For the past several days, people have been receiving unsolicited seeds from an undisclosed sender in China, and a federal agency is warning recipients not to plant or even discard them.
According to a release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: "USDA is aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.
"USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins."
Seeds have been received in several states from coast to coast, with some appearing to be grass seed and others perhaps agricultural. Some recipients have said that the package labeling indicates the contents are jewelry and some have reported the contents do include a cheap trinket. The seed contents are unidentified.
"At this time, we are not sure what the seeds are and therefore are urging everyone to be exceedingly vigilant," Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said in a news release. "If you have received one of these packages in the mail, please use extreme caution by not touching the contents and securing the package in a plastic bag."
Although USDA-APHIS, which regulates biological material in the U.S., said it has no evidence indicating that this is a marketing scam known as "brushing", seeds could contain an uncontrollable invasive species or unknown disease pathogen that could be disastrous and should not be planted or even discarded.
"Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops," said a release by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations."
According to preliminary investigation by the Utah Department of Agriculture, mystery seeds that arrived there have included only flowers and herbs, including rose, amaranth and mint.
One of the recipients was Ohio State University sports turf specialist Pam Sherratt, who tweeted that she was waiting to hear from the USDA on how to properly dispose of them.