Americans Plant Mysterious Seeds Despite Government Warnings

The USDA urges people not to plant unsolicited seeds they receive. Evidence suggests the packages are part of a scam designed to boost online sales

Mystery Seeds
Two packages of unidentified seeds that arrived, unsolicited in the mailboxes of Washington State residents. Packaging appeared to indicate that the seeds originated in China. Washington State Department of Agriculture

In June, Tiffany Lowery of Kentucky thought the seeds had been mailed to her by her planting club, so she sowed them into the dirt and gave them plenty of water and sunshine. But as the plant sprouted from its pot, Lowery came to learn she had made a mistake.

Kelly Dean of local broadcast network WBKO reports that Lowery was one of the many people across America to receive mysterious, unsolicited packages of seeds with Chinese postage. When Lowery realized she had unwittingly done exactly what the United States Department of Agriculture urged recipients of the seeds not to do.

Lowery then contacted the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which told her to burn the plant or wrap it in two plastic bags and put it in the garbage. The USDA has asked anyone in the United States who received one of the suspicious packages of seeds not to plant them, to keep them in their original packaging and to contact their state’s department of agriculture.

The Guardian’s Amanda Holpuch rounded up Lowery’s story along with those of several other Americans in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas who planted the seeds before getting word that this went against local and federal advice.

Local agencies in all 50 states have issued their own warnings about the packages, which often purport to contain jewelry or ear buds, reports CNN's Harmeet Karu. The packages tend to feature labeling from China Post, which runs the country’s official postal service, according to CNN. A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry told reporters last week that the China Post labels were forged and requested that USPS forward some of the offending packages to China for investigation.

The USDA statement says that they are collecting the seed packages and will test their contents, but that currently they “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.”

A brushing scam is one of the first things the Better Business Bureau suspects when people get packages they didn’t order, Katherine Hutt, the organization’s chief communications officer tells CNN.

The Guardian reports that the USDA’s initial findings have revealed the seeds were a mixture of plants, including ornamental, fruit, vegetable, herb and weed species, none of which point to so-called “agro-terrorism.”