The Northern California Chapter
of the
American Bamboo Society



USDA is Tracking Down Bamboo Seed Buyers

As reported by a South Florida nursery owner in Feb 2013


A couple of days ago, a new customer visited and bought one plant. He also had a story to tell about a scary home visit by armed USDA agents of the Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance Program.

Apparently, he called us about six months ago asking about bamboo seeds that he bought and the seedlings were growing unlike the species descriptions. His seedlings were about two months old. We gave him the usual line about unreliable/unethical seed suppliers and also that seeds are prohibited into the USA from international sources. He said, at the time, he thought we were just trying to discourage him from a better/cheaper source of bamboos.

The USDA agents showed up at his home about eight months after his online purchase and they confiscated his seedlings. They did not fine him as it was an isolated incident.

This is the third time in the past three months this exact scenario has been reported to us. All three were people who made online seed purchases, either through eBay or Amazon.com. The surprise USDA visits all were 8-12 months after the online purchase.
Has anyone else heard of or experienced a version of this scenario?

We actually had those guys (USDA/Smuggling Interdiction) touring our nursery and asking bamboo import questions almost three years ago. Pretty impressive - guns, vests, black SUVs, etc. I gave them our USDA/Beltsville contacts, a copy of the FCC/ABS Import Permit, and explained that the import procedure was (at the time) being reworked. I also remember mentioning that they should check out eBay... It seemed they were just collecting info and were also trying to get a better understanding of the CFRs, related to bamboo. It appears they've sorted it out and now have a plan of action.

Personally, I’m happy to hear these stories. Sure, I sell bamboos, and the impression might be that cheap seeds could undermine my business. Bamboo seeds don't measurably affect annual plant sales. Landscapers, landscape architects, and contractors, don’t plant seeds. Most retail buyers prefer reliable, established starts. The main reason I’m happy is because it might cut down on the phone calls and emails from people who can’t understand why all of their bamboo seedlings look the same and nothing like the species names that were written on the seed packets.

By the way, the new USDA bamboo import system has a provision for seeds. The seeds are germinated and tested only once (as opposed to a Spring and Fall test for live plants). The seedlings could be released after only a few months in quarantine. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting routing your Amazon.com, German online seed supplier, or eBay seeds through Beltsville, MD. There are, however, reliable seed suppliers in SE Asia who occasionally have viable seeds of desirable species.


Copyright © 2011 - 2023 Northern California Chapter of the American Bamboo Society