The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: What are the restrictions from the Endangered Species Act?

Sarracenia alabamensis subsp. alabamensis
Sarracenia alabamensis
subsp. alabamensis

Sarracenia jonesii
Sarracenia jonesii

Sarracenia oreophila
Sarracenia oreophila

Pinguicula ionantha
Pinguicula ionantha
A: First, here are some big disclaimers. You should not trust my legal opinion if you are planning on doing something that is getting near the fuzzy edges of what is legal vs. what is not. I am not a lawyer, I am not an expert on government policy, and if you get in trouble with the Feds because you violated some Endangered Species Act clause do not try to blame me! The information on this page is correct to the best of my understanding, and is presented in the spirit of explanation.

Some basic facts:
1)What would be a government policy discussion without acronyms? Yep, they are used a lot on this page! So note that I will refer to the Endangered Species Act as the E.S.A. When I refer to a part of the E.S.A., I will use shorthand notation, i.e. E.S.A. F.17.61(b) refers to part 17, subpart F, section 17.61, subsection (b). Got it?

2)The E.S.A. only has jurisdiction on activities within the 50 states of the USA. So if for example you are in Europe and are sending plants to someone else outside the USA, you do not have to concern yourself with the E.S.A. I do not know about the jurisdiction of the E.S.A. in non-state possessions such as Puerto Rico. Importing or exporting plants to/from the USA certainly falls under the jurisdiction of the E.S.A. (see E.S.A. F.17.61.(b))

3)The E.S.A. lists plants in two special, important categories: "Endangered Species" are those in serious trouble, while "Threatened Species" are under less stress (see E.S.A. B.17.12). An organism on one of these lists is said to be "listed."

4)The carnivorous plants listed as Endangered are: Sarracenia oreophila, Sarracenia alabamensis subsp. alabamensis (=Sarracenia rubra subsp. alabamensis), and Sarracenia jonesii (=Sarracenia rubra subsp. jonesii).

5)The only carnivorous plant listed as Threatened is Pinguicula ionantha.

6)The E.S.A. only governs interstate (i.e. state to state) activities. Things you do entirely within the borders of your own state are not governed by the E.S.A. (see E.S.A. F.17.61(b)). Doing something internationally is governed by the E.S.A., because it involves a state border (plants being shipped from a USA state must cross a state border to leave the USA).

7)Even if something is prohibited by the E.S.A., it may be done legally if the person doing it has obtained a permit for the activity by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (see E.S.A. F.17.62, G.17.72). Usually, permits are only given out if the activity is in the best interest of the plants. A nursery just trying to make money selling listed plants is unlikely to successfully obtain a permit.

Relevant rules:
Carnivorous plant enthusiasts within the USA must take care to follow its regulations, even though some of the regulations could be easily thwarted by shipping unmarked boxes in the mail. In particular, the following actions are regulated by the E.S.A.:

1)You may not engage in "trade" of plants with anyone outside of your state. Trade means you cannot sell plants, barter plants for goods, or even exchange plants for plants. (see E.S.A. F.17.61(d),(e).

--Qualifier #1: It is my reading of the E.S.A. that you may transmit listed plants across state lines personally or through the mail if it is purely a gift, and if you do not ask for money. This is because such an activity is not considered commerce (see E.S.A. F.17.61(d), (e)). However, I could also argue that even gifts are prohibited by E.S.A. F.17.61(b), but I do not think this is the case.

--Qualifier #2: I suppose you could ask your interstate partner to send you money to cover postage, packing, etc. However, I would not do this if I were you. I would advise that you simply eat the postage charges and stay clear of breaking the law.

2)You may trade, barter, or sell plants to another person within your state. Intrastate trade does not fall under the jurisdiction of the E.S.A. (see E.S.A. F.17.61(b)).

3)The E.S.A. treats seeds and pollen just the same as it treats plants (see definition of specimen, in E.S.A. A.17.3)

--Qualifier #1: Oddly, in some parts of the E.S.A. (subparts F, G) the regulations refer to "specimens," while elsewhere the regulations refer to "plants." So I am not sure if a prohibition saying a "plant" cannot be shipped also applies to seeds. However I am fairly sure this is the case because seeds of threatened plants are given special status (see below).

4)All the same laws that apply to plants listed as "Endangered" also apply to those listed as "Threatened" with the following exception: Seeds of cultivated specimens of threatened species are not covered by the E.S.A. (see E.S.A. G.17.71(a)).

If I have misinterpreted the E.S.A. incorrectly, please do not hesitate to contact me on this.

If you are a grower of listed carnivorous plants, I strongly encourage you to keep all documentation that shows how you legally obtained your specimens. I have a notebook with all my propagation records showing exactly how many pots and specimens I have of each carnivorous plant. That way, if officials come knocking on my door, I can show them what I have. Even if I have been given a plant from another grower, I simply record the acquisition in my notebook. I include the name of the grower, the date, the number of plants or seeds (estimates are fine), etc. Make yourself a paper trail so you can defend yourself if your actions are ever questioned.

I close with this obvious reminder: follow the law at all times.

Page citations: US Fish & Wildlife Service, 1973; personal observations.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018