The Wild Gardener

Last week, while perusing the latest issue of The Garden, published by the Royal Horticultural Society, I ran across an article entitled “USA slams the door on imported seed.”

This is not new news. You’ve read about it before in Mountain Xpress. But this time around, the news is worse. Like the TP (Thought Police), and the PCP (Politically Correct Police), we now have the PP (Plant Police). And as our old plumber used to say upon making the correct connection: “It’s a-perkin’.”

Their stated aim? To clamp down on the importation of invasive plants into the United States. The reason? To prevent new invasive species from taking over — species like kudzu (Pueraria lobata), brought to America, not by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but by railroad barons hoping to curb erosion as they laid track throughout the Southeast; or wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) brought to American gardeners by nurseries; or bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) imported to America because our own beautiful native bittersweet (C. scandens) didn’t have enough berries (and now has probably disappeared from our woods). Or the bell-ringer of invasives, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), packaged and shipped to a garden in Manhattan’s Central Park that was constructed to display all the flowers of Shakespeare growing together like in Hick’s Peaceable Kingdom (this plant has now taken over half the wetlands in eastern North America).

So let’s correct the problem: The USDA has ruled that a phytosanitary certificate must accompany all parcels of seed being imported into the United States. To that end, the “Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program” recommends that the current lists of banned species (or blacklists) should be replaced by a “white list” of harmless species. Seeds and plants of all unlisted species would then be banned from importation.

The problem with this solution: The blacklist is easy to compile; the white list impossible. As to phytosanitary certificates, they, like stock certificates, are as easy to forge as Enron goodwill.

These would-be regulators are quick to forget that most problematic imports were introduced by capitalistic enterprises, not by gardeners in search of something new for their garden. In keeping with most American solutions, these bureaucrats would prefer to bolt, weld and completely glue the barn door shut, well after the horse has been stolen.

The next question is: Just who’s behind these proposed regulations? Are they well-meaning, but misguided horticulturists or representatives of mega-corporations like Monsanto, those folks bringing you gene-manipulated seed — seed that is copyright-protected, as though it were a machine, a light bulb or a book. (The result in this case is that 90 percent of the world’s farmers, if they use registered seed, can no longer legally save seed from one crop to the next.)

If you have an extra few weeks in your life with nothing to do, consult the USDA Website: (www.invasivespecies.gov/council/main.shtml). It’s as confusing as hell!

Using the royal we, we do understand the need to prevent imports of potentially dangerous plant species. But if this proposal is adopted, it will probably lead to the end of most international seed exchanges in the United States.

The result: DNA-manipulated corn and wheat everywhere, plus more petunias and marigolds than you ever thought possible.

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