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Patented Plants Can't Be Donated

Updated: Mar 30


An important note about Plant Patents and the Ramsey County Master Gardener (RCMG) Plant Sale

Many of our Ramsey County Master Gardener members donate houseplants that they have propagated to our annual plant sale. Most of these plants will be commonly available in garden centers or handed down from person to person for many years. Others, however, may be newly developed.

To protect their work, plant breeders go through an expensive and lengthy process to have their new plants patented–covered by 35 U.S.C. 161 Plant Patents law. These plant patents expire after 20 years. This law makes it illegal to asexually reproduce or propagate any patented plant for personal use, gifts, or sale.

As Master Gardeners, we must do our due diligence to determine whether the plants we want to donate are patented and, therefore, protected.

Do your best; that's all we can ask. When in doubt, don't donate the plant

Which kinds of donations does this affect?

Patents protect against all asexual propagation including root cuttings, division, slips, layering, and rhizomes. For Master Gardener plant sales, this mostly affects houseplants, perennial landscape divisions, and bulb clones. The latter two are not accepted by RCMG due to Jumping worm risks so this new decision will only affect houseplant donations.

This does NOT affect anything you grow from seed, either collected or purchased. You are allowed to contribute the resulting seedlings/plants to the sale.

Reminder About Plant Names

Plant labels can be difficult to read, even for the most experienced gardener. From wild-types to ecotypes and varieties to subspecies, this guide is designed to teach you about the botanical Latin and abbreviations seen on plant labels across the nursery trade.

Components of a scientific name

Reading Plant Labels

Check out this simple tool from Oregon State University to remind yourself about the difference between straight species, subspecies, varieties, and cultivars. If the plant is a cultivar, its name will be inside single quotes on the plant tag.

Who monitors patented plant use?

Patent owners can monitor the misuse of their patented products. There are also watchdog companies that patent owners can hire to monitor the use of their plants without proper authorization, which includes propagating, growing, and selling the plant or growing the patented plant without appropriate authorization. Furthermore, patent owners can employ people like Plants Nouveau to help get their plants on the market. Plant Nouveau lists panted plants that they monitor. 

Identifying Patented Plant Varieties

So how can you tell if your houseplant is patented? Here are 4 suggestions.

(1) Read the Plant Label.

The best and easiest way is to read the plant tag. If the plant is patented, that information will usually be on the reverse side of the tag in tiny print at the bottom. is an excellent resource for learning how to read a plant tag and shows where you can find the patent and/or trademark information. You may see several variations on tags:

  1. PPAF means Plant Patent Applied For. It means the patent wasn’t approved at the time the tag was printed. The patent period begins when the patent application is submitted. You may not propagate this plant.

  2. Plant Patent No. XXXXX means the plant has been granted a patent good for 20 years from the date of the application. You may use the number to look up the date of the patent application.

  3. Plant Propagation Prohibited means the plant was produced by a grower authorized to propagate the plant, but who is not the patent holder.

  4. A Trademark (™) protects the use of the name of a plant. A registered trademark ® adds additional legal protection. This only protects the use of the name and doesn’t prohibit propagation.

Examples of patented houseplants include:

  • Global Green Pothos (PP33,530)

  • Nanouk Tradescantia (PP29,711P2)

  • Pearls and Jade® Pothos (PP21,217)

  • Raven® ZZ Plant (PP30,035)

NOTE: Most newer varieties of hoya and ZZ plants sold in nurseries are patented. Also, be careful to check for patents on Rex begonias, coleus, pothos, and philodendron.

(2) Look-up your plant name and variety.

If you no longer have the plant tag but know (1) the plant's name and (2) the name of the variety, you can do an online search.

Here's an example.

  • You know you have a pothos. (Pothos is the generic name of your plant.) You remember it a special kind of pothos called ‘Pearls and Jade’ (‘Pearls and Jade’ is the variety name.)

  • Using your browser, type in “Is pothos pearls and jade patented?” You may want to put quotation marks around the name of the plant.

  • The result is the following: Pothos 'Pearls and Jade'® is protected by US Plant Patent 21,217. Trademark and Plant Patent Rights issued through the United States Patent and Trademark Office are assigned to the University of Florida Board of Trustees. Stock plants have been released to licensed Florida growers for propagation and distribution (Figure 3). New Florida Foliage Plant Cultivar: Pothos 'Pearls and Jade'®

(3) Search known protected plant databases.

If this does not yield an answer, try searching for your plant at one or more of the following searchable resources.

(4) Look at photos of similar plants.

If you only know the generic name of your plant, such as philodendron, do the best you can by looking at plants in the garden center and online photos. You can also try using plant identification apps such as "Picture This" or "iSeek." Google Lens takes your image and searches Google for similar images. Many of these are available for both Android and iPhone/iPad.

(5) Consider how long you've had the plant.

Most plant patents expire after 20 years. If the plant has been in your family or home for a very long time, associated patents may have expired. If you know the name and variety, though, please take a moment to look it up just in case the patent was extended.

Examples of expired patents include:

  • 'Brasil' Philodendron

  • 'Dipt in Wine' Coleus

  • 'Magenta' Dracaena

  • 'Emerald Bay' Aglaonema

(6) Determine if the plant is a pure species, subspecies or natural variety.

Some common plants probably don’t have patents because they are a natural variety.

Examples of non-patented houseplants may include:

  • Aloe vera

  • Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomia)

  • Ivy

  • Jade

  • Norfolk Island pine

  • Sansevieria

  • Spiderplant

  • Most succulents and cacti

Questions, comments and concern

Please contact Diana and Gene with any questions. You can also attend RCMG Board Meetings to share comments or concerns.

Diana Rankin RCMG Plant Sale Committee

Gene Ranieri RCMG Board Member

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