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There are lots of online plant scams intended to prey on unsuspecting or uneducated gardeners. Here are five of the funniest Amazon.com plant scams we’ve seen over the years…
We love Amazon.com marketplace (and the internet in general) for its exciting selection of seeds and plants, but sometimes it’s hard to tell real products and sellers from scams.
Disclaimer: In this article, we’re going to link to the actual fake Amazon products because we know you’re morbidly curious in the same way you’d rubberneck a car accident. (No judgment, we would too!) But for the love of all things holy, please don’t buy this outrageous dreck! Note that if you’re running an ad blocker, this means you won’t be able to see the fake product images, so you may want to temporarily shut it off.
We’re also going to do you one better and provide reliable REAL plant alternatives that are sure to wow your gardening neighbors. Yes, you can buy these curated alternatives without fear of being scammed.
Plant Scam #1: Blue Roses
Thus, you can be sure that any product images of cobalt blue rose flowers are complete scams. Humorously, these are more commonly sold as seeds so that it will be a while before you discover you were tricked.
Even more humorously for those of us who are rose aficionados, no credible named rose varieties are sold as seeds, because rose seeds do not come true to type.
The only tangibly blue roses you can get are artificial silk roses. In spite of that, you can find an abundance of fake photoshopped “blue rose seeds” online.
These hoaxers even try to sweeten the deal by calling it an “heirloom” and offering it at a sale price—gee, thanks for the bargain of lies!
Here’s a different one that describes their charlatan blooms as “GMO-free” and “open-pollinated” to help snag conscientious buyers:
These descriptors might even be true, but they will not come with blue roses. In fact, the only blue rose in the world was created in a lab by genetic engineering and isn’t available for public sale.
As an aside, “open-pollinated” is a desirable feature in plants you want to save seeds from each year (like annual vegetables), but not when buying most perennial plants (like apples or roses) since their specific flavors or appearances require that they be cloned.
Internet plant scammers bank on buyers not knowing these differences and falling for their official looking word salads. Maybe they were inspired by politicians?
Fake products with fake reviews (But wait, there’s more!)
Another thing to watch out for with these products are their reviews. If it has any good ones, they were almost certainly written by the scammers themselves or through “false review farming.”
One way to check is to paste the product link into Fakespot.com, though they often don’t have enough reviews to even generate good data. Trust us, though, that any rose sold by seed is a dud.
The Real Deal: Blue Rose Alternatives
If you’re craving blue roses in your garden theme, you need to get creative. Real “blue” roses are actually variations of purple, silver-gray, and mauve that appear bluish in certain lighting.
Breeders like to attach “blue” in the names of these roses to boost their popularity, but it’s wishful thinking. Close contenders include:
- ‘Plum Perfect’,
- ‘Purple Pavement’, and
- ‘Burgundy Iceberg,’ whose blooms tend to look increasingly bluish as the flower ages.
Another option are rose lookalikes such as:
- ‘rose of Sharon‘ (actually a hibiscus),
- blue scabiosa (not a shrub),
- ‘Mr. Fokker’ anemone corms,
- blue annual lisianthus seeds, or
- Himalayan blue poppies (for those living in growing zones with acidic soil and cool summers).
When in doubt, we recommend buying from trusted nurseries instead of lesser known marketplace sellers.
Plant Scam #2: Black or “Bloody” Goth Flowers (someone call Buffy!)
While we’re on the topic of elusive colors, black is another popular color to scam unsuspecting plant buyers. Hoax nurseries also like to capitalize on the goth scene in general with “bloody roses” and other unlikely flora. (Nope, blue and purple Venus fly trap seeds aren’t real, either).
And while this “cool goth carrot” seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with carrots, you can actually purchase the pictured non-edible “black” calla bulbs (they’re really dark purple) to grow in warm climates or to use as a houseplant.
The Real Deal: Black and Bloody Plant Alternatives
Near-black carrots (some with gorgeous orange cores) also exist, but be sure you are buying them from a reputable seed house.
Alternately, you could grow some “corpse flowers” (Amorphophallus spp.) whose freaky, fly-pollinated blooms smell exactly like old roadkill on a summer’s day. Mmmmm!
Plant Scam #3: Rainbow Tomatoes
Did genetic engineers figure out how to cross veggies with jelly beans? Good grief, these are just ridiculous:
We see these “rainbow tomatoes” linked all the time in ads or “recommended” lists but they’re utterly fake. If they even germinate at all, they’re likely to produce pretty mundane, same-color tomatoes.
That said, unlike the blue roses, you can actually purchase some spectacularly colored tomatoes for your home garden. None of them produce a variety of tomato colors on the same plant (not ripe ones, anyway), but if you have room for a few plants or more you can put together some dazzling multicolored bowls to serve at parties or unload the extras on coworkers.
The Real Deal: Rainbow Tomato Alternatives
For a while, blue was the only unavailable tomato option but Oregon State University had a natural breeding breakthrough that makes even that shade a garden reality. Amazon has some reputable sellers offering nice collections such as this set of mostly beefsteaks or these miscellaneous heirlooms.
