Chinese Seeds, Invasive Plants, and Sowing Opportunity

by John Bandler

[Historical Note: During the height of the COVID19 pandemic, including some distrust of China surrounding the pandemic, there was considerable media attention about seeds being sent from China to U.S. residents, and speculation this might be a coordinated scheme to introduce invasive plants. I wrote this article when that news was breaking to emphasize that invasive plants are already here. Subsequent reporting confirmed that these seeds were not part of a nefarious scheme to introduce invasives. The article below remains relevant, but I since created a new page on Invasive Plants.] 

Recent articles and advisories from every state government and the federal government have warned about seeds coming from China. There has been speculation that these could be part of a nefarious foreign plot to introduce invasive plant species into the United States as a form of agricultural warfare. Another theory (which seems more credible) is this is part of a “brushing scam” to improve an online seller’s reputation.

Whatever the speculation about these seeds, this is an opportunity to learn an important fact. Many invasive plant species are already in the country, have been for decades, and are doing extensive damage. They are conquering and destroying natural habitat and crowding out native plants and animals, and there is no foreign power or bogeyman to blame. For many, we let them in, like castle dwellers inviting the enemy. Even today, some people intentionally sell, buy, or plant invasive species without comprehending the harm they can do. Other invasive species came secretly, hitching a ride with other imported merchandise.

Today, our public and private lands are full of these invasive species. Because they do not have natural predators here, they are intensely damaging to our delicate ecosystems which have evolved over thousands of years.

For me, this pandemic has been an opportunity to learn more, including about the many invasive plants around us. For our country, this pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis presents many challenges but also an opportunity. Earlier generations faced a serious economic crisis during the Great Depression, and public works projects employed many and created much that still benefits us. We have an opportunity to create a similar legacy today.

Our country’s dire financial and economic situation is clear. Many jobs have been lost due to the pandemic. There will be hardship. Our economy will be transformed. There is debate about how to address this situation. Already, vast sums have been spent to assist businesses small and large, for stimulus packages, and for unemployment benefits. There has been and will continue to be debate about how to best expend precious resources and get us through this crisis.

One opportunity is ready to go and would have long-lasting environmental and educational benefits. Provide funding to fight these invasive plants and otherwise care for our environment. These funds should go to established organizations with a proven record in the field, and would include non-profit organizations, extension centers, educational institutions, and government parks and highway departments. Grants can allow these established groups to hire more workers and train more volunteers with the purpose of reducing invasive plants and otherwise caring for our native species.

Science remains essential. Fighting invasive species requires strategy and tactics grounded in horticulture and botany, just like fighting the COVID pandemic requires relevant scientific medical expertise and advice. Thus scientists will be needed, plus others with education and experience. Some trained professionals will be needed to apply pesticides where appropriate, climb trees, or wield chainsaws. But this is an area where almost any person with any background can be properly trained to identify and take certain types of appropriate actions that will be essential in the fight against these invaders.

Whatever your initial thought of this grand plan, take a moment to educate yourself on common invasive plants in your area of the country. There are resources tailored to your region, offered by your state department of agriculture or department of environmental protection, a local extension center, agricultural experiment station, or master gardener program.

Once your level of understanding and plant recognition has improved, you will be surprised and disheartened when you notice the devastation these invaders have committed to our environment, whether it is your property, your neighborhood, public parks, and along public roads.

It is a fascinating idea to think that one country might deliberately infect another through the sending of invasive seeds. Such theory is unproven, but remember two important takeaways. First, invasive plants are already on our soil and we need to fight them. Second, nation states are indeed attacking us, but through the cyber realm. They are actively trying to breach our networks and data, misinform us, and sow dissent.

An important defense to any of these attacks is education, awareness, reason, and common sense. Let’s learn about invasive plants, cyber-attacks, and disinformation, and fight them all. Don’t plant a nefarious seed, nor let them spread, whether it is an invasive plant or component of a disinformation campaign.

Additional reading

For more on this topic, including an exhaustive list of references and additional resources, see my article on Invasive Plants.

To learn more about nation state cyber attacks, see Chapter 8 of my book, Cybercrime Investigations.

This article was also posted to LinkedIn and Medium here:

Posted 8/1/2020, updated 12/22/2022