Answer: It depends where the flowers are located.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Is It Illegal To Pick Wildflowers In Colorado? (Discussion)
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Ownership/Management of the Land
There are many competing and conflicting managers of land in Colorado (and the wildflowers that grow upon them).
Those owners/managers include:
- private individuals
- national government
In general, the individual who either owns or has the right to manage the land makes the decision about whether wildflowers can be picked there or not.
This is why it is important that individuals do not accept as truth the claim “it’s okay!” or “it’s not okay!” without confirming that the information is actually about the specific land area.
National Parks/National Forestland/National Monuments
In national parks, monuments, and federal forests across the United States, it is 100% illegal and a violation of federal law to pick wildflowers, not matter what the rest of the state of Colorado has to say about it.
In fact, it is against the law to remove any material from the state park, including pretty rocks, sticks, pieces of bark, feathers, bones….just about anything.
There is a process to obtain a permit to pick or collect plants for scientific or educational purposes.
Colorado State Recreation Areas
It is also illegal to pick wildflowers in any Colorado state recreation area.
The applicable laws are in Colorado Revised Statute 25-13-105, which states that it is unlawful for any person:
d) To willfully mar, mutilate, deface, disfigure, or injure beyond normal use any rocks, trees, shrubbery, wild flowers, or other features of the natural environment in recreation areas of the state;
(e) To willfully cut down, uproot, break, or otherwise destroy any living trees, shrubbery, wild flowers, or natural flora in recreation areas of the state;
Picking The State Flower of Colorado
The state of Colorado also has laws limiting the picking of the Colorado blue columbine, the state’s flower.
The relevant statute is Colorado Revised Statute 24-80-907, which states:
It is unlawful for any person to tear the state flower up by the roots when grown or growing upon any state, school, or other public lands or in any public highway or other public place or to pick or gather upon any such public lands or in any such public highway or place more than twenty-five stems, buds, or blossoms of such flower in any one day; and it is also unlawful for any person to pick or gather such flower upon private lands without the consent of the owner thereof first had or obtained.
While the statute is a bit wordy, the statute doesn’t prohibit picking the state flower completely.
Instead, it prohibits the collection of more than 25 stems, buds, or blossoms of the flower in one day.
You’ll also notice that the law doesn’t place the limitations on picking blue columbine everywhere.
An individual could still pick blue columbine on their own property without limitation, or on the private property of another so long as they have obtained permission to do so.
Other Government Owned/Managed Property
After national parks, state recreational areas, and limits on the state flower, we could not find any additional laws aimed specifically at wildflowers in the state of Colorado.
There may be prohibitions buried in individual city codes
That being said, it is against the law to alter, meddle, take, or destroy property belonging to someone else.
If an individual is standing on city government property, technically picking wildflowers is altering, meddling, taking, and destroying property that belongs to another (the government).
However, we do not know of any case where an individual was prosecuted for picking wildflowers (aside from the state flower) on government property, so long as the area wasn’t signed as protected and the collecting was limited.
A prosecution is more likely to result if:
- the person was picking a lot of flowers
- the person was picking the flowers to profit from them (like selling bouquets)
- the person was trespassing
- the person entered dangerous areas to pick the flowers
- the person damaged government property while picking the flowers
- other people were injured as a result of the flower picking (like causing a car crash)
The charges could be theft, vandalism, criminal mischief, trespass, and some version of disturbing the peace (like disorderly conduct).
The owner of private property has the rights to all the wildflowers on their property.
If an individual enters private property to pick flowers without permission, the individual could face criminal prosecution for the trespass, the theft, and any damage that occurred.
The individual could also face civil suit for trespass and conversion.
Why Is Picking Flowers Bad?
There are many reasons why picking wildflowers is discouraged.
First, if everyone picked flowers in high traffic areas, there would be few or no flowers to be seen by visitors.
Second, picking flowers at certain times of year can actually make it harder for flowers to propagate or return next year.
Third, picking flowers can remove a food source or shelter for other animals, bugs, plants, and organisms in the environment.
Fourth, flower picking can cause damage to fragile environments beyond the picking–people trample and kill other plants and critters in the process.
Recommendations For Wildflower Picking
If you want to pick wildflowers, do your homework first.
Make sure that the land you are standing on is one where flower picking is not illegal (like federal lands).
If you aren’t sure whether the property is privately owned or owned by the state or city, find out who owns it before taking any materials off the property.
If you aren’t sure, don’t pick anything.
Definitely educate young children about when and where it is okay (and not okay) to pick flowers.
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