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Border guards put petal to the metal on imported flowers

Border inspections seek to safeguard agriculture ahead of Valentine's Day

Marla Tenkley
Marla Tenkley (Trenton Almgren-Davis/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jenelle Baumbach News Intern

Those dozen roses you received for Valentine’s Day may have spent some time detained at a border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protections sees the highest influx of floral imports through the border around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. 

While the majority of U.S. flower imports come from Colombia into Miami International Airport, inspections happen all over the country, including at entry points in Washington state. 

Most of the flowers at A New Leaf Flower Shoppe in Bellingham are sourced from wholesalers in Seattle and Tacoma. But the shop also works with national wholesalers who often buy plants and flowers from Canadian growers.

Once, owner Trish Manley said they didn’t receive an order of green hydrangeas on time because they were detained at the border. So, they had to scramble to find them somewhere else.

“Sometimes it feels like you are juggling flowers in the air to get orders filled,” Manley said.

Customs officials say some delays are unavoidable. For imported flowers coming over the border, non-excessive and minimal delays can be expected, said Jason Givens, a public affairs specialist at Northwest Customs and Border Protections.

These inspections are conducted to prevent pests or diseases from entering the country and harming agricultural or floral industries in the area. Common pests that are intercepted include aphids, mites, thrips and snails. 

Givens said flowers coming over the border do not need to be destroyed for the purposes of inspection. 

“Cut flowers and potted plants are visually inspected with magnifiers for signs of pests or disease,” he said. “They are then shaken over white paper to dislodge pests, making them easier to detect and collect.” 

Givens said agricultural specialists in Washington have inspected more than 40,000 stems that came through the border since Jan. 9 both by land and by air.

Over 1.23 billion plants were inspected and 1,975 pests were intercepted nationwide in 2022, according to Border Protections. 

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