Have you received seeds in the mail recently?
Because that's great if you were waiting on some gardenias for your garden, but it's pretty strange if you didn't order them. And even weirder if they came from overseas and you have no idea what they are.
All over the country, including in Montana, that's just what's been happening.
As of Monday, July 28 it was only five people in Montana, and it is unclear how many people have received them since then. They tend to come in small packages, are unlabeled (although some have shipping labels from China), and, at first, had not been identified.
One thing is for sure. Jon Tester, the Montana Department of Agriculture and the government at large would sure prefer you don't plant them.
"If folks plant unidentified seeds from abroad, it could lead to an unmanaged invasive species outbreak," says Tester. "Especially in places like Montana, this could be devastating to local wildlife, agriculture, and our public and private lands."
Citizens who've received seeds like those described should immediately contact the Montana Department of Agriculture and let them know. Ag Sciences Division Administrator Ian Foley says, "if we have the packaging information that came with the seeds, we can work with our USDA partners to analyze the pathway of where the seeds are coming from."
This being the 21st century, the conspiracy theories began circulating immediately. Could they be a strange new form of bioterrorism? Could the seeds be genetically altered? Mutated, perhaps? If planted, will they grow into enormous monstrosities with beautiful singing voices, and plead with you to "Feed me, Seymour?" Will these alien menaces take over the land?
It turns out that it may have a (relatively) mundane explanation. The unsolicited seeds may be something called a "brush scam," a form of retail identify theft in which a company, looking to artificially increase the number of good reviews, buy their own product and then ship it to a legitimate address before writing themselves a good review once their platform shows receipt of the shipped item. In short, some Chinese seed company somewhere probably shows hundreds of freshly posted good reviews for seeds sent to a whole mess of Americans who spontaneously developed green thumbs.
Now preliminary tests on the seeds suggest they're prosaic garden plants like mustard, morning glory, mint, rosemary, sage, and cabbage.
Or is that just what they want you to think?
In closing, please remember! Don't plant them! It's dangerous! Don't do it!
But if you do plant them, drop us a line and let us know what develops, would you? We're dying to know.