OAKLAND -- In a first of its kind interception in the United States, a routine inspection of a ship docked at the Port of Oakland discovered seeds from capeweed, an invasive weed capable of wreaking havoc on the agriculture industry, officials said Wednesday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors on Jan. 31 found what turned out to be capeweed seeds on some decorative dried flowers shipped to the United States from Australia. The seeds were sent to a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab for analysis and on Feb. 1 they were positively identified as capeweed.
Capeweed, with the scientific name is Arctotheca calendula, is identified by the USDA as a federal noxious weed due to its agriculturally invasive nature, according to customs officials. It was the first time capeweed has been intercepted being transported to the U.S., officials said.
In a news release, Brian J. Humphrey, CBP director of Field Operations in San Francisco, said capeweed is one of "numerous foreign agricultural pests and diseases that could seriously affect American crops and livestock."
Customs officials said noxious weeds are generally non-native species capable of aggressive growth and can cause serious problems in a native ecosystem. Capeweed could have devastating economic effects to California's major agriculture industry.
When it blooms, capeweed has daisy-like yellow flower heads and according to a bulletin from Australian agriculture officials "competes with crops for water, nutrients and probably light, resulting in yield reduction." It can also develop resistance to herbicides and can cause nitrate and nitrite poisoning of livestock, according to the bulletin.
Customs officials said the dried flowers were seized for destruction.
Frank Falcon, the local public affairs liaison for Customs and Border Protection, said he could not identify the shipper but said the flowers were in 10 cartons destined for a Bay Area location. He said the capeweed seeds were attached on the flower heads and were similar to dandelion seeds "that float in the air."
Falcon said authorities at this point believe the seeds accidentally got onto the flowers. "It's nothing the shipper would have done on purpose," Falcon said. "They probably didn't realize the seeds were on them."