contact your local extension agent to learn more about what is allowed and prohibited in the realm of plant propagation in your area. And for those cheeky monkeys out there, when you do get caught, I get to yell “I told you so!”
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