Sandy Hook in Central New Jersey is home to one of the largest native holly forests in the country.

The forest is nearly 300 acres and some of the trees have been around since the 19th Century. The National Park Service says the oldest tree in the maritime holly forest dates back to the 1830s.

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While the holly may be plentiful, visitors to Gateway National Park should never pick holly from the forest. And the "why" goes beyond the "leave no trace" mantra.

Picking Wild Holly Is Illegal in New Jersey

New Jersey state law bans removing, cutting, breaking or taking certain wild plants. The statute specifically lists holly as a protected plant in the state.

Federal law also prohibits people from destroying plants in national parks, according to a 1987 article from The New York Times detailing the poaching peril facing Sandy Hook's holly forest at the time.

There was a time when holly didn't need legal protection -- it was once guarded by the U.S. Army.

When Fort Hancock was active, the Army used to have patrols to keep Monmouth County residents from plucking holly around the holidays, The New York Times article says.

There's another reason beyond the $10 to $100 fine from the state to not take the holly: potential scarcity.

Study: Sandy Hook's Holly Forest 'Vulnerable' to Climate Change

The impact of climate change on rising sea levels puts the holly at Sandy Hook at risk, according to an April 2022 study by U.S. Geological Survey's Neew Jersey Water Science Center.

As sea levels rise, fresh groundwater water also rises and could drown the roots.

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