Gardeners cautioned about foreign invaders

Shirley Plestid is an avid gardener with some global plans for garden here at home.

“I am going to Holland in May and I love their tulips,” she said.

But bringing flowers into Canada isn’t as simple as packing some in checked luggage.

Stopping invasive species crucial, says Canada Border Services rep

Invasive species — like the Asian long-horned beetle, the Asian gypsy moth, the brown spruce longhorn beetle and the emerald ash borer (EAB), Toronto’s biggest threat — pose a serious threat to Canada’s natural environment, the North York Horticultural Society heard recently.

Invasive species are plants, animals, insects and diseases that move to a new region and damage native habitats and kill native species, said Liz Cogger-Hill of Canada Border Services.

They can reproduce quickly and spread widely, and their movement is almost always caused by human activity, including through the movement of infested wood like packaging and firewood, she said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires that all wood packaging must be free of invasive pests, Cogger-Hill said, and firewood cannot be moved from an EAB-infested region to prevent the spread of the insects.

Noxious plants — like the purple loosestrife, wallow-wart, and giant hogweed — also pose a significant threat, she said.

“The wallow-wart is tenacious” said Cogger-Hill. “It is prolific. It goes everywhere. It chokes and it propagates.”

The North York Horticultural Society recently hosted Canada Border Services Agency’s Liz Cogger-Hill, who shared a presentation titled Know Before You Grow that outlined what organic material is and isn’t allowed enter the country, and the risks that invasive species pose to Toronto’s environment.

“I came here to find out what I can bring home with me for my garden,” Plestid said.

Canada Border Services, together with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, regulates the import of certain foods, plants, animals and related products, and determines the most up-to-date requirements to help prevent foreign threats from entering the country, Cogger-Hill said.

“Every traveller entering Canada must declare all food, plants and animal related products,” she said. “It is the law and if you lie about possessing any of these things you will be charged.”

Potential threats include wood packaging and firewood, soil, plants and plant products, Cogger-Hill said.

“These things are a major source of animal and plant-related diseases,” she said. “They may carry pests, nematodes, viruses and fungi that could infiltrate our borders and pose a threat to Canada’s forests, biodiversity and economy.”

Because of those risks, import restrictions on plants are tight, she said.

Cut flowers are allowed in as long as they do not have coniferous foliage and will not be used for propagation, Cogger-Hill said. They must not be potted, and must be visibly free of soil and pests. Restrictions vary depending on the flower and where it comes from, and can be checked using the Automated Import Reference System.

A phytosanitary certificate is required for flower bulbs not in their original packaging or missing a Certificate of Inspection, she said. The same is true for seed lots greater than five kilograms or that are not in their original packaging.

“Please, please, please report all plants to a border services officer,” Cogger-Hill said. “And be aware of invasive species and their pathways to prevent their spread.”

After learning some of the dos and don’ts of importing plants, Plestid said she’s thrilled that she can bring tulip bulbs home from Holland.

“Of course,” she said, “before I buy anything I’ll make sure they’re labelled properly.”