“Mystery Seeds” and the Invasive Species Trade

Christina Mary

Mysterious seeds with possible origins in China arrived in the United States within the past few weeks in all 50 states. The USDA has advised individuals to not plant the seeds as they have been identified as possibly invasive. However, so far the seeds were identified as herbs or harmless flowers. The origins of the seeds have created theories including that they may be part of a brushing scheme from sellers to boost reviews from online sellers, like Amazon. 

One Arkansas man, prior to the statewide warnings, planted the seeds from China. The package which the seeds came in was labeled as carrying earrings. According to the man, the seeds grew into a squash-like plant and grew rapidly out of control.  Scott Bray, from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, stated, “Our concern is from an invasive pest aspect, these seeds could introduce an invasive weed, or an invasive insect pest or a plant disease. ”

While brushing schemes might be a newer form of species invasion, these scams echo the problems of invasive species harming global ecosystems due to increased trade. More specifically, brushing seed scams also represent the ongoing issues of the exchange of invasive species between China and the United States. 

As our world has become more commercially interconnected, so too has the exchange of invasive plant species between the US and Asia beginning in the late 20th century. While the past cases of invasive species may not be intentional nor related to brushing scams, the concern over invasive species infestation is legitimate and has greatly affected not only agriculture but the health of native species in North America and China. Notable species from China and other trading allies in Asia have become household names in many parts of the United States. The emerald ash borer wreaked havoc on ash trees in the Midwest killing tens of millions of trees. The Northern Snakehead terrorizes the ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay. The Asian citrus psyllid carries a bacteria known as the “yellow dragon disease” killing Floridian orange trees. 

Likewise, China currently feels the effects of invasive species. China first recorded in 1999 the pinewood nematode on wood packaging on machinery from Japan and the United States. The pinewood nematode in China caused a phenomenon deemed “pinewood cancer”. 

In order to prevent future damage from invasive species, nations collectively, between each other, must work to ensure that species of plants and animals do not affect their trading partners and other global ecosystems. There is no benefit for anyone having unintentional, unwanted invader species and nations of origins should be held accountable for the damages a lack of awareness causes on trading allies.  More specifically, in the most recent instance of the seeds from China, nations must be wary and track imports and exports to and from their countries, ensuring that they do not have harmful consequences for other nations and their environments. If the United States and China (both of which are still heavily economically reliant on one another) wish to continue fruitful trade with one another, a mutual agreement must be made between the two ensure that invasive species do not harm each trading partner. Due to the current iciness between the two nations, a mechanism for the protection of ecosystems and the prevention of invasive species may present a significant difficulty in the near future.

Christina Mary is an undergraduate student at the University of South Dakota studying Political Science and History with minors in Military Science and Russian. Christina Mary has been writing for the Realist Review for a year focusing on Asian politics. 

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