4 Florida men caught illegally picking berries in the Bluffton woods. Here’s what they’re worth

Four Florida men were arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for picking berries in the Bluffton woods.

But these were not just any berries — they were saw palmetto berries, which can sell for anywhere from $1-3 a pound.

They harvested nearly 2,000 pounds of the berries at the Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

On Oct. 8, some contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources who reported their trail camera had recorded men carrying buckets and bags into the woods at the preserve, a 977-acre public area flush with trees like the live oak, cabbage palm and slash pine and featuring trails, wildlife viewing and bird hiking, according to DNR.

The next day, officers went to the area and caught the men after seeing them illegally picking pine-saw palmetto berries, said Greg Lucas, a DNR spokesperson. The berries are about the size of an olive and are used in medicines to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is the enlargement of the prostate gland, according to the Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Saw palmetto capsules are not regulated and sold over the counter and online.

The men were taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center and released Monday on bond.

The Victoria Bluff Heritage/Wildlife Management Area is full of pine-saw palmetto flat woods. The SC Department of Natural Resources notes that the plant is widespread in Georgia and Florida but rare in the state.

The men, Lucas said, “regularly” came to South Carolina from Florida because of the “strict laws and regulations on harvesting the berries in Florida.”

“The estimated value of what they had in possession was approximately $3,000, and they had harvested berries previously on multiple other days,” Lucas said.

The sheriff’s office estimated in its report that the men had collected $15,000 worth of berries in 40-50 50-pound bags. The total amount of the berries collected by the men and their value was unknown.

Taking anything from land designated as a Cultural Heritage Preserve — the highest form of protection to land — is illegal under the Heritage Trust Act, a law created to protect endangered species sites.

The Victoria Bluff Heritage/Wildlife Management Area is full of pine-saw palmetto flat woods.  The SC Department of Natural Resources notes that the plant is widespread in Georgia and Florida but rare in South Carolina.  The berries or the fruit of the palmettos are a food source for wildlife and the extract had been researched for medical use.

The Victoria Bluff Heritage/Wildlife Management Area is full of pine-saw palmetto flat woods. The SC Department of Natural Resources notes that the plant is widespread in Georgia and Florida but rare in South Carolina. The berries or the fruit of the palmettos are a food source for wildlife and the extract had been researched for medical use.

At a kiosk at the Victoria Bluff Heritage Preserve, Lucas said, there is a sign posted advising guests that they cannot damage or alter the wildlife in the area.

The men were charged with a wildlife management area violation, Lucas said. This violation is a misdemeanor and, if convicted, they could face a fine of anywhere between $200 and $500, a 30-day prison sentence, or both. Additionally, anyone convicted of this violation is not allowed back on the land for two years and cannot hunt or fish on the land for one year, according to DNR.

The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette do not identify people arrested on misdemeanor charges unless they are people in positions of public trust.

The entrance to Victoria Bluff Heritage/Wildlife Management Area as seen on Oct. 12, 2022 is off Sawmill Creek Road in Bluffton.

The entrance to Victoria Bluff Heritage/Wildlife Management Area as seen on Oct. 12, 2022 is off Sawmill Creek Road in Bluffton.

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