About Importing Plants

greedygh0stJuly 8, 2014

I've gotten into a couple discussions lately about importing plants from Thailand, and I recently placed a couple of orders. So, when my Epiphytica box arrived today, I thought I'd provide a little explanation/tour, so people know what it's really like.

First of all, it's really easy. But you must be able to answer YES to the following questions:

1. Do you have a PayPal account?
2. Are you comfortable rooting Hoya cuttings (including ones that are stressed and may need some TLC)?
3. Can you handle it if something goes wrong, some/all of the plants arrive too stressed to survive, and you may just be out the money?

If you passed the test, the rest is as easy as ordering from a US vendor. The Thai vendors fill out the phytosanitary certificate for you and slip it in your box; you just have to cover the charges. Expect to pay a minimum of $35-45 for certificate + shipping.

Unless you have an import permit, you need to limit your selections to 12 plants. I'm not going to cover import permits here since I don't have one! Ha! I always order 12 plants. It's pretty easy to get an import permit, though, and someone else can explain what you would need to do for bigger orders.

On average it takes about 5-6 days for your package to arrive, if nothing goes wrong. I'm not kidding. Last year my order with Denise went rogue. But the two years before that I placed 1 order with Aleya and 1 order with Epiphytica and all 4 orders took 5-6 days to arrive. I'm looking at the USPS tracking data right now.

This year my order took 11 days to arrive, extending over 2 weekends and 1 holiday!

So now you get to see exactly what an Epiphytica order looks like with a long transport time PLUS some fragile thin-leafed species. I took these pictures immediately after the package arrived. I did not remove any dead materials or adjust colors in the photos. So you are seeing exactly what I saw. Excuse the iPhone photography.

This package has not been opened by the USDA. When it's opened you'll know it because their tape is all over the place, but they don't actually disrupt the package very much as they are able to take their test samples without unpacking everything.

These boxes are always dented, but I've yet to experience a broken vine

Here's my phyto! On top so the USDA can easily find it!

Ah, the moment of truth. As you can see, there are some yellow leaves, but overall it looks super green, so my pulse has returned to normal.

Here we have the most important plant in the box (for me). Hoya desvoeuxensis, which was my first favorite Hoya. Which died on me after a prolonged battle with some kind of aquarium fungus. Which I successfully imported from Epiphytica last year along with megalantha. And which I leotardedly lost over the winter through some carelessness.

And here is a duplicate, because I was that paranoid about getting my hot hands on it again. This one looks weaker than the other one, so I'm happy I got two.

Hoya mirabilis (SR-2008-002) small leaves with fully splash (EPC 293)
I lied. This is also an important plant. I think I've been asking Jack for it and being denied for 3 years now. I finally got it! Woo! Btw, isn't Mira the prettiest name? I went to high school with a Mira, and I tried to get my sister to name her baby that, but nope.

I seriously love thomsonii.

I had to get this one because I still owe it to someone from a trade last year. How bad is that lol!

This is another one I loved and lost twice. The first time I got it from Aleya and it travels well, so it hurts to waste a whole Epiphytica slot on it (when the inventory is so expansive), but I wasn't placing an Aleya order right that second and I knew if I ordered it from him I'd get a nice generous sturdy cutting that would never die. And I did, as you can see.

I wasn't going to replace this one, but I have to admit I like it. Its leaves get slightly crinkly sometimes, like paper that has been left out in the rain. It's cute. Not the easiest to keep alive, though, folks. Seems like it would be like paziae but it's not. So, it's quite astounding how nicely it has traveled, now, isn't it!?

I'm always surprised when vendors actually sell me plants like this. First, it seems like they should have zero availability. Second, the leaves always look so hardy and solid, even though the flowers look like something an alien might have attached to his hat.

This seems to be an order mostly of replacements, but here's this one. How on earth did I choose this one no-flower-picture sp. out of all the possibilities? You got me!

I actually pulled this out of the box and went, "What?! I ordered obscura?!" And then I looked up the Epiphytica picture and was like. Ohhhhhh orange....

Speaking of orange... Okay, mitrata and elliptica are the only plants I really have trouble importing. Elliptica just arrives dead and I have given up wasting Jack's time on it (for now...). Mitrata arrives just like this - lovely, right? But then loses 90% of its leaves over the next week. I can't figure out why. They all just turn yellow and fall off. I really really really really really want this one, though, so I'm trying again.

