First of all, brugmansia are members of the solanaceae family of plants. That family also includes annual and perennial herbs to vines, lianas, epiphytes, shrubs, and trees, and includes a number of important agricultural crops, medicinal plants, spices, weeds, and ornamentals. That family also includes: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell/chili peppers, and tobacco – all economically important cash crops. As these plants share similar characteristics, they are subject to similar diseases which affect production. When obtained or grown in an uncontrolled or unprotected environment, these plants may transfer destructive diseases to one another. As a result, the importation of these plants or their products (cuttings, starts, plants, seed) are strictly monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and protocols for their importation have been established by the department.
Simply put, the protocols are put in place as a protection against diseases that might decimate whole crops of ornamental or food plants. Brugmansia grown and propagated in Europe (or other parts of the world) may or may not harbor destructive disease, so disallowing it’s importation would be detrimental to studying the plant for scientific reasons, or propagating it for growing in home gardens, botanical gardens and parks. Instead, the USDA asks that you inform them of your intention to import, where you intended to import them from, when you plan to do it, that you ask their permission, file the appropriate paperwork and notify them when they arrive. After they arrive, a USDA inspector will arrange for onsite inspection during a quarantine period of two years. If the plants do not show signs of disease during that two year period of quarantine, the USDA will allow propagation and distribution of plants and cuttings from those plants. If they DO show signs of destructive disease, you must destroy them.
Bypassing the rules isn’t too difficult. You find a brug pal somewhere in the world, make a deal to ship the cuttings in a clandestine manner without USDA certification, unpack them when they arrive and begin growing them out. Problem is that you’re gambling with the health of your collection. Cuttings with disease may harbor that disease well into the growing period that brings them to the point where they’re ready to propagate, sell or trade. It can be a period as short as one year depending on environment and care. By then, you’ve handled, repotted; used pruners, shovels, pots, your own hands; used drenches that leach runoff into your soil and reused pots in which those plants have been grown. All ways to spread disease handily. Once the cuttings from those plants are placed into circulation either by sale or trade, problems that might have been discovered during a professionally supervised quarantine period are passed on to whoever you sold or traded those plants and cuttings to. You have sick plants. Your customers or friends have sick plants. We are members of a very kind and generous community. That kindness and generosity shouldn’t be a cause for heartache or the spread of diseases with the potential of imploding a friend’s garden or wiping out local food crops.
There are more important reasons to comply with USDA regulations. If you are caught importing plant material requiring permission WITHOUT permission, it is called smuggling. Then, it is not an easily recoverable matter of sick plants. It is a Federal crime. In order to be found guilty of the crime of smuggling, the federal prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that:
1. The defendant knowingly smuggled merchandise into the United States without declaring the merchandise for invoicing;
2. The defendant knew that the merchandise was of a type that should have been declared; and
3. The defendant acted willfully with intent to defraud the United States.
The penalty for this crime includes up to 20 years in a federal prison, a fine, or both.
This is SERIOUS business, and certainly NOT worth the risk or possible rewards of circumventing USDA protocols. As a breeder of brugmansia plants, and having seen the increase of the myriad varieties either grown as the result of hand pollination in this country or legally obtained, grown and propagated, I can assure you we have enough genetic material available to continue producing new forms and colors with the domestic plants we currently possess. In the past, disease has been a taboo subject, discussed among the few privately. This has got to change. We have to locate and identify problem plants and make difficult decisions about how and why they’re either failing or succumbing to disease. We cannot do that if the information remains behind closed doors and/or USDA importation protocols are ignored.
I’ve provided some important links from the USDA, if you’re thinking of importing cuttings, plants, whatever – take the time to read these publications.
1. Plant Health Import Information – https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/import-information/ct_plant_import_information
2. Plant Material With Special Restrictions – https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/import-information/sa_post_entry/ct_postentry
3. Bringing Agricultural Products Into the United States – https://www.cbp.gov/travel/clearing-cbp/bringing-agricultural-products-united-states
4. Plants for Planting Manual – https://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/manuals/ports/downloads/plants_for_planting.pdf