Ethics of Plant Collecting

Dr. James Smith, Humboldt State University

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While there are certainly valid educational and scientific reasons for plant collecting, important questions should be considered before taking specimens. Will the collecting of this plant contribute to educational or scientific advancement? What will be the impact on the population of the removal of this plant? To assist in the development of a collecting ethic, the California Native Plant Society has adopted the following guidelines:

1. Collecting should be done inconspicuously. Casual observers may not understand the reasons for such activities and may feel that they can do likewise.

2. The CNPS disapproves of undirected and excessive collecting by students in botany classes. It may result in unknowingly taking rare plants and thereby possibly reducing already critically small populations.

3. The Society encourages all botany instructors to use common plants, especially weedy or garden species, for demonstrating collecting techniques, structures, and taxonomic features.

4. Students in advanced botany classes should be made aware of the rare and endangered plants in their study areas. Of even greater importance in engendering in such students an ethic which emphasizes the impact of collecting on populations.

5. The primary justification for collecting plants for herbaria is that they contribute to increased understanding of the California flora. Repeated collecting in well known areas may serve no useful purpose. While it is important to document the distribution of plants, including rare species, it is critical to evaluate the impact of collecting.

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