Arizona law keeps a protective eye on state's native desert plants

As you drive by car through the vast and beautiful Arizona desert, surely no one would even notice if you were to help yourself to one unobtrusive little souvenir wild plant -- a cactus, perhaps.

Right? Well, you could not be more wrong.

Arizonans love their native plants. What's more, the state is fiercely protective of all its vegetation, whether growing on publicly or privately owned land.

The Arizona Native Plant Law was passed in 1929, just for the purpose of protecting all native plants.

Transplanting, taking, or even mutilating any native plant of any kind is strictly prohibited by law. This applies to plants growing on privately owned land as well as those found in national parks or other public places.

EVen if you live in Arizona, you cannot dig up or transport a plant from a vacant lot or a neighbor's yard with only his verbal permission. You must also have his written permission, plus a special permit issued by the Arizona Commission of Agriculture and Horticulture.

The rule also applies to obtaining plants growing in the desert or any other area.

And since the native-plant business has become a multimillion-dollar industry in recent years, the native-plant law is vigorously enforced.

While not all vandals are caught, by any means, the commission reports it handled 71 thefts of native plants and 20 cases of cactus vandalism in 1979. When plant poaching or vandalism occurs, warnings are issued first; then stiff fines are levied. Fines of up to $1,000 were assessed during the last fiscal year.

When a permit is issued for digging, transporting, or otherwise possessing any protected native plants, all of the plants listed on the permit must keep a special tag attached at all times until each plant is back in the ground.

And even then the tag must be saved to prove that the plant was legally obtained.

Because the stately saguaro cactus is most in demand, plant tags for that desert giant cost $2. The plant "license tag" for all other native plants is $1 . If you want to pick up a cord of wood, the tag fee is $1 as well.

All plant-tag money is used to help protect and preserve Arizona's desert vegetation.

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