Packets of unsolicited seeds have been appearing in people's mailboxes around the country.

By Jelisa Castrodale
August 03, 2020
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A week ago, agricultural officials in a dozen different states issued warnings after residents reported receiving white envelopes that contained small packages of seeds. The mailers were reportedly sent from China, and the contents were labeled as "stud earrings," "wire connectors," or other non-seed related items.

Fast-forward a few days, and now all 50 states have warned that we should all be wary if we get a small package that we weren't expecting—and they've all emphatically stated that we should not plant any seeds that show up in our mailboxes.

The USDA has started testing some of those mystery seeds and they don't sound like terrifying species, although that doesn't mean that they're safe to put in the ground either.

USDA

"We have identified 14 different species of seeds, including mustard, cabbage, morning glory and some of the herbs, like mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, then other seeds like hibiscus and roses," Osama El-Lissy, a Deputy Administrator of Plant Protection and Quarantine for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said. "This is just a subset of the samples we have collected so far."

In a lengthy (but thorough) FAQ about the seeds, APHIS advises anyone who receives the seeds to save both the seed package and the mailing envelope, to label them with your contact information, and then to reach out to either your state plant regulatory official or to APHIS for further instructions about sending them in or having them picked up.

"Seeds for planting pose a significant risk for U.S. agriculture and natural resources because they can carry seed-borne viruses or other diseases," the agency writes. "Imported vegetable or agricultural seed must meet labeling and phytosanitary requirements and be inspected by APHIS and [U. S. Customs and Border Protection] at the port of entry [...] Certain seed species are considered so high risk that they are prohibited."

APHIS also said that it did not believe that the seeds were acts of agricultural terrorism; most likely, they're the work of some super-shady e-commerce vendors. "At this time, we don’t have any evidence that this is anything other than an internet 'brushing scam,' where sellers send unsolicited items to unsuspecting consumers and then post false reviews to boost sales," APHIS explains. "Brushing scams involving seed packets in international mail shipments are not uncommon. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has intercepted similar seed shipments in recent years."

Although most of the mailing envelopes have indicated that they were shipped from China, the country's Foreign Ministry spokesperson has flatly denied that. "I want to point out that plant seeds are articles prohibited as imports or in transit, or admitted conditionally for [Universal Postal Union] member countries," Wang Wenbin said during a press conference.

"China Post strictly follows the UPU provisions and prohibits seeds from conveyance by post. USPS recently found some packages of seeds with address labels suggesting they were sent from China. After verification with China Post, those address labels turned out to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries. China Post has contacted USPS, asking it to send those fake packages to China for investigation."

Regardless of where they originated, again, it's best if you don't plant them.