USDA/APHIS plant import question(s) for any import experts, specifically re: Puerto Rico

I'm in Puerto Rico (work trip) and would like to bring a handful of plants back with me to Michigan (Mango, Avacado, etc- all fruit trees).
I contacted APHIS by email and was told that they consider Puerto Rico a US state (it is actually a US Commonwealth, but for USDA purposes it is treated as a state). They have no problems as long as I don't have endangered plants, and the plants are clean of pests and transported without soil.
I contacted the Michigan Dept of Agriculture to make sure they wouldn't have any problems with the import. They indicated that fruit trees are not regulated (they have a list of noxious plants, and a list of vegetables you can't import into the state). All good so far.
I asked the workers at the USDA inspection station at the Puerto Rico airport on my last trip if they had any concerns about bareroot fruit trees headed to Michigan, and they said that there shouldn't be any problem.
I'm buying the plants from a government nursery, but the department I'm buying them from expressed two rules/concerns that I hadn't heard from any of the above, and I'm wondering if anyone has specific experience and could help me understand what I should be prepared for when I show up at the airport with my plants;
(1) I was told that there is a new regulation (went into effect in the last week or so?) that limits the number of plants I can take through in my baggage. I'm probably still under any reasonable limit (I'm thinking of maybe 6 plants total). I checked the APHIS website but didn't see any postings for new regulations about quantity of plants
(2) The APHIS fruit & plant import list actually lists the requirement as "plants without soil" and I had originally been told that there were other non-soil mediums that could be used to help retain moisture during transport. Also, I ordered plants from a Puerto Rico commercial nursery several years ago and recieved them shipped in a soil-free medium. I'm now being told that I can't/shouldn't use any medium and just carry the plants completely bareroot, because the APHIS inspectors will just remove any medium anyway (or possibly not let the plants through).
Does anyone have recent experience personally transporting plants from Puerto Rico, or anyone on this list from APHIS that could help me understand what to expect?
Many thanks, Keith
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wrote:

any definite solution.
Faced with this kind of situation, I'd contact my Member of Congress and ask for an operational answer. These folks LOVE to do "constituent services", which they hope translates into votes next election.
If you don't know who your Rep. is, go to http://www.house.gov / and follow the prompts. Depending on your time frame, you could either call and ask for a Constituent Services staffer or -- preferably -- send an email or fax copying the dilemma you outlined above, and follow up next day or so with a phone call.
Heck, we pay these, uh, "individuals", so might as well get some help when you need it! They have the access to make a phone call or two and, one hopes, cut your Gordian knot.
Let us know if you did it and how it worked out.
Persephone
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<Persephone> wrote in message

Persephone-
Thanks for the link and the suggestion. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time before my return trip to go through bureaucracy, so I took my chances. Here is my final trip feedback.
* At the airport's main USDA inspection station (outside the airport) they inspected my plants. I had eight, and they told me if I ever have 12 or more that I would need to go to cargo inspection, because they weren't staffed to inspect large numbers at the 'normal' inspection station. My plants were very healthy, so they checked them and let me continue. I think this "12 or more" rule is what made the guy who sold me the plants think that I had to do extra inspections/processing, but with a low plant count, it wasn't a problem.
* When going through the airport security checkpoint/x-ray, another USDA inspector wanted to see documentation for the plants. She didn't make me re-open the box, but she did look at the business card of the person who sold them to me, and printouts of my emails from APHIS and Mich Dept of Ag. Based on the initial attitude of the inspector, I think that if I hadn't had that extra documentation I might have had a problem, even though I already had the USDA sticker from the first inspection on the box.
* I asked at the gate for both of my flights if I could put my (oversized) box in the cabin coat closet (where they put large fragile items like musical instruments, etc). Crew bags get first priority, then it is first-come, first serve. I was able to do so on both flights. I had actually printed stickers saying "Live Plants", "Fragile", "This End Up", and "Climate Controlled or Cabin Baggage" and pasted them all over the outside of the box- I think that helped the airline reps realize that I wasn't just trying to take a random oversized box on the plane- somehow it looked more official with the stickers.
*For what it is worth, I built my own double-reinforced cardboard box so that it would be exactly 14 x 9 x 22 (carry-on size), then when I got the plants they were too tall, so I extended just the 22" dimension to about 3 feet long total, so it ended up being a long skinny box. I think a wider box might not have made it in the available cabin closet space.
One of my plants didn't make it, but now I have 4 mangos, 2 Avacado, and 1 fruit that I don't even know the name of- they are showing some plant shock, but hopefully they will recover quickly.
Best, Keith
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wrote:

exude good will. People fall all over themselves to cooperate with you <g>.
Congrats, and good luck on your new orchard. Should be interesting when the no-name fruit starts bearing.
Persephone
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