Here are some of our favorite tomato varieties sorted by color:
- ‘Supersweet 100’
- ‘Arkansas Traveler’
- ‘Better Boy’ (one of the few hybrids we grow)
- ‘Costoluto Genovese’
- ‘Quadro’ paste
- ‘San Marzano’ paste
- ‘Black Cherry’
- ‘Japanese Black Trifele’
- ‘Paul Robeson’
- ‘Black Krim’
- ‘Una Hartsock’
- ‘Brad’s Atomic Grape’
- ‘Black Beauty’
Plant Scam #4: Rainbow Anything Seeds
Rainbow strawberries? Yep, they’re fake — in spite of their mythical sounding “Mayan” product claim.
If a plant being sold online looks like it was bred by Teletubbies, it’s probably photoshopped or a sophisticated version of that food coloring and celery experiment you did in elementary school science class.
That said, there are a decent number of rainbow garden plants that will get people to do double takes…
The Real Deal: Rainbow Plant Alternatives
a. Red, pink, yellow, and white strawberries do exist, if you want to look for them. Alpine and musk varieties really do grow true from seed (they also are sold as plants), but for most strawberry varieties you want to buy cloned plants again. Reputable online nurseries sell strawberry plants in bareroot bundles like these, which are usually much more economical than buying single potted plants from local big box stores.
b. “Rainbow” rose plants with multicolored flowers on the same bush actually do exist in the form of Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis,’ which has flowers that age from deep pink to pale yellow-orange. You should purchase these clonally, preferably on their own roots (so that if the top is damaged they will grow back).
c. Rainbow tulips truly exist in the form of ‘Rembrandt’ and ‘Parrot’ bulb mixes. Unlike the virus-infected bulbs that broke many a fortune in Holland during the infamous “Tulip mania,” these modern tulips should be certified disease free. Make sure you are buying from a reputable nursery so that you receive top-size (big, ready to bloom) bulbs that were properly stored to avoid dehydration, rot, or early sprouting. Another rainbow-worthy option that we tend to prefer are the ‘Darwin’ bred tulip mixes (so named because they are robust enough to come back on their own every year).
d. Rainbow veggie seed mixes are another nonfiction gardening treat. Consider buying a collection of different colorful varieties or look for specific packets of vegetables like carrots, chard, beets, radishes, squash, corn, peppers, gourds, or even sunflowers. We particularly love ‘Glass Gem’ popcorn, Wild Garden Seed lettuce mixes, ‘Sweet Pickle’ peppers, and ‘Fish’ hot peppers for show-stopping multicolored veggies.
Plant Scam #5: X-rated Garden Novelties
Don’t pretend you would never try to shock Aunt Gladys with your garden produce…
In addition to fake weirdly colored plants (pokeball rose, anyone?), it’s not uncommon to find listings for plants, such as this “rare melon,” that look like escapees from an adult toy catalog:
Believe it or not, this is a case where a real thing is being sold as a fake thing. At first glance, people who are familiar with vegetable growing molds such as the Mickey Mouse ear pumpkins displayed on the growing tour at Epcot Center might think that’s how this oddity was produced (imagine working at the plastic penis pumpkin mold factory).
In this case though, truth is stranger than fiction and the photo of the “pumpkin” in the above listing is actually a lesser known passionfruit variety called Passiflora quadrangularis ‘Erotica.’ Who knew?
This is a case where you can even find obscure Amazon sellers claiming to offer the real deal. However, we’d recommend intense skepticism over a listing with no reviews selling only five seeds for $50.00. (But the $0.70 shipping is a steal… literally, since Passiflora spp. seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate if they aren’t shipped fresh in a medium like moist peat moss to prevent them from drying out.)
When it looks too weird to be true, do your research both on the plant and the reviews for the seller!
The Real Deal: Rude Plant Alternatives
a. ‘Erotica penis’ passionfruit (yes, that’s the actual name). If the particular listing (above) caught your eye and you’re determined to feel the passion with your very own “rare melons,” you can purchase these rare passionfruit seeds from nurseries like Georgia Vines, that have promising reviews on credible consumer advocate websites. This will increase the odds you’ll actually receive what you are paying for (if not, help out your fellow gardener by leaving your own review). To have success with a more fussy species like passionfruit, we also suggest you do a bit of research before opening your wallet.
b. Peter Peppers – If you consider yourself a more novice gardener (or you’re an expert that likes to keep things simple), you can achieve the same shock factor by growing easy-to-germinate ‘Peter’ pepper varieties that will produce their phallic fruits in a single season. They even come in a rainbow of colors (red, orange, or yellow… plus you can use the unripe green ones), so you’re checking more than one weirdo plant box with this one.
Peter peppers also make a pretty good cayenne when dried and ground, so consider stringing up some spicy peters to make your friends wince on multiple levels. Bonus points if you include some (non-edible) hairy balls in your eclectic dried plant display — you’ll even be helping to save the Monarch butterflies!
We hope we’ve helped give you a good chuckle on this tour of the dark underbelly (or rainbow colored underbelly) of the plant-selling internet. We also hope we helped you figure out how to pick out the scams while discovering some truly remarkable REAL plant alternatives that you can grow in your garden.