The Christmas tree as it was packed (left) and unpacked
Surprised border officials have intercepted a live
Christmas tree, complete with pot of soil, sent by post from
The 30cm potted plant was detected by biosecurity staff as
the well-wrapped package passed through the x-ray machine at
the International Mail Centre in Auckland this week.
The diminutive tree was among the stranger seasonal seizures
this year, with biosecurity staff more accustomed to
intercepting hamper goods in the lead-up to Christmas.
Ministry for Primary Industries northern passenger and mail
manager Craig Hughes said he sometimes felt like the
But border staff had an important job to do, and they usually
tried to get in touch with the sender or recipient, offering
to return or treat the goods if possible.
Mr Hughes said the amount of mail increased dramatically
every Christmas and there were some typical seasonal finds.
"Often it's Christmas-related, either small goods like meats,
pates and salamis, also fir trees or pine trees - usually
clippings, but not the whole tree.
"Of course all of that is not allowed in the country because
it's high risk."
Mr Hughes said baked goods, like Christmas cakes or mince
pies, could be allowed in if they met standards. Commercially
packaged goods were usually fine, but home baking might not
Despite such a wide assortment of goods being fairly typical,
biosecurity staff were still shocked to see the live potted
"The quarantine inspector working the x-ray machine thought,
'what the heck?"'
Mr Hughes said the tree, of unknown species, had fared well
in its journey over from the UK.
"It's fully potted and rooted, and it's in very nice damp
soil. It only takes a few days to come across nowadays, and
it's all wrapped up nicely."
But there was no way the tree would be allowed into the
country because it may have been harbouring fungi or insects
in its soil, roots or foliage.
The biggest concern was a fir tree-killing fungus that was
rampant in Britain and North America at the moment.
"They're talking about a fatality rate of three out of four
for their Christmas tree production - it's massive over
there, so you can imagine if something like that came to New
The tree's sender has been offered the choices of having it
destroyed or returned to the UK.
- by Matthew Backhouse of APNZ