Americans Should Be Careful of Ukraine True Potato Seeds (TPS)

Several varieties of uniform true potato seeds are available from eastern Europe and these are commonly offered through online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.  The names of these varieties include Asol, Diva, Empress, Fermer (Farmer), Ilona, Krasa (Beauty), Milena, Revansh (Revenge), and variations and translations of these names.  These varieties are not legal to grow in the USA.  For that matter, it is not legal to import or grow TPS from other countries at all, but these are the most common varieties that people get into trouble with.

Examples of seed packets of Ukraine TPS varieties (Used without permission; I am claiming fair use for educational purposes.)

The USDA watches for purchases of these varieties and may show up at your door unannounced if you buy them.  I know this because it happened to me years ago.  They had a report provided to them by eBay that included my purchase.  They came to my house, months after the seeds arrived, demanded the seeds and plants grown from them, and proceeded to dig the plants and surrounding soil, bag it, and take it away for disposal.

The ostensible reason for this is disease.  A disease known as Potato Spindle Tuber Viroid is somewhat common in eastern Europe and Russia and it is able to spread through the true seeds of potatoes.  The USA has gone to great efforts to wipe out this disease and it is one of the major reasons that people are not allowed to import TPS.

Hopefully, you are reading this before you made a purchase.  If you have purchased these seeds and haven’t grown them yet, it would be best if you don’t.  I would seal them in a plastic bag and hold on to them for a couple years, so that you have something to hand over to the ag inspectors if they show up.  If you have grown them, I recommend destroying the plants and not growing potatoes in the same area where you grew them for a few years.  The diseases of concern are viruses and viroids which won’t persist in the soil, so the primary concern would be that they could transmit to other potatoes or related species while the plants are growing.  If you are very trusting of government, you could call the USDA and ask for advice.

I’ve been warning people about these ever since I got burned by them, almost a decade ago now, but I see more people buying them every year, so hopefully this blog post will get some traction in the search engines and stop at least a few people before they get into trouble.  There is a lot of homegrown TPS available in the USA these days, including uniform types like Zolushka and Clancy, so you can probably find what you are looking for without subjecting yourself to the risk of foreign TPS.  For what it’s worth, the risk of disease in TPS is pretty small; I am more concerned with protecting you from unwanted visits from regulators.

14 thoughts on “Americans Should Be Careful of Ukraine True Potato Seeds (TPS)

  1. R. says:

    So, they’ll let the products stay up on the online store, they’ll let you buy them, they’ll let them ship them to you, but THEN, way later on, they’ll come to your house unannounced, scare you a bit, and carelessly tear through all your property?
    …yeah, that sounds about par for the course, unfortunately.

      • bill says:

        To be fair, I think it is pretty hard to stop international sellers, but since it probably takes a couple weeks to receive the seeds and then at least six weeks to start them and transplant them out, they could just fire off a form letter to everyone who buys them instead of waiting months to show up in person. It seems like that would be both a lot cheaper and more effective.

  2. Larry DePuy says:

    I’ve purchased a lot of seeds from rarepalmseeds.com and most of the time get what I order. I think they are out of Germany so I imagine they have strict requirements for shipping, But you raise a good point.
    I did not think seed carried viruses. Thank you for the education and thank you for the truly remarkable work you do

  3. Pam Griffin says:

    I am looking for a TPS source. Twice I bought several varieties from you and not one seed ever germinated. The sea kale seeds never germinated either. I am trying to find the other vendor I bought TPS and sea kale seeds from to buy them again. Do you know who sells good seeds, because you don’t?

    • bill says:

      Hi Pam. You can check out the Kenosha Potato Project on Facebook to find other hobbyists who grow TPS. Maybe you can trade for seeds that will perform better for you. It would be useful to know which varieties you had trouble germinating. I do look for patterns in failures when people report them. People rarely report total failures starting TPS though.

    • Johann says:

      Hi Pam,
      I grow a lot of perennial plants from seed every year. I find that it is not realistic to expect high germination rates on species which do not heavily rely on reproduction by seed in the way that annual garden crops do. I buy seeds from many sources and despite my experience I still end up with some seeds each year which simply fail to germinate, have very low germination or take an extra year to germinate. This is after I have already inspected and confirmed that the seed quality was good with seed being well filled out and healthy, not underdeveloped, hollow, damaged, etc.

      It is reasonable to assume the seed was poor quality if it’s an cultivated annual plant that fails to germinate, but when working with perennial crops experienced gardeners accept that they simply are not as reliable to germinate regardless of how good the quality actually is. I appreciate people like Bill who provide access to unique seeds for perennial plants even though they risk being heavily criticized by inexperienced gardeners who may fail to germinate said seeds.

