Mysterious plant seeds from international origins threaten native biodiversity, says agriculture expert
Invasive species are changing the structure and function of ecosystems, including altering fire cycles, reducing water quality, and restructuring food chains.
U.S. agriculture officials are urging residents who have received unsolicited seeds in the mail from international origins to take warning. Virginia Tech agriculture expert Jacob Barney says that “invasive species are one of the leading threats to native biodiversity globally.”
Barney, an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, explains that planting unknown seeds could have several potential negative outcomes. They could be poisonous to people, pets, or livestock. They could contain noxious weeds, which are regulated and illegal to import, grow, and distribute. They could be invasive and spread to unwanted locations and harm the local ecosystem, including the native plants and animals.
“Invasive species are changing the structure and function of ecosystems, including altering fire cycles, reducing water quality, and restructuring food chains,” Barney said.
“Many of our worst invasive plants were intentionally brought into the U.S. and planted for food, as ornamentals, or for other uses. I strongly suggest planting native plants whenever possible, and checking state invasive plant lists to ensure that you are not unintentionally buying something that is a known invasive plant.”
Planting seeds that are unknown can introduce invasive species to a non-native environment.
“Never plant unsolicited seeds, such as the ones being received by some residents in the U.S. They may contain harmful, noxious, or invasive plants,” Barney said.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warns to not plant unsolicited seeds. Virginia residents who have received unsolicited seeds in the mail that appear to have an international origin should follow all state and federal guidelines for how to proceed and contact the Office of Plant Industry Services by submitting a report to the Unsolicited Seed Package Reporting Tool or to ReportAPest@vdacs.virginia.gov.
Jacob Barney is an associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Barney specializes in invasive plant species and works on a diversity of species and contexts to elucidate the causes, consequences, and epidemiology of invasive plant species. His past work included studying the invasive potential of bioenergy crops and is currently working on using Johnsongrass as a model system to study the genetic, population dynamic, and evolutionary potential of a widespread and expanding invader. Other systems include native invaders, ecophysiology, and epigenetics of stress tolerance. Barney is also conducting long-term management projects to identify the feasibility, economic, and non-target impacts of eradication.
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