A handmade Maine wreath can be a great holiday gift. But if you are sending one to friends and family out of state, make sure to check agricultural shipping regulations first. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

This story was originally published in November 2020.

When it comes to buying gifts this holiday season, a lot of folks like to shop close to home to support local businesses. If your gifts include anything made from living Maine vegetation, state officials say it’s a good idea to make sure the recipients of those gifts are also local. Sending anything made from living foliage or other botanicals risks the spread of invasive species.

“We have pests here in Maine that other states may not have,” Sarah Scally, assistant state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said. “And it goes two ways, we can share pests with other states and they can share them with us if we are not careful.”

Scally’s department annually reminds people that invasive pests can hitchhike in or out of Maine on natural wreaths or holiday plants destined for friends and family. They can also hide in firewood that may come into Maine for a cheery holiday fire.

“With products coming into Maine, we rely on the public to keep an eye out and report anything that looks suspicious,” Scally said. “Especially with products that have bark on them.”

Look for any holes in twigs or branches that may have been produced by an insect boring into them. Another sign of an unwelcome passenger are small piles of sawdust near the vegetation indicating insect activity.

Anyone spotting evidence of insect activity on plants they have received from out of state is asked to report it to the state department of agriculture or to their county office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

In terms of shipping Maine-made natural wreaths, Christmas trees or other holiday products made from living vegetation, Scally said you should first check with any regulations in place at the final destination. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry keeps an online database of state-by-state plant material regulations.

“Import requirements for cut trees and holiday decorations including greenery, ornamental nuts and fruit exist to protect regional agriculture and natural resources from the risk of plant pests,” Scally said. “An insect or plant disease that occurs in Maine could potentially be invasive in other states.”

Here are a few things the state department of agriculture wants you to keep in mind if you are shipping holiday wreaths or trees out of Maine:

— Carefully inspect plant material before packaging to ensure it’s free of insects, egg masses or pest damage.

— Label packages containing holiday plant material clearly, beginning with the statement, “Grown in Maine,” followed by the county of origin and the shipper’s name and address.

— Labels should indicate the contents of the package, including the different types of greenery, nuts, fruits and cones used to decorate wreaths.

— Changes were made in 2019 to the federal gypsy moth program. All Maine wreath and tree shippers must comply with gypsy moth regulations when sending plant material outside the gypsy moth quarantine area.

“Buying local is always a good bet if you want to control invasive species,” Scally said. “If there are pests in the product, they are common to where you are. And if you can’t buy local or want to send a gift, be aware you may be moving pests around and make sure you look up the regulations for the state your gift is heading to.”

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.