  4. Joe Snow says:

    Can the disease spread from seed potatoes, or just from the seed of the fruits? Are seed potatoes OK to grow, or will they confiscate those, too? Are these varieties of potato available from sources other than Eastern Europe?

    • bill says:

      The disease that we are concerned about here will spread from any part of the plant. As far as I know, these varieties are not available from other sources. Seed potatoes are much more likely to spread diseases than true seeds and are not allowed to be imported to the USA from any other country without first going through a quarantine procedure.

  5. Patryk Battle says:

    Think my first effort at posting failed but if this is repetitive please delete and sorry!
    Pam with regards to poor /no germination of Bill’s seeds please know that I bought several TPS varieties and last year and got near 100% germination. In general it is a rare seed company that is going to ship seeds with the catastrophic failure rate you described. They would be out of business long ago! Consider please their journey to you for example if you got the mail on the way out for several hours of errands they might have overheated in the car or if you were away and they sat in a black mailbox in the sun for several days …same outcome.Also some potting mixes can have varieble concentrations of nutrient salts which can cause very erratic germination.
    On another t related topic
    Bill my friend Yanna said I should share with you my experience with Desiree true potato seed .In 2011 our Desiree potatoes set seed I saved the fruits fermented them like tomatoes but not with tomatoes ! Rather I processed them on their own . I got a nice quantity of potato seeds which as you know are much much smaller than tomato seeds. Lost track of them and several years later finally found them and planted them. Half of my flat came up with potatoes and half came up with tomatoes I wanted potatoes so I gave very poor care to the tomatoes but did save seed from two different types (by the way there was nothing interesting with the potatoes I got from that seed they were neither vigorous nor exciting. So it goes ! That’s the genetic gamble) Lost Track of that the tomato seed yet again and then found it several years later and planted it .One plant came up I planted it late in a greenhouse it produced an amazing tomato which I am now propagating. My friend Nate the of the Experimental Farmer network was visiting I told him this story he texted a bunch of experts they all said this was impossible in nature could be done in the lab maybe. But I’ve been growing for 35 + years. And I did not mix up tomato and potato seed as you well know the difference is very large .And I only sowed he seeds from that Desiree potato fruit into the flat . Furthermore it’s not like a uniform section of flat came up with tomatoes and a a uniform section came up with potatoes they were scattered / mixed about throughout it.
    Have you ever heard of this? And do you know if there’s a easy way that is not impossibly expensive to get this plant/ fruit tested to discern if it has a a significant amount of potato DNA in it. I’d be very happy and very surprised if that were the case.

    • bill says:

      Hi Patryk. I’m not one to say that any wide cross is impossible, because nature often surprises with extremely low probability events. That said, researchers have put a tremendous amount of work into trying to cross potatoes with tomatoes for more than a century with nothing to show for it. The idea that you accomplished it accidentally at all, much less more than once, is a virtual impossibility. All kinds of mistakes are much more likely. For example, it is vastly more likely that someone sneaked into your house and sowed tomato seeds in your pots, as absurd as that would be. My best guess is that you used potting soil with tomato seeds in it. Tomato seeds turn out to be one of the most common contaminating weeds in potting soil, because potting soil often contains organic compost, which includes vegetable waste, and tomatoes contain a lot of viable seed. All it takes is one batch of compost that doesn’t get hot enough and you have a run of potting soil that produces volunteer tomatoes. If you want to get them tested, the best option would probably be to find your nearest university with an ag program and ask about running a standard set of either potato or tomato genetic markers. That would provide very unusual results in the event of a cross. To have it done through a commercial lab would be expensive, but some universities have labs staffed by students that offer services at a reduced cost.

  6. patrykbattle says:

    Thanks Bill I will pursue the university testing route. Given they have beentrying and failing to do this in the lab for so long I get your skepticism. Is why you think I am claiming it happened twice because there were 2 distinct tomatoes?
    Why i still believe happened is because of a crucial detail I left out. As you know tomatoes seeds are much larger than potato seeds. The seedlings that germinated from that potato fruit were all of the size one would expect from such small seed. That is although some of the seed manifested as tomato they were not the size of tomato seedlings but rather the size of potato seedlings. Also we grow on a commercial scale and have no tolerance for weedy potting soil.Won’t say we have never had weedy potting soil but it quickly gets relegated to stepping up mix where the stray weed is not as bigger a deal. Finally we farmscape heavily and where these potatoes where was particularly ‘abuzz’. Fingers crossed i can get the genetic markers test!

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