MSU Extension Agent Patrick Poindexter had an unusual task on Thursday – setting up a box in the foyer of the extension office to collect mysterious packages of seeds mailed from China.
As of Thursday, the Alcorn County extension office had heard form one person who received one of the packages of unsolicited and unidentified seeds. Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson said Thursday afternoon that his office had 82 reports of the seeds being received from 45 counties in the state. The county MSU extension offices have been designated as a collection point for the packages, which are appearing nationwide and have prompted a great deal of suspicion.
“You always have to be a little bit cautious,” said Poindexter. “These days, you never know what you’re getting.”
The problem with the seeds is “it could be something invasive,” he said. “You don’t want to plant something that’s going to cause some issues.”
He encourages anyone who receives an unsolicited seed packet to not open it. The packages are sometimes marked as jewelry or other items.
While officials say this could be simply what is called a “brushing scam” in which a seller sends unsolicited packages to people and then posts fake positive reviews online, it has the attention of regulatory agencies such as the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
In a news release Thursday, MSU Extension Service Horticulturist Gary Bachman said all plant material entering the U.S. legitimately is required to go through APHIS inspections because of the danger of introducing unknown or new species of plants.
“The introduction of an exotic plant species that can outcompete and displace our native plant species is a great concern,” Bachman said. “Some people may see this as an opportunity to try a new seed, but the best way to experiment with new plants is by selecting new varieties from reputable web sites and catalogs. There are also some good resources for performing cross pollination experiments in the home garden.”
Bachman said even planting the seeds in a pot is asking for trouble.
“If the plant is an exotic, invasive species, growing it in a container can still result in the plant escaping or becoming established in our native habitat,” he said.