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‘Don’t buy plants online,’ says Bonneville County weed superintendent. Here’s why


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IDAHO FALLS — Last week, people all over the country, including eastern Idaho, received unordered seeds in packages in the mail. Those seeds could be harmful to local plant life, but Bonneville County Weed Superintendent Matt Stanger says ordering any seeds online is dangerous and should be avoided.

RELATED: Mysterious seeds from China sent to at least 20 Idaho residents, officials say

Stanger, who has degrees in plant ecology and botany, told that all of the people who came to him reporting the suspicious packages regularly bought seeds online through Amazon. However, the packages they received did not contain seeds they ordered.

Osama El-Lissy with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said the agency identified 14 species in the packages, including mustard, cabbage, mint, sage, lavender, rosemary, morning glory, roses and hibiscus flowers.

“This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” El-Lissy said.

These seeds appear to be part of a “brushing scam” where people are sent items they didn’t order, and sellers can post fake reviews, and not a form of agro-terrorism, according to the USDA.

Even if people had received the seeds they ordered, Stanger warns of possible dangers in planting them.

“Anytime you start moving plants, whether it be within the country, or especially across the oceans, the potential for bringing in invasive species is big,” he explains.

While he understands that many people are choosing to shop online over choosing brick and mortar stores, especially with COVID-19, Stanger advises the best way to know your plants are safe for Idaho is to buy them from a local nursery. Part of his responsibility is to make sure the plants they sell will not cause any harm.

“A great percentage of the noxious weeds that we have are introduced (as) ornamental,” Stanger adds. “Usually, people just don’t know, and once they know, they don’t have a problem with it.”

Stanger has seen the devastating effects of noxious plants being accidentally introduced into Idaho. He told of the time when local Master Gardeners unknowingly added an invasive plant referred to as “policeman’s helmet” that took him about two years to eradicate.

“We spent a lot of money dealing with that one plant,” he said.

Some noxious weeds have seeds that can be picked up by the wind and be carried hundreds of miles.

Those with questions what plants they can or can’t bring into Idaho should visit the invasive species of Idaho website, the Idaho Weed Awareness website, or feel encouraged contact the county weed department at (208) 529-1397.

“A huge portion of our job is education,” Stanger adds. “Education equates to weed control.”

For more gardening information, check out our weekly column here.