As we travel across the United States, I enjoy learning about local traditions, laws, and folklore. (If you missed my article about cowboy boots on fence posts, you can read it here.)
My husband and I were married and lived in Iowa for many years. All three of our children are Iowa natives, just like me. If you are familiar with Iowa, you know that most of the land is dedicated to farming. Farmers appreciate the flat, treeless terrain. It’s easiest to farm. Flat is best, and Iowa is certainly flat, at least in the areas where we lived. I was used to the flat, treeless plain. Then we moved to Missouri.
The first thing I learned about Missouri is that the roads are not laid out in square mile sections like Iowa’s roads. The second thing I learned? Missouri has a lot of trees! And many of these trees sport a distinctive swipe of purple paint on their trunks. What’s that?!
When I first saw the purply swatch on tree trunks I thought my eyes were deceiving me. Who would take the time and energy to reach three to five feet up a tree just to paint a swath of purple on it? Not only that, but repeat the process on nearby trees, as well. Turns out, purple paint on trees is not just a tradition in Missouri. It’s also the law!
Purple paint statute
In 2012, the Missouri state legislature passed the purple paint statute. It allows Missouri landowners to mark trees or fence posts with purple paint as a warning to would-be trespassers.
The paint works much better than a “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” sign. Why? Because signs can be removed or destroyed. They can weather and fall off. Then, trespassers can claim the land was not marked. The landowner has no proof of when their sign is gone. So, they paint a purple swatch on the trees marking the property lines. It’s much more difficult to remove a tree than a sign!
Another reason purple paint is used to mark property lines is to protect the owner’s trees. Nailing a sign into a tree can damage the outer layer of wood and/or introduce disease. Nailing signs year after year can take a disastrous toll on the trees. So, purple paint it is!
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Not just Missouri
The purple paint law for marking property isn’t just a Missouri curiosity. The law is also currently active in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. So, if you’re traveling in those states and see a peculiar swatch of purple paint on the trees, you’ll know why.
You’ll also want to look carefully before boondocking in the woods of Missouri or the aforementioned states. The fine for trespassing in Missouri is up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail. Yipes! Pay attention to the purple paint, folks.
Do you know any local traditions, laws, or folklore from the places you’ve visited? If so, share them in the comments below. I love learning about them!
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Well it’s ONLY a great idea IF the rest of the world KNOWS what it means
In Colorado, a purple boot on a post, a tree or a purple fence post means we shoot trespassers and then call the Sheriff. It is the highest warning possible.
Don’t ignore it or blow it off.
Many of us have had to deal with an influx of “forest tourism” and folks don’t seem to pay mind to the orange and black no trespass, or they’ll flat out cut fence to set up a tent.
Purple means, stay away.
Plenty of BLM land and national forest.
Strange reading this article…we just learned about the purple trees last Tuesday while chatting with our weigh master at an Escapees corner weigh site. Guess it’s true! Thanks for the list of states…regardless of color …guess we’ll just stay clear of painted trees, since there seems to be some variance in color designations.
Trees painted purple in west virginia means no trespassing. It’s the law
Add New York to the list of states with a purple paint statute.
In Montana it’s orange paint. Never heard of using purple.
Purple painted trees in Pa mean no hunting.
It means no trespassing, which I guess by extension also means no hunting.
In 2020 PA House Bill 1772 was signed into law, codifying the use of vertical purple stripes as a no trespassing marker. Here’s an explanation: https://youtu.be/lXQvYKZ_vnI
I have seen purple paint on trees in Tennessee.
In Alabama I think it’s yellow or orange
The part of Iowa that I live in has rolling hills and bluffs. What part did you live in?
Yes..the part my family is from also! My great uncle owned a ski place…we loved sporting bumper stickers that said “SKI IOWA” back in the day.
I’ve never seen purple paint markings on trees in Idaho. Orange paint is warning not to trespass.
Also to include “No Hunting” for Utah
After reading the article and states listed I’m wondering why purple and not red.
Red is state property in NC. ALSO DO NOT ENTER
This is a great idea. But I think it could be improved upon by painting on only one side. How else are you to know whether you are about to enter private property (the intended purpose) or unknowingly are already on private property and about to exit it?
That is precisely what I was thinking, a pretty ambiguous way to indicate property line.
The PA law is a single vertical stripe of at least 1″ wide and 8″ tall. To be valid, at least 1 tree or fence post every 100ft must be marked. A ring of paint isn’t valid, so it’s not really ambiguous.
Here’s how you know: if you see a purple tree, look for others nearby. The private land is on the other side of the trees from where you are. Unless of course you are already trespassing, in which case you need to pay more attention when tromping around on private land. If you’re really worried about accidentally blowing past no trespassing signs, you could invest in a mapping app that shows property boundaries, such as OnX.
Here in Montana, as well as other States, it’s not purple. It’s Orange paint.
But regardless of color, if people swaths of paint on trees in an area, they should assume that probably means “no transpassing”.
That was very informative! Thanks for the heads up on this one Gail!
I have NEVER heard of this. How are you supposed to know this? I’ve always thought you had to have a definite fenced property line and a sign to show where not to trespass. A splash of paint is useless if you don’t know the boundaries. Is it an acre, 100 acres, a mile? The owner would have to paint every one of his trees to indicate how large his property is if not fenced. I understand the comments about people who don’t read the signs, but that’s not going to change – ever. People who don’t care, don’t care, signs OR paint. Oh, and what if you’re color-blind?
I like it, Rick.
In Montana, people are expected to know where they are without signs or markings. If you trespass, then you risk being fined. The landowner has NO responsibility to mark their boundaries.
I have hiked all over Arkansas for the past 45 years. Arkansas’ use of purple paint came about in the 90’s to aid hunters in knowing that the forest beyond was off limits to hunting. We are blessed with hundred of thousands of acres of public forest lands for recreating, but interspersed and abutting these areas are privately held properties. Not all of these owners support hunting and mark the trees to keep hunters out. In the 30 years or so since the practice started, no trees have died from the practice and trespassing is not much of a problem. It’s a win win for all.
No mention of damage by paint? Toxins, lack of air, oxygen, CO2, transmission/respiration? Yet a nail that introduces iron into the tree is bad.
Metal sign with a couple of holes drilled and some wire….then take a picture….Never seen any purple on a tree here in Northern Montana….something new to me. will try it…yet people still can’t read….we live at the end of a road in the mountains with all the signs to state you are not supposed to be here….then they are caught and want to turn around…I say back up…..sometimes they want to argue about it but with shotgun in hand they back up on a one way dirt road on our mountain top road….no respect for the signage or privacy….not harsh…they think they can do whatever….I don’t park in their driveway and say just looking around….
We recently saw this a lot near the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Thankfully we knew what it meant because we are from rural Pennsylvania.
In a way, it’s a good idea. Ugly maybe. I just had some people fined $1,000 for climbing over my gate, and I’m hoping more get it as I’m really tired of trespassers/thieves. Just about no one sees anything wrong with trespassing. I have to confront these creeps with hoodies, get pictures, license plate numbers, vehicle description, etc. I didn’t know about the purple. Maybe a different color would be better. Trespassers would say they didn’t know. The new thing is to find out when people are away and move into your home and trash it while stealing everything.