Ever sneaked cuttings
through customs? Andy Sturgeon's removal of the mystique
surrounding horticultural imports might make your holiday
more profitable than you'd imagined.
The holiday season is here and I feel it is my duty
to cast the spotlight upon a clandestine activity in
the gardening world.
No longer content with slipping illicit cuttings into
handbags at Sissinghurst and pillaging the glasshouses
of Kew, it's at this time of year that the great British
gardener turns his and her attentions abroad. But I
have news to ease the conscience of any plant smugglers
out there because you may not have broken the law after
all and those special souvenirs sneaked back from your
holiday in Madeira or the Canaries may be perfectly
legit. That seedling carefully wrapped in damp toilet
paper and stowed in your sponge bag could even have
been proudly handed to the stewardess for safe stowing
in the overhead lockers.
Although there are strict regulations governing the
import and export of plants, there are certain concessions
for travellers as long as the plants you bring back
are for your personal use, free from signs of pests
and disease and in your own baggage.
But it seems to be an area of the law that few people
are aware of and automatically assume that carting plants
around the world must be taboo. And so, armed with this
contrary knowledge I take great pleasure in enlightening
would be smugglers. It makes me feel like a Catholic
priest. A short confessional, a brief imparting of information
et voila, the sins are absolved and their conscience
Now obviously you can't just go collecting wild plants
and flowers because apart from harming the environment,
many are protected by the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Before you make
your trip it's advisable to contact MAFF or the nice
Customs men at Heathrow may confiscate your new plants
and you could end up with a fine.
Generally, if you're on holiday within the EC and countries
around the Mediterranean including those in North Africa,
you can bring back 5 plants, bulbs, corms and tubers
up to 2kg, a small amount of fruit and veg, a bouquet
of cut flowers or parts of plants and up to 5 retail
packets of seeds. In other words enough to start a small
garden. But from the rest of the world it's a bit more
strict because you can only bring back the fruit and
veg, the bouquet and the seeds.
I think I may have
inadvertently broken the law recently when I brought
back a rather substantial piece of cactus from Cuba.
It wasn't growing wild but in the hotel grounds, in
fact I bribed the security guard with a 'T' shirt and
1 US dollar so he'd "look the other way". Armed with
a blunt kitchen knife, having left the secateurs at
home, I attempted to hack off a large chunk. Being quite
full of holiday spirit I was rather inept so the guard
actually came and helped me to speed things up before
his boss returned. The following morning, safe in my
room, alone apart from the mother of all hangovers I
scanned my copy of MAFF regulations to see what I could
bring back and then I found the paragraph I was looking
for - "cut flowers and any parts of plants forming a
bouquet". And so I lovingly wrapped my large, spiky
and rather unusual bouquet in several towels and laid
it into the top of my suitcase.
Unfortunately, the long journey in the freezing hold
seems to have inflicted a special kind of jet lag on
my poor new cactus because many months on he's only
just beginning to perk up.
My first horticultural import some years ago was slightly
less successful. I discovered a sort of dwarf variety
of papyrus growing wild in a remote part of Africa and
took it to be rather unique. With visions of giving
my name to a new species that would make my fame and
fortune, I painstakingly tracked down a plant with ripe
seed, which I collected then posted back home to England.
Fearful that the seed wouldn't remain viable until I
returned, I asked my gardening mother to sow them.
Unfortunately it never happened, I think she was worried
that I was importing drugs or something and making her
an accessory. So alas, I've never seen the Papyrus sturgeoni
MAFF produce a leaflet entitled Travellers!
Plant Health Division
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Room 340, Foss House
1-2 Peasholme Green
Kings Pool, York YO1 2PX
Tel: (01904) 455191
with premission from Greenfingers.com