Mystery seeds from China

Mystery seeds from China

Sounding like a sci-fi movie from 1950s, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry scrambled Friday when informed a St. Rose resident received an unsolicited package of mystery seeds from China.

“We are urging anyone who receives a package that was not ordered by the recipient, to please call the LDAF immediately,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain. “We need to identify the seeds to ensure they do not pose a risk to Louisiana’s agricultural industry or the environment.”

The unsolicited seeds in packets originating from China also have turned up in Utah, Virginia, Washington, and the United Kingdom.

Ag officials in those places are taking the seeds seriously too and not because conspiracy theorists on the Internet are claiming that this is insidious invasion of America by the People’s Republic of China. Rather, the seeds sent for whatever reason could pose a danger to American plant life.

Sometimes species of plants grow prolifically in their new environs and crowd out native species.

Think kudzu, which is an ornamental Asian vine that ended up killing shrubs and trees by covering them up and retarding access to sunlight and water. And Louisiana fishermen are well acquainted with canals and lakes choked with water hyacinth. Though very pretty, hyacinth not only ties up outboard motors but changes water flows, blocks sunlight and starves fish and plant life. All that hyacinth, or so the accepted story goes, are descendants of plants given away as gifts by the Japanese exhibitors at the 1884 World Cotton Centennial, which took place at what became Audubon Park and the Audubon Zoo in uptown New Orleans.

"Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops,” the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a statement after one of that state’s residents called the department with ‘what’s this’ questions.

“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 Virginians said.

The Brits went a little further noting that the giant hogweed, an earlier invasive species, releases a sap that can burn humans in the sunlight.

Utah officials told its residents not even throw away the seeds as that could cause them to disperse.

They, like Louisiana’s Ag Commissioner Strain, said call authorities right away if seed packets you didn’t order show up in the mail.

The number in Louisiana is (225) 925-4733. LDAF inspectors will collect the seeds and test them for positive identification.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.