Is it okay to plant pepper seeds from China?
May 22, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine recently brought back a bag of crushed red pepper from her home city in China. I had the idea of trying to plant some of the seeds in my plot at a local community garden and seeing if they'd grow. My concern is whether this would be safe and legal to do.

These are so-called "facing-heaven chiles", which are specific to Sichuanese cuisine and hard to find in any form in the U.S. She brought back the crushed kind, because friends had had problems with customs trying to bring in whole dried peppers. I don't want to be responsible for importing some exotic pepper virus to North America. This is in Boston, so I'm not close to any commercial farms (and also may be too late in the season to try this anyway; not sure about that either).
posted by serathen to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
1. It's going to be very lucky for you if they germinate.

2. Likely no one would know or care.

3. It's a somewhat exotic question but the standard answer is to look at your local extension office or seek out some Master Gardeners to help you look into it.

4. Is it really too late? I'd be tempted to find a sunny window and try to get a few starts indoors. If it doesn't grow then you won't have any worries.
posted by amanda at 3:51 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before planting any outside, first just try to germinate them inside.
posted by Rash at 3:58 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't they roast peppers as part of the process of preparing them for commercial sale? If so, all the seeds would be dead.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:48 PM on May 22, 2013

It depends on how they were dried. Typically the process involves oven-drying which kills the seed. If your crushed red pepper was sun dried, or dried in a dehydrator, you may have some luck getting them to germinate. You can pick out a few and try to germinate them on a wet paper towel to determine if they are viable.

Peppers are heat-loving plants that originated near the equator -- I don't think that the native plant population of Boston is going to be in danger if you are able to grow them. In fact, if you look at the hot pepper forum on GardenWeb, people trade seeds from different areas of the world all of the time.
posted by Ostara at 5:16 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Did your friend declare the dried peppers? Food is pretty tightly regulated getting into and out of the country. I don't know if the peppers are legal but if she didn't declare them and get them legally admitted, I think they're illegal.

As for safe, the worry is diseases and pests. I know someone who brought chillies into the country (not the US) and had a bunch of mysterious grubs hatch after a couple weeks. The seeds were then tossed outside which was probably not the best way to get rid of them (but it was the middle if a very long an cold winter). You don't necessarily need to be near commercial growers either if the pest isn't super specific.
posted by hydrobatidae at 5:45 PM on May 22, 2013

I had no trouble germinating and growing guajillo, pequin, and de arbol chiles from dried chiles sold in bags. Granted, they were from the Western hemisphere - probably Mexico. I don't know if there are different techniques in China that sterilize the seeds, or stricter import provisions from China specifically.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:51 PM on May 22, 2013

You can order these from seed suppliers in the UK if you want to try uncrushed or treated. Seeds sent in letter mail are rarely stopped.
posted by srboisvert at 6:38 PM on May 22, 2013

Peppers are a new world fruit, native to the Americas.
posted by hortense at 11:39 PM on May 22, 2013

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