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John Reitman

By John Reitman

USDA sheds light on some of those mystery seeds from China


The mysterious seeds planted in Arkansas started as small orange-colored flowers (below) and grew like crazy before eventually producing fruit that looked like large, white squash (above).

Remember those mystery seed packets - apparently from China - that have been showing up recently on doorsteps across the country?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has identified some of them, and all, so far anyway, have proven to be harmless, although the jury is still out on at least one.

According to a recording on the USDA web site, the federal agency has identified at least 14 plant species from seed packets that were delivered to homes in several states. So far, they have found mustard, cabbage, morning glories, roses, hibiscus and herbs such as mint, sage, rosemary and lavender.

080720usda3.jpgOsama El-Lissy, with the Plant Protection program of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the species represent just a sampling of the seeds collected so far, so we're not exactly out of the woods yet. In fact, the USDA and state agriculture agencies across the country are still warning people not to plant the seeds or improperly dispose of them.

At least one person - and there are probably more - did not get that message in time. Doyle Crenshaw of Booneville, Arkansas, said he recently received seeds, including zinnias that he had ordered and another packet of unidentified seeds that he had not. 

So what does one do with a packet of mystery seeds that they didn't ask for? Plant them, of course. After all, what could go wrong. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture is asking the same question after Crenshaw called and admitted he planted the seeds, and fertilized the daylights out of them, before seeing the notice warning him of doing just that.

What is growing in his garden isn't exactly something out of Jack and the Beanstalk just yet, but it is something the likes of which he has never seen before. 

Crenshaw said in published reports: "We brought them down here and planted the seeds just to see what would happen, every two weeks I'd come by and put Miracle-Gro on it and they just started growing like crazy."

The plants first produced orange flowers from which eventually came what Crenshaw described as something that looks like a giant squash.

The state agriculture commission hasn't seen anything like it, either.

Officials from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture told Crenshaw to leave the plants alone and that they would be sending someone out to remove them. Although the USDA said there is no evidence to suggest that Seed-Gate is nothing more than a marketing scam called "brushing"  but not all seed varieties have been investigated. 

"Those who have planted the seeds (we can't believe Crenshaw is the only one, right?) should leave the plants where they are and contact the Department for guidance," the department said in a release

"Our concern," according to Scott Bray of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, "is from an invasive pest aspect, these seeds could introduce an invasive weed, or an invasive insect pest or a plant disease."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry says its country's postal service prohibits transmitting seeds oversees and has asked for the seeds to be returned to China. The foreign ministry also has said that many of the mailing labels indicating the packages originated in China appear to be fake.

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