These plants are endangered in France and should not be picked

More than 400 plants are protected in France – but more must be done to educate the public about them

Some versions of common plants (including birch and cress) are among those protected
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While birds and animals under similar protection orders are relatively well known, endangered plant life gets less exposure.

A list of those threatened was first drawn up in 1982, and has been modified slightly over the years.

Plants on the list are protected at national, regional or local level, because they are rare, threatened with extinction or deemed part of the local living heritage.

The protection order states that they must not be “destroyed, cut, mutilated, dug up, harvested or transplanted, transported, used, or put on sale or bought either whole or partially”.

Prosecution is rare, but not impossible

Few prosecutions are made under the law, according to the French environment police, OFB. It said 10 cases were taken to the courts in 2023, and there are 22 ongoing cases, not all of which will reach court.

Confusingly, some plants on the list, such as the l’oreille d’ours (bear’s ear), have cultivated varieties which are sold in garden centres.

Other surprises include the ache rampante, which is closely related to cultivated celeries, and the bouleau nain (dwarf birch) which is a shrub variety of the common birch tree.

There is even a protected thistle, the chardon de Bérard, which is found on the western slopes of the Alps in the south of France.

A full list of the plants is available from Inventaire national du patrimoine naturel (INPN) here:

IUCN has a comprehensive list 

The body charged with protecting rare animals and plants, the French committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has a longer list of threatened plants than the government’s 400.

It claims that 742 species of plants are threatened with extinction in mainland France. The list was drawn up and published in 2019, after three years of intensive research. A total of 4,982 different plant species were found in France.

IUCN lists two plants as extinct – the cotonnière négligée (filago neglecta) and a violet, the violette de Cry (viola cryana).

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Others, like the spiranthe d’été, a white orchid found in humid pastures and bogs, used to be found all over France but now exists mainly in managed nature reserves only.

A native peony, the pivoine mâle (paeonia mascula) is listed as having been seen in the wild but vulnerable. It used to be widespread in young oak woods all over France, but is now rare.

The president of the French branch of IUCN, Maud Lelièvre, told The Connexion that the difference between the national list of protected plants and the IUCN one was that more data was available when IUCN research teams were working, and because there was a greater awareness of the amount of building on greenfield sites in the last 40 years, which threatened some plants.

“The third reason is that plants are susceptible to climate change, which we now know is happening faster than predicted,” she said.

Public mobilisation is essential

Ms Lelièvre said it was more difficult to mobilise the public over the need to protect plants than it was for animals, but just as important.

She pointed to national action plans, similar to those used to re-introduce bears into the Pyrenees, for plants.

The best known of these focuses on saxifrage de Gizia (saxifraga giziana) – a plant on the red list, meaning it is in danger of extinction.

Usually found in the Jura mountains but threatened by repeated droughts, the plant is now subject to special measures, including collecting seeds and efforts to re-introduce it in areas it has disappeared.