Propagation forum: The Ethics of Taking Cuttings

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vurbil
Dec 14, 2017 8:33 AM CST
What are your thoughts on taking cuttings from plants that are not yours?

1. Would you take a cutting from a plant at Home Depot without buying that plant?
2. Would you take a cutting from a very common plant on the grounds of a fast food chain without asking someone?
3. Would you take cutting from a plant at a public park?

For what it's worth, here are my answers:

1. This is the one instance of the three that I absolutely would not do. This feels like it would definitely be stealing.
2. I think a lot of people will say that you absolutely should not take a cutting from private property without asking, and honestly they are 100% correct. However, I have to admit I have done this. In my area, every single business seems to have 10-20 knockout rose bushes. I feel like if I asked someone in the Subway/McDonald's/etc. they wouldn't even know what I was talking about and wouldn't care. I know the argument could be made that if everyone did this, their plants would be decimated. But the reality is, very, very few people actually do this. Now, I wouldn't take hundreds of cuttings and profit from it or something crazy like that. In the instance that I did this, I took 3 cuttings off a rose bush at Subway.
3. I would definitely do this, but I don't recall a time that I ever actually did. Again, I would not take a large quantity such that I could harm the plant or even the plant's appearance.

I know the easy thing to say is that you would never do any of these, but be honest. We're all friends here. Sticking tongue out
Name: greene
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greene
Dec 14, 2017 11:21 AM CST
I have my own way of deciding this. Here goes:
If I take one cutting it will not harm anything...but, the big question is this. What if every person who walked by the plant took a cutting just like I did. The plant would suffer. So no. I do not take cuttings from parks (against the law in most places) and would never take a cutting at Home Depot or other big box store but that's because of the neonics they stick into some of their plants.

In all honesty, I should say that, even though it is against the law to take plants from parks, I do have a very nice palm tree that had washed up on the shoreline of a park in Florida after a storm. Whistling I think of that one as a rescue plant.

Now...on the other side of the question...private yards and some small businesses where the plant hangs over the sidewalk. To me, this is a yes. I learned this when I was working at the dry cleaners. A woman came in and thanked me because she had just taken cuttings from a plant out front. Then she did the D'Oh! D'Oh! thing and said, "Oh, dang. Now the cutting will not grow!!" It seems that taking a small cutting from an individual or small business is actually a compliment (in some societies) as long as you do not tell the person; if you tell, the cutting will fail to grow. Blinking Kind of like making a wish while blowing out the candles on a birthday cake; the wish will not come true if you tell. I discussed this practice with my older daughter, who at the time owned her own business with a HUGE Rosemary bush out front. Daughter said, yes, people take cuttings from the Rosemary all the time and she wishes them well and happy growing. Hurray!

One place that is okay...when the store or nursery sweeps the floor and cuttings/broken pieces of plants are destined for the trash. I ask permission and they almost always say yes.
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Name: Mary
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Pistil
Dec 14, 2017 11:25 AM CST
vurbil, I think we must be twins separated at birth. I could have written your answers to this moral/ethical question!
A fourth question is at an Arboretum. I asked if I could take a seed from the ground or a cutting from a rare shrub. They were horrified I even asked and the answer was no. I offered to take multiple cuttings and give them all the extras if they grew, the answer was still no. I never did it but it sure got me thinking about the ethics of it all.
Name: Baja
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Baja_Costero
Dec 14, 2017 11:39 AM CST
Thank you for the thoughtful questions and the thoughtful answers. Thumbs up

My answers: no, no, no (almost all of the time). Smiling My answers are based on greene's logic: what if everybody helped themselves to a piece?

To elaborate on the last answer, I am responsible for taking care of a bunch of plants in our local park, which is technically also a botanical garden. And yes people do come in and take plants or cuttings all the time. I find it incredibly irritating. Instead of taking the time to ask (in which case they would be provided with an armful of free plants from the greenhouse and instructions on their propagation) people just assume that because a plant is in a public space, they can take it home.

I would have no problem with people taking a cutting from a plant with a zillion heads or branches, such that taking one or two would make absolutely no difference in its overall appearance. Or a plant that desperately needs pruning and is overgrowing in every direction, being trodden upon by passers by. In that case they might even be doing a favor. But people are not generally interested in taking cuttings from those plants. They go after the uncommon or slow plants and don't leave much behind.

I have learned to tolerate the fact that my years of work and planning can slip into someone's pocket every so often, and such is the price of working with public landscaping. Like a sort of tax. I have also learned to avoid placing desirable plants right by the entrance or in an area where people will feel free to snag a piece. There is a sort of art to camouflaging desirable plants with more common ones, so they do not stand out. Some plants I would not even consider putting in there, knowing they would disappear the next week.

Based on that experience I would ask that folks take a moment to think about the effort that went into putting plants into a public space for the public good, and the generosity often involved in community projects like parks and bot gardens. Is it really a good idea to take something without asking (which is often minimal effort)? Are you taking from your neighbors, essentially? Would it be all that difficult to source and pay for a plant instead? I'm not trying to be dogmatic here, just sharing my experience, and the related issues, and hoping there may be some community benefit from it.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Dec 15, 2017 11:06 AM (+)]
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Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
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Pistil
Dec 14, 2017 1:16 PM CST
Greene and Baja-
Yep, I do think about the "if everyone did it" concept. This is why, for example, I do not take plants while hiking. But the shrub I wanted a cutting of was 8 feet tall, and at least 10 feet wide, and far from any main pathway. It had "a zillion" branches. I had also looked at the plants in the greenhouse, which are for sale, and propagated by volunteers from cuttings or seeds from the plants in the Arboretum. They did not have that particular plant.
It seems to me that Arboretums might be missing out on an opportunity for a bit of income. I would have been delighted to pay for my cutting!
Still thinking about the issues, just because I don't agree with a particular law does not mean I do not have to obey it, or pay the consequences.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Dec 14, 2017 2:00 PM CST
The thing I tend to tell myself when I feel the temptation (yeah, slippery slope I know) is that if nobody can tell the difference, it didn't happen. Smiling I have taken some cuttings from public landscaping around here, and actually some of the plants in the park come from them. In that way the plants that may overflow one space end up populating another, through the magic of pruners, and nobody pays the price. Almost all my landscape gardening takes place in public spaces, given where we live.

I do draw the line at institutional gardens like arboretums and bot gardens though. Personally, not prescriptionally. Smiling Partly because of my emotional investment in a project along those lines. Also out of respect for the ideas of variety and compatibility, and somebody pursuing them to their unpredictable conclusion.

A few years ago I picked up a couple seed pods from an aloe tree in an arboretum and felt guilty about it until I decided they were being trampled anyway, and pushed the rest of the inflorescence out of the way of oncoming feet. Smiling Those young seedlings are about to flower for the first time in the park this winter and so the cycle of life will continue.

There is an important aspect of bot gardens related to public education and public access to plants. And ideally they would have a young version of everything in the garden available for purchase in their greenhouse, more for this purpose (related to their mission) than the earning of cash (related to their survival). But there is never enough space or expertise or volunteer hours to make that happen, so it's inevitably a patchwork affair.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Dec 14, 2017 2:02 PM (+)]
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Name: Rj
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crawgarden
Dec 14, 2017 2:02 PM CST
No no no without permission
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

vurbil
Dec 14, 2017 2:24 PM CST
Who would you ask permission to take a cutting from a public park?

I'd submit that a public park belongs to the public. It's the responsibility of every member of the community to enjoy the park responsibly. I think it could be argued that taking a cutting which does no harm to the health of the plant and does no harm to others' enjoyment of the plant (referencing appearance here) falls within responsible enjoyment.

With private property it is completely different. From a purely philosophical standpoint, you cannot take something that isn't yours without asking. But from a practical standpoint it becomes a little more complicated. A lot of people that would proudly state that they would never take a cutting without asking would gladly take a cutting after getting a shrug and a "sure" from the teenager at the cash register of McDonald's, as if that counts for anything more than taking them in the first place.
[Last edited by vurbil - Dec 14, 2017 2:25 PM (+)]
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Name: Baja
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Baja_Costero
Dec 14, 2017 2:39 PM CST
We made that first part real easy as soon as we realized people were taking things right and left. You would ask the caretaker of the park who comes several times a week, whose electronic and telephonic contact information is listed in several locations throughout the park. You could visit the Facebook page. You could ask your neighbor about who's involved and when they come. You could come on Saturday mornings every couple of weeks when we do events.

When you convert public property to private property (doing visible harm to a plant in the process of taking a cutting) you are taking something that does not belong to you. That seems very straightforward to me.

vurbil
Dec 14, 2017 2:57 PM CST
But by qualifying it with "doing visible harm to the plant," you conceded that it isn't that straightforward. I specifically stated that in my hypothetical situation, no harm would be done to the plant, visible or otherwise. And indeed, very rarely is a plant harmed by proper pruning; usually the opposite. You added that qualification because you understand implicitly that a public park belongs to the public, not to the caretaker.
Name: Baja
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Baja_Costero
Dec 14, 2017 3:02 PM CST
I'm sorry that was not clear. I meant to refer directly to your words, and your idea. In fact I don't think I added anything new with that phrase. And I only meant "you" in the generic sense, not in the finger-pointing sense. The hypothetical sense, as it were. Smiling

vurbil said:taking a cutting which does no harm to the health of the plant and does no harm to others' enjoyment of the plant

[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Dec 14, 2017 3:37 PM (+)]
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vurbil
Dec 14, 2017 3:38 PM CST
I didn't ask who you would ask permission because I'm unaware of the caretaker's phone number lol. I asked it as a hypothetical question to make the point that the caretaker doesn't own the park. The community owns the park. The caretaker is just someone we hired to maintain it.

The park is ours to enjoy, but we can only enjoy it in a responsible way that respects the fact that we own it jointly with our neighbors. For example, no one would argue that I can't walk next to and observe a plant. But if I were to walk ON the plant and damage it, I would be acting irresponsibly. Likewise, if I were to cut an entire plant to the ground to make cuttings out of it, I would be acting irresponsibly. But if I took a cutting in such a way that preserved the health and appearance of the plant, I would be acting entirely responsibly. In fact, proper pruning of plants is beneficial and recommended for just about every plant species. It's virtually a requirement for some.

So you are correct that if someone were to cause "visible harm" to a plant, they would be acting irresponsibly. But you can certainly take a cutting without causing harm, visible or otherwise. That has been proven over millennia of gardening.

On your second point that you would be taking something that doesn't belong you, I'm afraid you're just incorrect. You're not taking the plant. The plant remains and is in good health. You've subtracted nothing from the community's park. If your logic held up, you'd be committing a sin against the community every time you pruned a bush.
[Last edited by vurbil - Dec 14, 2017 3:39 PM (+)]
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Name: greene
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greene
Dec 14, 2017 3:44 PM CST
This conversation is going downhill. If the OP wants to steal cuttings and has no qualms, even though it is illegal, let's not keep up this chit-chat.

No means no. We learn that while we are at our mother's knee.

Public parks allow public access but they do not belong to the public.

Our local botanical gardens (2) have plant sales regularly so people can purchase plants rather than steal them. It is the right thing to do. It is the honest thing to do.

I will leave y'all to finish this discussion. I tip my hat to you.
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Name: Lyn
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RoseBlush1
Dec 14, 2017 7:05 PM CST
vurbil said:I didn't ask who you would ask permission because I'm unaware of the caretaker's phone number lol. I asked it as a hypothetical question to make the point that the caretaker doesn't own the park. The community owns the park. The caretaker is just someone we hired to maintain it.


Are you certain the caretaker is someone hired to take care of the park ?

This is not necessarily true in today's economy. Many public parks would not exist if it were not for the volunteers who donate their time, labor and expertise to maintain the park. There are not enough public funds to cover all of the demands for funding and parks are often on the bottom of the list.

Unfortunately, there are never enough volunteers for many parks, so the plantings must be less diversified than they used to be in the past.

I have volunteered in a public rose garden and spent hours taking care of roses that have become quite rare because they are no longer in commerce. It was heartbreaking to see a fine plant whittled away by one person taking a cutting here, and then another person taking a cutting there, and more people taking more cuttings. Each person thought, "I am only taking a little piece of the rose, I am not taking the whole plant."

We actually had to relocate some of the roses so that they could be saved. To me, that was so incredibly sad because that meant that most people would never see the rose growing in person. They would only see photos of the rose.

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HamiltonSquare
Dec 14, 2017 8:32 PM CST
I manage a garden all maintained and plants paid for by volunteers in a federal, state, and city historic landmark managed in whole by the parks department. Most visitors have no idea of any of the above. What is very clear is that this is a cemetery. People still take whatever they want right off of a grave. Our parks in California are off limits for "taking" plant or any other material. If it isn't yours the answer seems very clear in all cases. Don't help yourself to what is not yours. I tip my hat to you.
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lauriebasler
Dec 14, 2017 8:55 PM CST
In at any time for any reason, be it gardening or other aspects, any time you do something that you would lie about it is wrong. If it does not belong to you and you take it you are a thief. It's so simple. As long as you live your life where the truth always works, you will find there are very few bad things you can do. Honesty, even if it's just for your own character is always worth it.
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Bonehead
Dec 15, 2017 9:35 AM CST
A thought for public gardens: offer a cutting tour. Charge a reasonable fee, tour the gardens giving the OK or not to take cuttings from certain plants, perhaps have baggies and snippers available. Oversee the snips to preserve the health of the plant. Use it as an educational tool.