Ugh. I got all cocky about siariae and then lost all of mine while going through my disappearing act last year. So now I'm painfully re-acquiring them all.

See, now everything's out of the box, and here are the only leaves that fell off in the process.

And here they are all soaking in plain room temperature water, for a little bit.

So, what do you think? Pretty painless, right?

I do find that my Epiphytica plants are significantly hardier, in travel. I thought it was because they were rooted, but I did order rooted plants from Aleya once and had no greater success. I suspect they simply do a higher volume of business, having been around longer, and their plants get cut more. But that's pure guesswork.

Epiphytica will exchange plants that arrive DOA (he'll put them in with your next order if you remind him, so you don't have to pay shipping twice). Aleya is frank and unapologetic about the risk you take, and I think that is perfectly fair, since their approach is to offer plants at the lowest price feasible. Both vendors have been generous about including extra long cuttings, when they have it available.

So, I guess what I'm saying is both have their strengths.

I just ordered a couple packs of seeds from Aleya and they threw in a free packet. So I'll be planting those soon and will photograph/inform you all on how it goes. I just think that is the coolest idea ever if it works. They sell only the species that have good germination rates for them.

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Fantastic Post GG! I've only ordered from Thailand three times, and two of the three times the plants came in almost perfectly crisp from what must have been extraordinary heat. Your plants look unbelievably healthy. I was just telling someone the other day that I would never order from Thailand again, but after seeing your plants, I may have to reconsider.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 4:23PM
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Well, after a crappy day, normally I console myself with rice krispie treats, but since I can't do that anymore, I (based on your post) placed an order with Epipytica. 12 plants. Entirely your fault :) I accept no blame for this. And it didn't take much time at all since I had already pretty much decided what I wanted the most from him.

Yep placing all the blame on you when my hubby says "You bought MORE!"

I still plan on getting an import permit, but I haven't applied for it yet, and I just couldn't wait.

Great post, lovely plants.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 6:20PM
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Very interesting, GG, thanks for posting this! I always feel tremendously thankful to people who bring these more exotic hoyas into the country and then trade / sell / gift / whatever. It may feel like you are giving yourselves a gift, but you are also giving one to the whole hoya community.

I wonder if Thai vendors can ship on Monday, so the package spends only one weekend or maybe even none in the mail. That 4th of July was also a bummer. But the plants look great - just slight leaf yellowing, not too bad.

How well rooted are they? They are very generous when it comes to stems/leaves.

I always enjoy going through people's orders - it often gives me ideas for my own wish list. That desvoeuxensis is definitely going in - your clone has that amazing velvety purple ashen campanulate flower.

This reminds me - I should post what I got from Carol a month or so ago. There's some good stuff there for other people's wish lists.

You said plain water, but do you soak them in something like superthrive or VF-11 as well? What's the procedure for the ones that are more stressed?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 11:29PM
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I'm so happy to have been some inspiration. As you can see, I started taking the photographs for this post before I'd even opened the box, that's how much faith I had that the plants inside were going to look good.

Feel free to scapegoat me to your husband, Renee. Just don't turn your boys against me. I plan on kidnapping them for their prestigious plant-sitting degrees. ;) And now you got me in the mood for Rice Krispie bars, too.

It has been my personal experience that orders from Thailand are shipped on Friday, Saturday, or Monday, never the middle of the week. I certainly think they are trying to avoid the double-weekend and have spent time analyzing the best time to ship, with a much better data pool than us. Regardless, I never make special requests with Hoya vendors, because I want to stay in their good books. You know how it is serving tables? Every customer thinks they're the first person to have made that joke or observation to you, and you've already heard it 10x that day. ("Really, there's a typo on the menu? Well, I never!")

Whether Jack was aware of the American holiday schedule or not, the package should have, by all rights, arrived at its destination before the following weekend. Probably what happened was that people left early for the holiday and it didn't quite make it through customs in time, because it cleared customs and was on its way 12:35AM on Monday morning. I can just imagine it sitting at the very front of the line before they turned the conveyor belt off Friday. Honestly, in my case, it wouldn't have mattered if it had come on time, though, because I had to leave town unexpectedly to go see my grandmother.

