Seed and Bulb Exchanges, some Comments

Boyce Tankersley
Fri, 14 Jul 2006 15:38:40 PDT

Hi Lee:

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a number of institutions that have
agreed to accept illegially imported plants. Typically they are botanic
gardens, zoos, universities, etc. with strong conservation programs or
well run facilities. We, Chicago Botanic Garden, are one of over 50
institutions in this program.

It works like this, we get a call from an officer at Fish and Wildlife
on a rotational basis. If the plants are of interest or further or
collection goals we accept them. The conditions are that they have to be
held within the institution (not sold or distributed) and that we will
submit reports on a periodic basis documenting their status (alive,
dead, thriving, etc.). 

If we don't want some of the seized plants, the Fish and Wildlife
officer continues to call other centers until they all have a happy

As you can imagine, some of these plants were not handled in the best
manner prior to being seized or do not respond well to treatments at
USDA to insure no pests have also been imported. Everybody involved does
the best they can but loses occur.

We don't advertise what we have a particular set of resuced plants for
several reasons. Security of the collections is paramount (we don't want
an irrate importer repossessing them during a 'midnight unauthorized'
collection event. The countries of origin also have the legal right to
ask that they be repatriated - sometimes these requests are not received
until after the plants have been sent to us.

Most arrive with very little documentation - usually just a genus or
family and country of origin.

Most plants appear to have been brought into the US by folks who didn't
know it is illegal; every once in a while we get offered large shipments
of very well documented plants of choice genera that tend to suggest a
knowledgeable plantsperson was responsible (who should also know the

Hope this helps clarify the process.

Boyce Tankersley
Manager of Living Plant Documentation
Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022
tel 847-835-6841
fax 847-835-1635
-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Lee Poulsen
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 4:23 PM
To: Pacific Bulb Society
Subject: Re: [pbs] Seed and Bulb Exchanges, some Comments

This very last point has been bothering me ever since the last time I 
brought some plants back with me from abroad (with permits and phytos 
and everything), and while the LAX Customs agent was taking them away 
from me to be inspected (and picked up the next day), I asked him what 
they did with plants that people brought back with them without all the 
permits. He said they would either destroy them or turn them over to a 
place designated to receive illegally imported plant material. I 
somewhat shockedly asked if they destroyed endangered or nearly extinct 
plants just because they were brought in illegally. He tried to assure 
me that no, they would turn those over to the proper people. When I 
further inquired who that might be and what they did with the plants 
(like rare orchids for example), he said that usually they gave those 
plants to the L.A. Zoo and the Zoo planted them in their gardens 
throughout the zoo.

Now I'm curious just why the L.A. Zoo would be better prepared and 
knowledgeable enough to grow any random rare plant that shows up, than 
anyone else including specialist hobbyists would be? And if all these 
confiscated plants are planted somewhere, even if they were turned over 
to better qualified places such as the Huntington or the San Diego Zoo 
for that matter, where are they and how can we find out what they are 
and where they're planted in order to see them? And in the case of rare 
orchids for example, who gets them? If someone tried to illegally bring 
a Worsleya back from Brazil with them and it got confiscated, who would 
end up with it and what would they do with it? It's not like any 
professional plant person or botanist here in California is really 
going to know how to grow it better than the top experts (but still 
merely hobbyists) on the Worsleya email list who have actually 
successfully grown them. In fact, I would bet there isn't any 
professional botanist or other official botanical professional here in 
California who knows better how to grow them than the best hobbyist 
growers in Australia do. I think the botanical officials here would 
stand a good chance of killing it.

Anyway, since I've never seen anything particularly rare or really 
unusual that is CITES listed that no one else has at either the L.A. 
Zoo or at the Huntington or the L.A. Arboretum, they're either 
permanently keeping them out of sight so that only the professionals 
who work there, and their friends, ever get to see them, or they're 
losing them just as much as we mere hobbyist would if we tried to grow 
them on. Furthermore, now that the plant is here anyway, why don't they 
propagate it in some way, by cloning or seeds or division, and get it 
out there so that bad people don't keep trying to smuggle them in and 
decimate the native populations? Just wondering.

End of gripe session.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a

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