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Crossing The Pond With the Intent to Commit Horticulture

Q. I teach high school German & Spanish and run a reciprocal group exchange program with a teacher in Munich, Bavaria. (Bavaria is to Germany like Texas is to the US—very big, very conservative, very interesting & a lot of fun.)

Because of my affinity for hydrangeas I came up with an idea I hope you will find interesting enough to help with. When I'm in Munich (the capital of Bavaria) later this July, I want to give my foreign exchange counterpart Veit (pronounced like "fight") and his new wife Effi a hydrangea (specifically hydrangea macrophylla bavaria), and take cuttings from it home with me, so that after the cuttings take root, we will effectively be sharing the same hydrangea plant across two continents.

The root of the problem (pun intended :-) is that Google as I may, I can't seem to find out who to ask about bringing those cuttings home, as I believe it is highly frowned upon to bring plants into the US without going through proper channels. If you could help me, I would be ever grateful—and invite you to one of my wife's outstanding dinners during Veit's next visit this fall. "Danke schön".

PS: If you think the cuttings might not be viable after transatlantic flights, I could probably just buy two identical plants, which might be clones anyway.

---Chad in New Hanover Township (just north of Pottstown, PA)

A.Ok, so this is interesting, but does the topic appeal to enough people to get its own 'Question of the Week'?

Yes indeedy; in fact, variations on this theme are one of the most frequent questions we get. People are always asking things like "I brought home a pack of seeds I bought in a garden center in England or France; did I break the law?"

And did they?

Technically yes, but the risk of injuring the environment with professionally packaged seed from a developed country is low to nil. More troublesome would be seed from someone's home garden, as it would not have been inspected for common diseases and such. Next worst would be the cuttings Chad mentions, as they could harbor the eggs or larvae of insect pests as well as disease. The absolute worst be potted plants, as their soil could contain billions of bad actors. But I didn't want to just base my answer on my own feelings and some research, so I turned to a good friend who travels the world looking for unique ideas for upcoming editions of the Philadelphia Flower Show—the Show's designer Sam Lemheny.

Sam responds: "Chad is correct. Customs does not like people bringing in plants from other countries. Usually soil is the biggest reason as the potential for soil borne pests is high. Cuttings are less dangerous and more interesting. I have heard of folks sneaking them into the US and not getting caught. They used strong, sealed plastic bags with wet paper towels to keep the humidity high around the cuttings—but I would never advocate such a thing."

Sam continues: "However, if you do go through the proper channels, which would involve US Customs and the Department of Agriculture, the cuttings might not be viable after inspection delays. The easiest answer is to select a variety that can be sourced in both countries and take government out of the situation. I try and stay far away from importing plants for the Philly Flower Show because of the unknowns and the very specific deadlines we have for the Show."

Thank you, Sam—I'll see you at the 2019 Show this coming March!

Now: How can we determine if this plant IS available in Bavaria?

The Internet got me darn close. A nursery in England—specifically in Kent—called "Signature Hydrangeas" carries this specific variety. I first thought that dual membership in the European Union might make shipping to Germany easy—but then I saw that the price was in Pounds Sterling instead of Euros and was reminded of Brexit. So Chad or his friend will have to shoot the nursery an email and ask about shipping to Germany.

If the answer is no, there's every reason to believe that a cultivar named "Bavaria" is going to be available in the hometown of BMW and Octoberfest. If not, they can try the other states that make up the Republic of Germany. AND Bavaria shares a completely open border with Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. I don't think it's going to be difficult to source the exact same plant over there.

And if you think the idea of smuggling in cuttings is exciting, imagine this scenario:

"Yes, {your name here}; now through the metal detector. Good, you have no metal on you. Now step into the scanner, put your feet where its indicated on the floor, hold your hands above your head like this. Good. Now hold still for a moment and…
"Emergency! They have something strapped to their legs; wiring! A bomb! Evacuate the airport! Do not move or we will shoot!"

OK? But at least you were right about the 'exciting' part….

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