The news story sounds like the beginning of a science fiction movie from the 1950s.


Strange packages from China arrive in the mail. Inside, addressees find mysterious seeds. What happens if they plant these seeds? Officials have no idea. No doubt extraterrestrials or some other horrible invader will follow.


But it’s not a relic from the past or a film to watch with 3-D glasses. It’s yet another bizarre story in the crazed year of 2020. Across the country, families have received packages containing bags of seeds. There’s no indication the seeds will produce murderous space monsters, but authorities are urging against planting them anyway.


There are two issues at play here, which are actually quite separate. The first is why the packages are being sent, and the second is the risk posed by the actual seeds.


Officials suspect the packages are being sent as part of a scam called "brushing," in which packages containing items of minimal value are sent to folks who didn’t order them. Once the delivery is confirmed, online merchants then post fake positive reviews to their pages on Amazon or eBay.


While that sounds fairly innocuous, the seeds pose a bigger threat than a silly online scam. Because they presumably come from another continent (although Chinese authorities have disputed that the packages originate in their country), they could turn out to be invasive species. They could also carry diseases that could spread between plants or threaten animals. That poses serious threats to agricultural states like Kansas.


So what do you do if you receive one of these suspicious packages? The Kansas Department of Agriculture has some advice.


"If you receive a package of this type, please contact KDA’s plant protection and weed control program at 785-564-6698, via email at KDA.PPWC@ks.gov, or at the complaint reporting portion of the KDA website," the department’s statement reads. "Please DO NOT plant these seeds. If they are in sealed packaging, don’t open the sealed package. If the package has already been opened, place all materials (seeds and packaging) into a zip lock bag and seal it. If the seeds have already been planted, leave the seeds/plants in the ground."


In other words, be careful.


With all going on these days, the threat of invasive plant species may seem small. But we shouldn’t add to the chaos of these days by taking easily preventable actions. Don’t plant the seeds.