The answer: it depends. There are times when it is illegal, and times when it is not. No wonder there is a lot of confusion online about the legality of picking trilliums in Oregon.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the statutes that protect wildflowers (like trillium) in Oregon.
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for informational purposes only. Laws change, and times change. This is not intended to be legal advice. If you need legal advice, seek the assistance of an attorney.
First Question: Who is responsible for the land you are standing on?
In Oregon, like many states, there is state managed land, city managed land, and federally managed land. The piece of land you are standing on will determine which laws apply. The first step to knowing whether you can pick trilliums in Oregon is figuring out where you are.
Federal Rules Protecting Wildflowers
In general, it is illegal to pick or collect plants without a permit on National Forest lands, in National Parks, or at National Monuments. There is a process to obtain a permit to pick or collect plants for scientific or educational purposes.
Thus, in Oregon, when you are on federal lands, it is illegal to pick trilliums.
Oregon’s Wildflower Protection Law
At the time of writing, the law protecting wildflowers is Oregon Revised Statutes 564.020. There are several provisions to this statute, but we’ll be looking at section 2, which states:
It shall be unlawful for any person in this state to willfully or negligently cut, dig up, trim, pick, remove, mutilate or in any manner injure or mar any plant, flower, shrub, bush, fruit or other vegetation growing upon the right of way of any public highway within this state, or upon public lands, or upon the land of another, within 500 feet of the center of any public highway, without the written permit of the owner, signed by the owner or the authorized agent of the owner.ORS 564.020(2)
This is a bit dense, so let’s break it apart a bit.
First: It shall be unlawful for any person in this state to willfully or negligently cut, dig up, trim, pick, remove, mutilate or in any manner injure or mar any plant, flower, shrub, bush, fruit or other vegetation…
In this part of the statute, we see the specifics confirming that the behavior is unlawful, that the behavior prohibited is cutting, digging, picking, etc, and the thing that should not be picked is any plant in the state.
Now, if you stopped reading at this point, you could conclude that this statute means it is illegal to pick trillium in Oregon. Don’t stop now! Let’s read on.
Next: growing upon the right of way of any public highway within this state, or upon public lands, or upon the land of another,
In this section, we see that the plant has to be growing, and that growth needs to be happening in one of a few places:
- On a road
- On public land
- On private land
Again, if you stopped reading at this point, you’d come to believe that no one should ever pick flowers of any kind in Oregon, period.
Next: within 500 feet of the center of any public highway
Isn’t this an interesting portion to this statute. It modifies what was stated previously, in that all of the things mentioned (person, picks, plant, someplace) have to be within 500 feet of the center of any public highway.
Finally: without the written permit (sic) of the owner,
With this final piece, we see that all of the things mentioned above that are prohibited are okay if you get permission from the landowner.
What does all this mean exactly? Is it illegal to pick trilliums in Oregon?
Statutes aren’t always written that well, and can be subject to interpretation. Here’s how we interpret this statute:
- It is illegal to pick, dig, cut, do any kind of damage or meddle with any plant in Oregon without permission if that plant is within 500 feet of a public highway.
As such, it is legal to pick trillium in Oregon on state lands, so long as the trillium plant is at least 500 feet from a public highway.
While this statute doesn’t specifically say so, we think that it goes without saying that picking flowers (such as trilliums) on land that is private is also illegal (think theft, trespass, disorderly conduct).
Why does the law only seem to apply near the road?
The majority of people in Oregon who are traveling from place to place where wildflowers can be seen are generally within 500 feet of a road. So it makes sense that this would be the least restrictive way to have the maximum impact on the areas that are most likely to have humans trying to pick flowers from.
Further, being able to see fields of flowers from the windows of the car as you drive through an area is a treat that should be experienced by everyone. In most cases, about 500 from the road is all we are able to see as we drive through at 55 miles per hour, so the goal could be to make the most of the land for visitors to the state.
So you CAN pick trilliums in Oregon?
Yes, so long as the flower is at least 500 feet from a public highway and is located on state public lands (and not private or federal lands).
This is something you should check on in each state that you are in, because trilliums have been listed as threated or protected in other areas, and it is possible that this could change in Oregon at some point in the future.
Should you pick trilliums in Oregon?
No, you really shouldn’t.
While wildflowers such as trillium are beautiful and appear to be abundant, there are significant ecological reasons to leave them alone.
First, when you pick wildflowers, you may cause the plant to perish.
Second, you may make it extremely difficult (or impossible) for the plant remaining to reproduce. As a result, you are contributing to ruining the splendor of the next’s year’s bloom.
Third, these wildflowers are a vital part of the ecosystem, and are relied upon by other animals and insects to survive. If you take the food away, there will be less for the animals and insects remaining to compete for.
Fourth, you may not realize this but due to the increasing population and shrinking forest lands, there are actually fewer wildflowers than there have ever been in the time we humans have been paying attention to them.
Fifth, sometimes plants like trilliums which are not endangered or threatened can look like plants that are actually in danger of extinction. Even experts can sometimes struggle to tell the difference. The last thing you want to do is pick a flower and then discover later when a government official stops you that you’ve picked something that is going to earn you a hefty ticket.
While there are circumstances in Oregon when it is legal to pick trilliums, we recommend against it. It is better for all involved if they are left alone.
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