Scientists identify 14 species among hundreds of mystery seeds sent to U.S.

950 people report unsolicited seed shipments in Colorado

By: - August 5, 2020 6:02 am

A U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Identification Services (NIS) botanist examines seeds from an unsolicited package of seeds under a microscope. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Mustard. Cabbage. Morning glory. Mint. Sage.

That’s not a shopping list for a visit to the plant nursery. It’s five of the types of seeds federal scientists have identified among the hundreds mailed to U.S. residents without warning over the past few weeks, largely in packaging containing Chinese writing.

According to the most recent update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the lead agency investigating the mystery seeds, 14 different species of seeds have been identified.

Besides the five listed above, scientists have also identified rosemary, lavender, hibiscus and roses.

“This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” said Osama El-Lissy, deputy director of APHIS’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program in a clip shared by the agency online.

Colorado officials say they’ve received a steady stream of reports related to unsolicited seed deliveries.

“Right now we are up to over 950 people who have reported receiving unsolicited seeds,” Mary Peck, director of communications and public outreach at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, wrote in an email in response to questions from Newsline. “Reports are still coming in every few minutes via phone and email.”

Peck added the state does not yet have information about the types of seeds being received in Colorado.

The USDA has reported the seeds have shown up in 22 states, as well as in other countries in the European Union and in Canada and Australia.

The source of the seeds has not yet been identified, although “they appear to be coming from China,” an APHIS brief from July 31 said. The agency also said there have been some reports of packages coming from other countries.

Exactly why the seeds have been sent remains unclear. The same APHIS brief notes that currently there is no “evidence that this is anything other than an internet ‘brushing scam,’ where sellers send unsolicited items to unsuspecting consumers and then post false reviews to boost sales.”

“Brushing scams involving seed packets in international mail shipments are not uncommon,” the agency wrote. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has intercepted similar seed shipments in recent years.”

And while officials said they have found no links to “agro-terrorism” activities, the concern is that uninspected and untracked seeds can carry viruses or other diseases that attack crops inside U.S. borders.

Residents are encouraged to turn in all unsolicited seeds to officials.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Virginia Mercury. Newsline’s Quentin Young contributed to this report.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah Vogelsong covers environment and energy for the Virginia Mercury, a Colorado Newsline sister outlet. Email: [email protected]