NASHVILLE — If you haven’t already received a mysterious, unsolicited package of seeds in your mailbox — with Chinese lettering on the envelope — don’t be surprised if one shows up soon.
Persons in more than 30 states so far have reported receiving strange packages with Chinese lettering on the exterior and, inside, plastic baggies of seeds of random plant varieties.
The whole thing could be some sort of marketing scheme or foreign internet scam, officials say, but concern is growing that there could be some deeper, more sinister purpose, with officials warning persons to not open the packages, plant the seeds, or to attempt to contact the sender or return the seeds.
The packages appear to have been shipped from mainland (communist) China and contain Chinese wording on the outside container that supposedly advertises an assortment of products ranging from toys to jewelry.
But inside are no toys or jewelry ... just small bags of the mysterious seeds, and that has agriculture officials from coast-to-coast concerned, and warning recipients to not plant the seeds because they could be invasive or harmful species that, once introduced into an area — as was the case with kudzu in America in the 1930s — become difficult if not impossible to eradicate or control.
Some of the seed appears to be from sunflowers, while others look like pumpkin, squash, or other species of flowers or vegetables.
But, some also warn, that is no guarantee that the seeds are what they appear to be, with some speculating that — while specifics on testing are not yet available at this point — the seed could possibly be infected with fungi or diseases that could, if introduced into the U.S. environment, cause widespread crop failures.
Consumers across Tennessee are reporting similar deliveries.
“While we have no reason at this time to suspect that these seeds were sent with ill intention, we want to take every precaution to be sure an invasive or otherwise threatening plant species doesn’t take hold here,” Tenn. Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M., said.
Imported plant materials go through rigorous testing and inspection to ensure they are not carrying any plant disease or pests and do not pose any threat to health and environment, Hatcher said, and so far, no evidence has been found to indicate the unsolicited seeds have gone through appropriate inspection, or if they are even the type of seed they are labeled to be.
“If citizens receive seeds they did not order, they should not handle or plant the seeds,” he added. “Instead, seal the bag of seeds into two plastic bags and send all packaging to TDA. If the seeds have already been planted, TDA recommends digging up the seeds or sprouted plants. They should be double-bagged and placed in the trash. It is not advisable to compost the seeds or sprouted plants.”
TDA said that it’s partners at USDA believe the seeds may be a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
Persons can send unsolicited seed packages to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, attention Plant Certification. The original envelope as well as any paperwork or enclosures and the bag of seeds should be included along with the recipient’s name, contact information and full address.
Mail to: P.O. Box 40627, Nashville, TN 37204.
If a person prefers not to send in their seeds, notify TDA that the unsolicited seeds were received. Call Plant Certification at 615-837-5137 or email Plant Certification Administrator Anni Self at email@example.com. Provide your name, contact information, and where you live, as well as what you received and any photos. Seeds should be double-bagged and sealed, and placed in the trash for disposal.
TDA continues to monitor this situation and is working closely with federal partners and partners in other states to monitor the situation, Hatcher said.