Why are people receiving seeds from China?
All over the world, people have been receiving packages that supposedly originated in China labeled jewelry. None of these folks have ordered any jewelry. When they open the packages, there's bags of unlabeled seeds inside. This has caused a lot of confusion and speculation as to the purpose of these packages and they range from a hoax of some kind, an internet scam, drug smuggling, or introducing invasive species into the ecosystem of wherever they have been shipped.
Invasive species are a world-wide problem
Invasive species are a problem all over the world. When a plant, insect or animal is introduced into an area where it didn't originate, they often reproduce unrestrained. With no natural predators or climate that keeps them in check, they soon make an impact on the local ecosystem and native plants, animals and insects suffer, or become extinct. Kudzu in the American South is a huge problem. Rabbits in Australia and of course the whole world has to deal with the European rat and the Asian tiger mosquito. It is important to make sure that you are not contributing to this problem by bringing another species into an ecosystem that is already strained by environmental and man made problems.
The Department of Agriculture wants to know if you receive these seeds
The seeds that people receive are not labeled and there is no way of knowing what will grow. Do not plant them! Do not open the individual packages! It could be that they are ordinary, well-known species, however, without that knowledge, there's a chance that you could be contributing to a huge problem. If you receive one of these packages like shown above,(and was actually delivered to a local friend of mine) don't panic and contact your local Dept. of Agriculture. They will instruct you on how to dispose of them or where to drop them off for someone to examine. Each county in the U.S. has an Agricultural Extension Office staffed by their College of Agriculture. If you live elsewhere in the world, there is an equivalent service in your country as well. That's a good place to start. Give them a call and let them know you have one of these packages. Don't just throw them in the trash, they could take root in a landfill somewhere and we'll be cleaning up this mess for decades.
Plant and seed traders should be aware of the law
Even if you do not receive a package, seed traders should be aware of their area's invasive species lists. We have an active and robust plant and seed trading area here at DG and while we hope everyone is paying attention to restrictions, we have no way of policing that. Your seeds may be perfectly legal for you to have and plant. However the same seeds can cause all kinds of trouble if they're planted in an area where they become invasive. Please check your local invasive plant lists if asking for seeds and also if sending them. The USDA has a website where is is easy to see what isn't allowed. It is illegal to ship seeds and plants between countries that have not been inspected by the proper authorities and phytosanitary certificate issued. This prevents disease and pests from tagging along on the seeds, or in the soil and also prevents invasives from taking hold. Be a good steward of the environment and do your part by confirming that you aren't part of the problem. Make sure that your trading partner has correctly identified the seeds they are sending by asking for an image of the flower or plant. Sometimes common names refer to more than one plant and what you call a buttercup and what they call a buttercup could be two different things.
It isn't known why people are receiving these seeds
The purpose behind these unsolicited seeds is unknown. However it is speculated that it is just a sneaky way of having legitimate addresses where a package has been shipped. This way, they can write fake reviews on the jewelry that was supposed to be in the package and inflate their rating on the sales site. It could be that these fake reviews might prompt people to order from the company, thinking they are legitimate and they never receive their product. The troubling thing is, they are shipping seeds without permission and proper documentation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking this problem seriously and we're all asked to help them by reporting if you receive one of these packages. If you decide to purchase seeds from a foreign source, do ask for the phytosanitary certificate, if the company can not offer one, choose another source.
Do your part and know the laws
It is up to us to make sure that we garden responsibly and safely. It is fun to swap and trade seeds and plants. Pass-along plants make up the biggest part of my garden and I love to think about the generous DG members who I've met and traded with. I'm also careful about what I send and what I ask for. It isn't hard in this day and age to take a few minutes and do a bit of research on the possible invasiveness of a plant. Do your part to protect the environment and make sure the plant or seed won't cause a problem and if you get one of these seed-filled packages, contact the authorities and follow their instructions.