USDA Identifies Mysterious Chinese Seeds Sent to Americans Who Didn't Buy Them


The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has identified 14 types of plants from unsolicited seed packages homeowners received from China.

“Based on our preliminary analysis of the seed samples we’ve already collected, the seed packets appear to be a mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb, and weed species,” a Frequently Asked Questions document from APHIS read.

Some of the identified plant species include cabbage, hibiscus, lavender, mint, morning glory, mustard, rose, rosemary and sage, according to Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the plant protection program.

“This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” El-Lissy said.

All 50 states have issued warnings about the unsolicited packages since they were first reported last month, The New York Times reported.

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“What we have seen is, they arrive in undisclosed packaging sometimes labeled as jewelry or electronic components,” Katey Laney of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture said, according to KRQE-TV.

At this time, APHIS believes this is just an internet “brushing scam” where sellers send unsolicited items to consumers and then post fake reviews to increase sales.

Would you open an unsolicited package from China?

“This is an evolving situation, and we are working closely with Federal authorities to ensure we are evaluating every possibility,” the FAQ document reads.

Art Gover, a plant science researcher at Penn State University, warned against planting the seeds because they could introduce problematic weeds and diseases, according to The Times.

Unidentified seeds could also turn out to be invasive species and harm the environment, Bernd Blossey, a professor in the department of natural resources at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said.

“Obviously planting rosemary or thyme in your garden isn’t something that will endanger our environment, but there may be other things in there that have not been identified yet,” he said.

“Any time you gain something unknown, my suggestion is burning them, not even throwing them in the trash.”

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Blossey added that “there may be more to the story.”

The USDA is still encouraging anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to contact his or her state regulatory official or APHIS state plant health director.

“It is important that we collect and test as many seeds as possible to determine whether these packets present a threat to U.S. agriculture or the environment,” the FAQ document reads.

Canada, Australia and European Union member nations have also reported the receipt of unsolicited seed packages.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith