The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified 14 different kinds of seeds in the mysterious packages that appear to have been sent unsolicited from China to people around the country.
All 50 states have issued warnings about the packages some of which contain flowering plants like morning glory, hibiscus and roses, according to Osama El-Lissy, with the Plant Protection program of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. El-Lissy said other packages contain vegetables like cabbage and herbs including mint, sage, rosemary, and lavender.
“This is a just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” he said Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the USDA said the department is urging anyone who receives the packages not to plant them and to contact their state plant regulatory official and keep the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until they receive further instruction.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the statement said. “USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”
Robin Pruisner, state seed control official at the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in Iowa, told Reuters she’s concerned the seeds may have been coated with something, possibly insecticide or fungicide, that could damage crops.
“I’ve had people describe to me that the seeds are coated with something purple. I haven’t had it in my hands yet, but it sounds an awful lot like a seed treatment,” she told the outlet.
Sid Miller, Texas agriculture commissioner warned the packages could contain harmful invasive species or be otherwise unsafe, according to a release. Invasive species are organisms not native to a certain region. The introduction of invasive species could cause the destruction of native crops, introduce diseases to native plants and could be dangerous to livestock.
“An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture,” Miller said in the release. The Texas Department of Agriculture “has been working closely with USDA to analyze these unknown seeds so we can protect Texas residents.”
Some of the packages were labeled as jewelry and may have Chinese writing on them, according to agriculture officials.
Lori Culley, who lives in Tooele, Utah, told Fox 13 she was excited to find two small packages in her mailbox that appeared to contain earrings.
“I opened them up and they were seeds,” Culley said. “Obviously they’re not jewelry.”
Culley told the outlet she posted about the strange incident on Facebook, and “at least 40 people” reached out to her saying something similar happened to them.
Contributing: Alana Edgin, San Angelo Standard-Times
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg