Monday, September 20, 2010

Wildflowers For the Taking?

This was our home in 1996 when we first bought it and prior to any work.
This an original Bishop Hill barn that was across the drive from our home. This barn was destroyed by White Farm Management who in 1996 managed that farm ground.

This is the old vandalized Hopewell Cemetery in Indiana where I have ancestors - one a Civil War veteran.
All of these pictures are sad reminders of what desertion, vandalism and neglect can do to once beautiful and proud properties. What it doesn't mean is the plants on these properties are up for grabs - even for the well- intentioned relocation of heirloom plants.
I was reminded of this in an article I read recently at Dave's Gardens. All property is owned by "someone". Deserted may mean overgrown, uninhabited, and neglected but someone still owns the property and that someone still has the right to disallow trespassing or removal without express permission.
I inherited a piece of farm land in Indiana when my father passed away. That ground also has about five acres of old woods. It has been in the family for generations. It has wildflowers that are simply awesome, old sycamore trees, large stones and is a haven for marsh plants.
A couple of years ago we stopped for a "walk through" to see what was blooming. To my horror, someone had built a 4-wheeler dirt track through the woods. Not only had they taken out some trees but they had built ramps and totally destroyed all vegetation on the track portion. Upon finally finding the family responsible (there is a small subdivision near the woods), the father's comment was "I didn't think it belonged to anyone." Really? Are we talking about pre pioneer settling of the Indiana territory? Was the fact the adjoining farm land is planted every year with crops not a sign? Didn't the fence you cut or the no trespassing signs give you a clue a real person might own the property?
Our old farmhouse was in a nasty shape of neglect but I'm grateful some "collector" didn't pilfer what was left of the yards. It may have looked like it was an open invitation to take whatever wasn't being used but when we bought the property we certainly wanted everything that it might contain. Fortunately or unfortunately, the only things taken or abused were not vegetation.
These experiences taught me a lot about the joys of collecting wildflowers and plants on abandoned properties. Find the owner and ask permission to step on the property. Same thing if you find a plant you want. Consider taking seeds or saplings or a cuttings instead of digging whole plants.
I caution you to never trespass without permission because of your own safety. A property owner might be all too willing to protect that property from trespassers. They might be trying to scare you off or they might be frightened of you - either way you are setting yourself up for harm and arrest. And you would be the one to be arrested for trespassing on private property.
Cemeteries and other public domain are not exactly public. They are owned by private persons, corporations or government entities. Public does not mean you can take things and assume they are yours for the taking. For instance the beautiful wildflowers at the Munson Cemetery in rural Cambridge. There are officially designated endangered species in that cemetery and protected by Federal and State statutes. The wanton vandalism in the Hopewell Cemetery does not mean I can go in and remove any of the vegetation growing; this cemetery belongs to the township.
I'm all for asking if I can share in the beautiful wildflowers growing on old properties. I simply do not feel I have a "right" or an "entitlement" to those things without gaining permission from the owners. To take without permission takes me from gardener to thief or vandal - a title I'd rather not add to my resume'.

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