On a similar note, what are thoughts about taking, or not, seedheads from the wild, parks, or private gardens?

I regularly poach seed and young seedlings growing in the ditches because I know the County will annually scrape the ditches clean, so I don't give that any particular thought. On my road, I've harvested digitalis seed, sword fern, salal, and snowberry (all destined for the backhoe).

I've often thought the Boy Scouts (or similar organization) could dig up and sell evergreens and shrubs that are growing too close to the road along the shoulder of our mountain passes. Good fundraiser for them, repurpose the plants, seems like a win-win.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.

vurbil
Dec 15, 2017 10:28 AM CST
greene said:This conversation is going downhill. If the OP wants to steal cuttings and has no qualms, even though it is illegal, let's not keep up this chit-chat.

No means no. We learn that while we are at our mother's knee.

Public parks allow public access but they do not belong to the public.

Our local botanical gardens (2) have plant sales regularly so people can purchase plants rather than steal them. It is the right thing to do. It is the honest thing to do.

I will leave y'all to finish this discussion. I tip my hat to you.


Well, it's certainly gone downhill now that you've descended into ad hominem, hasn't it? It was actually a very interesting and friendly discussion until this post. I've stolen nothing, nor have I advocated stealing. Nor am I the topic of this discussion. Nor should this be an emotional issue for you. It's a friendly conversation.

I won't respond to your insults in kind, but I will say that you lack an understanding of how the government is supposed to function in this society if you think that public parks belong to anyone other than the community.

Another poster asked a very good question. Would it be stealing to take a seed from a public park? According to your dogmatic view of the world unsupported by fact or argument, it would have to be. That alone should give you great pause and induce you to actually think through your viewpoint. If you stick to your guns and assert that picking up a seed off the ground is theft, you will at least have consistently to lean on, however ludicrous the contention. What if the willow tree next to the pond in my town dropped a branch? Would it be stealing to pick it up and stick in the ground? Rather than attacking me personally, have a consistent and logical argument. Challenge your own narrow assumptions.

Planting more trees, shrubs, and other plants is actually a very positive activity that contributes to the beautification of your area and helps the environment. Now, I'm not going to repeat the nuance and distinctions I've already made between private and public property, responsible and irresponsible usage of said public property, etc--which you completely ignored in your rush to brand me a thief--but in those distinctions lies the answer to your misconceptions.

Lastly, I just want to say that although I disagree with you on one very small and largely insignificant issue, I love you and wish you happy gardening and a Merry Christmas. I don't question your character or intentions, which I believe to be good.

vurbil
Dec 15, 2017 10:32 AM CST
RoseBlush1 said:

Are you certain the caretaker is someone hired to take care of the park ?

This is not necessarily true in today's economy. Many public parks would not exist if it were not for the volunteers who donate their time, labor and expertise to maintain the park. There are not enough public funds to cover all of the demands for funding and parks are often on the bottom of the list.

Unfortunately, there are never enough volunteers for many parks, so the plantings must be less diversified than they used to be in the past.

I have volunteered in a public rose garden and spent hours taking care of roses that have become quite rare because they are no longer in commerce. It was heartbreaking to see a fine plant whittled away by one person taking a cutting here, and then another person taking a cutting there, and more people taking more cuttings. Each person thought, "I am only taking a little piece of the rose, I am not taking the whole plant."

We actually had to relocate some of the roses so that they could be saved. To me, that was so incredibly sad because that meant that most people would never see the rose growing in person. They would only see photos of the rose.



Cutting a rose to the ground is an irresponsible use of public property. I would not advocate doing that. In fact, I'd strongly condemn it. Another issue I haven't touched on before is that of patented plants. You shouldn't propagate patented plants and it's actually illegal to do so.

If there were an apple tree in a public park, would you consider it theft for a member of the community to pick the apple and eat it? Who does the apple tree belong to? Should the caretaker and other volunteers get to eat all the apples? Does the apple tree belong to them? What should become of the apples?
Name: Deb
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Bonehead
Dec 15, 2017 10:36 AM CST
On the apple note, I've seen a move to specifically plant fruit trees in public parks with the intent to actually provide food for people. Great idea!
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.

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