How well rooted they are can vary, but I would say in most cases they are very well rooted. We aren't talking a few roots - it's a small but complex mass. In my conditions it would take many months to achieve that much root structure, but I'm sure it takes less time in Thailand. He appears to root them in coconut husk chips, then remove most of the rooting medium prior to shipping, wrapping the root ball in sphagnum moss. So it's fairly easy to gently peel away the layer of sphagnum moss without disturbing the roots. The plants are in shock for a while, which is why I keep them in a humid chamber to adjust. Some drop leaves but they don't dehydrate while waiting to develop roots, the way cuttings do.

For example, the most weakly rooted plant of the bunch was that second desvoeuxensis, but when I unwrapped it, the root structure was far enough along that I discarded my original plans to put it in hydroton. In some cases, like the mirabilis, it was almost a fist-sized wad (my hands are small).

I originally acquired desvoeuxensis from Ted Green (it was megalantha back then) and it was the most expensive cutting I had ever purchased. It was $30 then, as it is now. I remember shaking when I took it out of the box, I was so scared I wouldn't be able to root it. It had a bud on it and it bloomed a few days later, so I got to see the blossoms right away. :) The leaves on both Jack's megalantha and desvoeuxensis are a lot smaller than the plant I grew from TG - maybe 1/3-1/4 the size of cv. Iris Marie's. I wondered if they will get bigger in my conditions - but so far they have stayed the same. They are super cute, though and, as Ted describes, they are "scramblers" and will twine like crazy around anything close.

I just soak plants in plain water these days. I did more harm than good with my early cocktails, so I'm a bit gun-shy. The procedure with stressed cuttings is the same as with any other cutting, except I think it's important to put them in a humid environment while they root. I put this group in a clear Ikea tub and set it near, but not against, a window.

This post was edited by greedyghost on Wed, Jul 9, 14 at 12:15

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 12:07PM
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$30 cutting price makes the $40 shipping (and the certificate) price look not that bad. When I saw you mentioned the $35-$45 shipping, first thing I did was divide it into 12 to see how much that is per cutting. $3.33 is a third of what I consider a rather expensive cutting for my tastes - which I consider expensive shipping, but of course this is Thailand we are talking about...

I guess these views are a function of how far along one is in his/her collecting. I generally have no trouble finding what I like on US collectors lists, and they often do not advertise and charge much less than other US or oversees sellers, and shipping is like $5-7 for a box where up to ~20 cuttings can fit.

But these are not really exotic for the most part, and that makes all the difference, of course. So, again, my cudos to all of you Thailand shoppers. By the way, I never hear about international vendors in Malaysia or the Philippines or Indonesia. You'd think they'd want to chop a chunk of business off of Thais' laps, their conditions also being very conducive to easy hoya growing. I wonder why. Might be expensive or unreliable postal services or cumbersome regulations or corruption or lack of some sort of needed infrastructure... Some more competition would be a very good thing for us consumers of their growing results.

Speaking of roots - do you or anybody else find that moist sphagnum wrapped in a plastic bag leads to rot - of roots, or leaves/stems if the moisture escapes?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 4:19PM
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I agree that it's all about where you are in your collecting period.


Collecting plants has a similar progression to finding a romantic partner:

Stage 1: Lack of interest Romance: "I don't like boys."
Plants: "Plants should conform to me, which means, on this windowsill, in this decorative planter, period."

Stage 2: Naïveté + Exaggerated strength of opinion Romance: "I'm into drummers. Especially the really malnourished looking ones with self-esteem complexes."
Plants: "I have taken a firm stance against cultivars, variegated plants, kerrii, and compacta. I am specifically collecting Hoyas that have interesting textures because I'm smarter than the average bear."

Stage 3: Admitting your ignorance + Exploration Romance: "I guess I wasn't as into drummers as I thought; I'll date anyone who likes me."
Plants: "If you put it in a box and ship it to me, it will find a loving home."

Stage 4: Discovering what you (really) want Romance: "I met this guy who has the same education, religion, pie fetish, and preference for Corgis. We're getting married tomorrow."
Plants: "I am going to import all the plants that look like close relatives to the ones that already bloom for me, then give away all my non-bloomers."

Stage 5: Lack of interest Romance: No comment.
Plants: "I like orchids now."


As you say, importing from Thailand is more expensive. There's no point in doing it if you are still figuring out what you like.

