Penstemon virens, Blue mist Penstemon

Penstemon virens, Blue mist Penstemon

There has been a lot of interest recently in native plants.  Along with this interest there is the temptation for people, when they’re out hiking or exploring, to collect plants or seed along trails for their own gardens.  DON’T DO IT!  In some cases, for example in Boulder, it is strictly illegal for anyone to gather native plants in the wild.  In other instances, only research scientists can collect them and that is only for horticultural purposes, ecological restoration, or medicinal preparations.  These guidelines were developed a couple of decades ago by a group called The Plant Conservation Roundtable and they apply only to research scientists, not the general public.  The general public is not allowed to collect native plants or seeds in the wild.

There are several reasons why you shouldn’t collect native plants.  The first is that you could eradicate or drastically reduce the population of that type of plant, especially if  it  is rare or endangered.  Second, they may be doing more good where they are than in your garden.  Our native plant communities are a critical part of Colorado’s wildlife habitats.  Native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife and maintain local biological diversity.  Third, you would be leaving behind disturbed areas prone to invasion by less desirable species. especially noxious or invasive weeds.  Fourth, many have deep roots or a taproot and would be very hard to remove intact.  Fifth, many plants depend on other plants, fungi, or special soil conditions and will not survive if removed from their native habitat.  There are probably other reasons that you can think of why it makes sense to leave them where they are naturally.  They are a major part of Colorado’s heritage and it’s best to leave them for everyone to enjoy. 

There is only one instance where I believe it is permissible to collect native plants.  If you see a new road about to be cut or development, whether commercial or private, about to occur, then I think, with the permission of the owner, it is a way of rescuing some native plants that might otherwise be destroyed. 

Next time I’d like to discuss wildflower seed mixes, cultivars of native plants, and local sources of native plants for purchase.

Sources: Alberta Native Plant Council Plant Collection Guidelines,    April 2007

Colorado Native Plant Society website:

Native Plant Master Manual, El Paso County; Colorado State University, 2008

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 Contributed by Sue Thomas, Colorado master gardener