Home Environment and health How gardeners could bring deadly plant disease back from holiday

How gardeners could bring deadly plant disease back from holiday

One of the plant stalls, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira
One of the plant stalls, Mercado dos Lavradores, Funchal, Madeira

RHS and Dame Helen Mirren’s campaign to halt Xylella

It’s holiday time again and for gardeners, the temptation to bring home plants and seeds from abroad is strong but should you bring them home?

If you want to know about what you can and can’t bring back into the UK, see my post here.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is asking holidaymakers not to bring back plants because of a plant disease called Xylella fastidiosa in Europe, especially in Italy, where it is thought more than 11 million olive trees have already fallen victim.

The disease can infect more than 500 different plant species including many garden favourites such as lavender, oleander, rosemary and flowering cherry.

If found in the UK, all host plants within 100m would be destroyed and there would be restrictions on the movement of specified plants within a 5km radius for up to five years.

At risk... olives
At risk… olives

Destruction in Puglia

Dame Helen Mirren has added her voice to the campaign. She said: “I have witnessed first-hand the destruction that Xylella causes in Puglia, Italy – devastating (almost overnight) countless centuries-old olive trees in the businesses and communities that have long relied on them.

“Preventing Xylella’s spread is a priority and something that UK holidaymakers can support by simply avoiding bringing plants back from abroad that may be harbouring the bacterium.

“Our gardens and green spaces are vital for people and the planet and a failure to act could mean the landscapes that define us could be irreversibly changed.

“We desperately need more scientific research and support to ensure we can protect the historic Italian landscape and our British gardens and natural habitats for the future.” 

Gerard Clover, Head of Plant Health at the RHS, added: “While importing plants in personal baggage is already subject to some restrictions we are calling on holidaymakers not to bring plants back from abroad and instead purchase them in the UK.

Fuchsia gall mite. Picture; RHS/Andrew Halstead
Fuchsia gall mite. Picture; RHS/Andrew Halstead

Private importations of pests

“Several pests and diseases are already thought to have made their way into our gardens through private importations, such as fuchsia gall mite, and we simply cannot afford for Xylella to follow.”

The initiative follows Defra’s ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign, which raises awareness of the risks of bringing back plants, cut flowers, fruit and vegetables from holiday destinations.

If you have fallen in love with a certain plant or tree on your travels and want to enjoy it in your own garden, you should always buy directly from a UK garden centre or supplier.

That way, you can be sure that it has been sourced responsibly and gone through the necessary checks for pests and diseases.

For more about Xylella and affected plants, see my post here.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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