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Some foreign mystery seeds identified in Utah

Warnings about unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to be coming from China have now extended to all 50 states. Credit: Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

SALT LAKE CITY— Mystery seeds are continuing to show up in mailboxes across Utah.  Robert Hougaard, Director of Plant Industry at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), says they’ve gotten more than 200 notifications from citizens who are saying “I got them!” Followed often by, “But I don’t know why.”  

Hougaard says the seeds are varied and they are ID’ing quite a few of them. “We’ve had some onions that we were able to identify today… there’s been some “weedy” species… some of them have been flower seeds, like Black-Eyed Susans… It’s just really baffling the different kinds of things we’ve received, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.”

There have been reports of this happening all over the US.  When the overseas-sent mystery seeds first starting showing up, some authorities had a theory that they were invasive species sent to ruin a part of American agriculture, but Hougaard says they don’t seem to be ALL bad seeds.

“From what we’ve seen so far, they are not.” But they are also not what they seem, or at least, labeled.

“Almost all the time they are labeled as jewelry. The packaging says ‘earrings,’ or “necklaces,’  or even as generic as ‘jewelry.’  Just last week we got one with a little plastic clip, [for maybe a] phone, and it’s got seeds in it.”  The USDA says they think it is some kind of “brushing scam” where people get free stuff from a seller who then posts fake customer reviews to boost sales. 

Hougaard says most of the seeds are from China, but many have also come from Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.     

Thoughts of a plot aside, the strangest part of it all seems to be the pure “randomness” of the whole thing.  Hougaard wondered if some of those getting the seeds sent had their information mined from a gardening website. 

“Some people have ordered seeds [from the internet], but some people… have only bought locally. Other people haven’t ordered anything [for gardening].” 

Hougaard says UDAF says he’s funneling all the information they get to the USDA, who is then contacting retailers like Amazon to see if they can establish a link. 

So there is a new directive if you get the mystery seeds, not to destroy them or throw them away, but mail them to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.  The UDAF mailing address is:

Utah Department of Agriculture and Food
ATTN: State Seed Lab
PO Box 146500
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-6500

Seeds from China: Utah residents urged to deliver unsolicited seeds to Department of Ag for testing