Cut Some Holiday Greens... Legally!

Is winterberry protected by law or not?

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The best I could find on-line sounded like it was protected from rapacious harvesting and benefitting monetarily from selling it. I also understood that you may cut as much of your own growing winterberry as you want. Can you help us get through this muddle on the winterberry fact or fiction? - T.K. -


You have it right if you're in Michigan. You're on the right track in most other places. And then there are the common sense rules our Mentors' gave us that say to respect others' plants...

You can cut all you want of winterberry (Ilex verticillata, also known as Michigan holly) on your own property, and probably you can cut from others' plants if you have (written) permission to cut. But in any other place or situation, if you are tempted to cut, check first. As you say, these are means to prevent rapacious harvesting:

Michigan's Christmas Greens act prohibits harvesting of plant matter from public lands and requires you to show written permission to do so on private property not your own.

• In Washington State, cutting on public land is regulated and when the State determines an area can be harvested for evergreen boughs, it auctions the cutting rights.

• In Montana, rules vary by area. For instance, when you inquire in the Flathead National Forest office you may receive a guide that explains, for evergreen boughs, that "No permit or fee required for up to 100 lbs. green weight (except for Pacific Yew which has a 50 lb limit). Amounts greater than 100 lbs (or 50 lbs. for Pacific Yew) requires a commercial-use permit."

So where we took winterberry's picture for issue #164, along a highway on property of unknown ownership, we could admire it but not cut it.

Of course other laws, including endangered species acts, protect some plants to the extent that a person is in violation if he/she molests the plant even on his/her own property. Winterberry is on Iowa's endangered list, and Arkansas' threatened list.

You can get information about protection status for any native plant from the USDA's plant database. Enter the plant name and then scroll on its profile page to "Threatened and Endangered Information."


Stupidity or Gall?

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) root has proven medical use, is in great demand, and is difficult to grow outside the wild. It's been clear for over a hundred years that careful management is required to keep people from digging this plant to extinction.

Michigan and Maine are two States that prohibit cutting or digging the plant in the wild and require sellers to have proof their plants were artificially cultivated. Federal land use agencies and other public land management bureaus monitor wild ginseng traffic, and grant permits to harvest ginseng in certain seasons and places. Permits require those who harvest to follow conservation measures such as sowing fresh seed at the time and place mature plants are removed.

Illegal ginseng digging is prosecuted every year. Diggers commonly claim ignorance of laws even while in possession of hundreds of roots and well aware of their great economic value.


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