That big handful of wild ginseng roots might prove costly for a person who allegedly dug it up illegally on Missouri Department of Conservation land.
After getting a tip, Shannon County conservation agent Zack Swindle recently staked out some MDC land and waited several hours until he observed an individual walking from the area to a nearby vehicle.
The person had a digging tool and numerous wild ginseng roots, which can fetch more than $300 per dried pound on the open market in Missouri.
But according to MDC regulations it’s illegal to dig ginseng or remove any other plants on conservation land without a proper permit. The ginseng harvester was issued two citations and could face hefty fines, according to Gerald Smith, MDC’s Ozark Regional Protection Supervisor.
“Once you dig up the ginseng root, that plant is gone,” Smith said. “It won’t reproduce without that root.”
Smith said the high price ginseng can fetch has put a lot of pressure on wild ginseng, not just in Missouri but across the country. In Missouri, ginseng can be harvested on private property — not on MDC lands — but the digger must keep some of the plant stem intact to show it was a mature plant.
Young plants should be left in the ground so they can produce seeds and keep ginseng growing in the wild.
Smith said the person caught with ginseng from the conservation area faces two Class A misdemeanors, with fines ranging from $1 to $1,000 for each citation. It will be up to the local judge and prosecutor to decide how much of a fine the person will receive, if convicted.
Smith said a photo of the digger’s haul included several paw-paw fruits, along with a digging tool and ginseng roots.
Smith said the person was not cited for having the paw-paws, since it’s perfectly legal to harvest wild fruit, like paw-paws, blackberries or wild grapes, from conservation land as long as the plant itself isn’t removed.
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