If not for a virus that has spread across the world and taken a big bite out of the global economy, the most bizarre story of the year may belong to this one (although the hostage taker in Ukraine who demanded the president endorse a Joaquin Phoenix movie might be up there).

Unsolicited packages containing bags of unidentified seeds have been appearing in the mailboxes of people across the country.

The clear plastic bags contain about 20-30 seeds and come in boxes that are often labeled as jewelry with Chinese characters written on the box. Boxes have been reported as showing up across the country, including Kansas, Utah, Arizona and Washington. Several states have said they have received hundreds of reports from residents who have received the packages.

“At this time, we are not sure what the seeds are and therefore are urging everyone to be exceedingly vigilant,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black says. “If you have received one of these packages in the mail, please use extreme caution by not touching the contents and securing the package in a plastic bag.”

The U.S. has some experience with invasive species from Asia, including a little vine called kudzu, which was planted with some great intentions of erosion control and soil improvement, but – as anyone who has driven on any road in Georgia knows – can take over an area and kill almost all other plants through smothering and shading. Erosion was so bad in the first part of the 20th century, farmers were paid $8 an acre to plant the vine to stop erosion and cattle grazing. Paid cultivation resulted in more than one million acres of kudzu. As the vine can grow nearly a foot a day, that number has now grown to some five million acres, about the size of New Jersey. 

“Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops,” said the Department of Agriculture in a statement. “Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.”

The seeds will certainly find their way to state agriculture labs but, as is likely with a group that could include tens of thousands of people, it is likely some will find their way into the ground out there. Someone will plant them. Let’s hope they turn out relatively harmless. And not like this particular strain of vine.

The department is urging that anyone who has received unsolicited seeds in the mail from China or any other country to contact the GDA Seed Lab at 229-386-3145 or email  SeedLab@agr.georgia.gov

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