But if you do know what you like, it's your only solid shot at getting plants to fine tune your collection into an art-collector's dream. Naturally if Joni imports the same plant you were eyeing, you snatch it up so fast you make her website spin, but what if she decides NOT to collect every rigida that ever were?!!?!?! /faint

If you have a favorite species, chances are there are 20 more beautiful collections of it out there. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life with the 21st most beautiful mindorensis? Your whole life?!?!

What about that acuta 0079 you like so much. It's the prettiest one in the whole flat, just admit it. Now what if you threw out all the other plants in the flat and replaced them with an acuta with black-backed leaves, one with blood-red leaves, three different types of variegation, one with super thick leaves, and then to round things out, pink flower, green flower, large white flower, and yellow flower. Then a heart-shaped leaved acuta just to find out what that means exactly. NOW you have a flat Don Draper would approve of!

Or hey, you like orange flowers, or true red flowers (no, not burgundy, fool!)... Well, if you work hard you can probably get 5 maybe 10 different plants with that color flower, sticking inside the bounds of the US. But what's that I hear, Thailand? You want to help me realize my dream of having a completely orange Hoya collection? Finally my life has purpose!

Etc etc. ;) ;) ;) ;)

;) ;) ;) ;)

(See all those winks? If you reply to this post in a serious or angry manner, I will refer you to the winks)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 5:29PM
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No, the interior of the box definitely has a humid feel to it, and the newspaper holds some lingering moisture (not damp at all, but not 100% dry), but the sphagnum has dried out by the time the plants arrive here. I have experienced zero rot.

I do not know anything specific about the laws and regulations of the countries you mention, but the fact that there is little plant export from them suggests that the process is more complicated. It may be related to infrastructure, but it probably has more to do with current regulations.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 5:44PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Very strange...I just saw this under the "recent posts" widget. Please - where is the USDA language saying you can import twelve plants with no permit and only a phytosanitary certificate? My understanding was not only was the USDA requiring a permit for plants as they always had, in the past 10 years or so they'd even cracked down on imports of cleaned seeds. I bought a lot of seeds from Chiltern in the 1990s, then in about 2004 they started having seizures interupt their supply to the US. Silverhill had to start batching their seeds and sending them via a relative that fortunately they have in the US, so that an import permit and phyto could cover many purchasers. I wonder if what's really happening here is you are just getting lucky because they cannot possibly open every package; if they did they would just destroy it for not having a permit. But, please, if I'm wrong, let me know why I'm wrong. There's an utterly annoying situation (in my mind!) where several rhododendron cultivars bred in the USA - even bred in the eastern USA to withstand our conditions - have been completely lost to cultivation here and are only available from UK & European nurseries. I'd LOVE to be able to order some of them, but the hassle seemed almost insurmountable and most EU nurseries will not even bother trying...though they ship to other non-EU regions with phyto certificates. If all we need is phyto certificates, that's _major_ news to me. The government actually reducing a regulatory requirement almost never happens.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 5:58PM
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The laws have not changed, so whatever was impeding your import before probably still is. European vendors won't export Hoyas to us either.

I am not well versed on all the details of international import/export law, but I have had a package opened and inspected by the USDA twice within the last couple years and they didn't destroy the contents. Apparently they passed inspection.

The only thing I can think of without access to the APHIS site, which is down right now, is that there must be more restrictions on the types of plants you are interested in importing. Hoyas are, of course, little threat as an invasive species (except maybe in Hawaii). They are typically imported as dry cuttings without even roots, and grown indoors.

In lieu of the APHIS website, I found the following on the CBP website: Propagative Plant Material (Plants/Plant Parts for Planting)

Many plants may enter the United States from foreign countries, provided they meet certain entry requirements. Entry requirements vary by plant, but the following requirements universally apply:
· If you bring back 12 or fewer articles of admissible plants that have no special restrictions, you do not need a permit. Special restrictions may include requirements such as a permit, post-entry quarantine, treatment, or ESA or CITES documentation.
· Plants must be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin showing that the plants meet entry requirements for the United States.
· Plants should be bare rooted (no growing media attached to the roots).
· You should perform a basic visual inspection of plants. Look for insects or sickly looking plant parts.
· Wrap plants in damp newspaper or similar material to prevent them from drying out. Roots may be secured in a plastic bag.

