Is Picking a California Poppy Legal —What Happens if You Do It?

is it illegal to pick california poppies

Californians love their state flower. It’s little wonder we’re so proud of them when they create a golden landscape spreading across hills and valleys in areas like Antelope Valley, Diamond Lake, and Lake Elsinore. Many residents are so enchanted by our state flower that they don’t even question it when someone tells them it is against the law to pick these blossoms. But the reality is that it is legal to pick California poppies (sometimes called golden poppies or their scientific name, Eschscholzia) —depending on the circumstances. Here’s what aspiring poppy pickers should know.

Is Picking California Poppies Legal?

Yes. Contrary to the claims of many armchair lawyers, picking golden poppies is entirely legal —as long as the poppies are yours to pick. Get a package of golden poppies to grow in your yard, and you can harvest all the flowers you want.

Why do People Think it is Illegal to Pick California Poppies?

The basis for this myth comes from California Penal Code 384a (PC), which states that it is illegal to cut, destroy, mutilate, or remove plant material on public property or someone else’s property without their permission. This law makes sense because it prohibits picking, vandalizing, or otherwise harming plants that don’t belong to you unless the owner has given you permission.

Under 384a (PC), it doesn’t matter if the plants are golden poppies, roses, pine trees, or even a whole thicket of weeds. There is no poppy-specific law in California though. In fact, the same law that protects poppies in California also prohibits damaging tree branches when taking the fruit from a tree that doesn’t belong to you.

What is the Penalty for Picking California Poppies Illegally?

If caught picking California poppies in a federal or state park or other public area, you can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. You could face the same penalties for taking poppies from someone else’s property without permission, but you could also potentially face petty theft and trespassing charges.

Is it Illegal to Step on Poppies in California?

Yes, but again, it is legal to do in your own yard or with the property owner’s consent. If you trample or sit on California poppies or other plants in a state or federal nature reserve, public space, or even another person’s property without consent, you’re selfishly killing the flowers and ruining the experience for everyone else. Beyond that, you also will be violating 384a (PC), which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Should You Pick California Poppies?

Unfortunately, many people want to pick these poppies in state parks to remember their trips, but the flowers aren’t great souvenirs as their petals fall off nearly immediately. Beyond that, the photosensitive blossoms close after dark, and they’ll never reopen once they’ve been picked. Taking a photo of the plants is a much better way to remember your day.

If you have plants in your backyard though, you can harvest them for seeds to enjoy the beautiful blooms again for years to come.

If you end up facing charges for illegally picking California poppies or have any other questions on which plants are illegal to pick, call a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Contact attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.

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