Twelve or fewer plants are inspected by CBP at the first port of entry. Thirteen or more plants will be inspected by APHIS personnel at the nearest Plant Inspection Station. If the inspector finds plant pests that could cause harm to other plants, or if the plants do not meet entry requirements, they will be refused entry. This means you must forfeit the plants, which will either be destroyed or returned to the country of origin.

Travelers are advised to consult with their nearest APHIS PPQ Plant Inspection Station to determine the admissibility of propagative plant material (including live plants, bulbs, corms, cuttings, root crowns, seeds, etc.).

You can learn more about admissibility and entry requirements for certain plants by calling Permit Services at (301) 851-2046 or toll-free at (877) 770-5990 or by email at Permits@aphis.usda.gov.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Importing plants and plant products

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 7:01PM
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GG- had to go to the orchids huh? :)

Which is funny cause for me it was backwards. I started with orchids, and at a time when I was overwhelmed started adding Hoyas.

Nowadays, when the orchids aren't doing anything interesting, which is summertime, the Hoyas are. And when the Hoyas arent as interesting, which is wintertime, the orchids are. So I switch my loyalties between them through the year.

Btw, your post is way to accurate :)


    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 7:42AM
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Here is a photo that shows better than I can explain the opposite experience of GG's Thai Order. This was an order of three plants from a Thai vendor on Ebay I received in early May of this year. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Just know that going in, and you will be alright.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 8:49AM
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Sorry you had that experience, Doug! What a downer that must have been!

How long were they in transit? Some people recommend avoiding the hottest time in Thailand (apparently, the coldest time in the North-East US is fine, surprisingly to me). But of course these things can happen at any time, and they have. :-/

GG, those dating analogies are hilarious! My belly aches from all the laughing!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:23AM
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Greentoe, they were in transit around 14 days. I've had plants from Austraila in transit over three weeks, which were than held at customs, and gassed for reasons unknown, that arrived in better shape than these plants did.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:33AM
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Doug, I had a friend in MD send me cuttings a couple years ago. Interestingly the USPS thought the route from MD to FL included a side trip through TX, then onto CA, then back through CO, then finally onto FL. Also apparently they consider a package staying in a sort facility for over a week part of the trip. Supposedly they lost it, but then they found it. I mention this because the little tour of the US my cuttings took, was just under three weeks. Until it was "lost" it showed the route on the tracking. amusing in a sad kind of way.

And the cuttings arrived fine, a little dehydrated, but they perked back up quickly. I still have every one of them. So, I'm thinking your package might have been left in the hot sun for a good bit of time.

Did you use EMS or just regular international mail? Maybe that is the difference?

When I get my order, I'll take pics, see what happens.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:07AM
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Renee, I really think that EMS is probably the big difference. The vendor did not offer it so it went regular air mail. It was trackable and it showed up at NYC customs in about 8 days. I'm thinking that somewhere along the line it sat on a hot asphalt, tarmac for some time. 2nd time it happened to me.
The one time I did use EMS with Aleyagarden the cuttings arrived in good shape.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 1:37PM
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Just was checking out the hoya site and saw this post on importing. Was wondering how do you find place to order from? I am into Schlumbergera and would like to find how to order from vendors overseas. Your help would be appreciated. Thank you

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 12:30AM
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Fantastically informative post gg, just what our local Hoya Group been searching for.Great photos.
Can any West Australians advise on their succes/failures and how to apply to get hoyas into W.A.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 12:07AM
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West Australia and, to nearly the same extent, Tasmania are the worst places to get plants into. Try the border crossing near Kununurra. They search cars inside and out. I had a hessian sack one time and really got the 3rd degree, they wanted to know its history and everything that had ever been placed in it. If you look on ebay, most plant sellers have a note saying they don't ship to WA. But there are some sellers who will go through the whole quarantine process and ship there, but no doubt you'll have to pay the extra it takes. The Ag. Department has an "import manual" you can check on the internet:

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 8:17AM
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GG, how are all these plants doing? Has the difficult mitrata survive ok, I hope?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 4:49PM
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Hi tropicbreezent,
thanks for reponse, advise and link for ag dept. I will try the ebay site for one sought after hoya (h.lautibachii). I'm located coastal midwest Western Australia.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 10:15PM
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