Packages from China containing mystery seeds worry state, federal officials


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Mystery seeds showing up in hundreds of mailboxes across North Carolina and the rest of the U.S. have people puzzled and worried.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and even Homeland Security are investigating to figure out why people are getting packages from China that they never ordered.

The packages are labeled as things like earrings or jewelry, but that’s not what’s inside.

They contain various kinds of seeds and officials say there’s a reason why they are mislabeled.

“They’re labeled as those items so they can help clear customs easily,” said Phil Wilson, director of the Plant Industry Division with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Since last Friday, the Agriculture Department has fielded 114 inquiries about the seeds.

Some of the seeds are easily identifiable to experts and some are not depending on what is arriving at people’s homes.

‘’It looks like a combination of vegetable plants and flower seeds,’’ said Wilson. “My lab this morning looked at some that we believe is bamboo seed.”

The state agriculture department asks anyone who received one of these unsolicited foreign shipments to save the contents along with all shipping labels and contact the Plant Industry Division at 800-206-9333 or via email at so that the seeds may be collected.

Some people have received more than one package of the mystery seeds and worry about what they might produce.

“There was an article that I found in the UK saying this has been happening over there and they are bad seeds, they are invasive,” said seed recipient Lori Culley.

The mystery seeds have Homeland Security and other federal agencies working alongside local agriculture departments like here in North Carolina trying to figure out what’s going on.

Wilson said they’ve discovered the package return addresses and phone numbers are not legitimate.

“We believe it’s a scheme to promote marketing or that sort of thing,” he said.

It may be part of a scam called “brushing” – where you get all sorts of items you never ordered.

Here’s how “brushing” works:

An online seller, usually from overseas, purchases their own products through fake buyer accounts they’ve created, but ships them to a real address. Then, the online seller writes a positive review of their items from the fake buyer account.

If any company sends you a product you didn’t order, the state attorney general says don’t open or use the product.

It says you should call 1-877-5-NOSCAM to report it or file a complaint via email here.

Whatever the scheme behind the mystery seeds, the most important advice is to not plant them under any circumstances because you don’t know what pests or diseases may be contained in the seeds.

They might also contain an invasive species which could wreak havoc on our environment. Instead turn them over to agriculture officials.

The USDA asks you to email and include your full name and phone number, pictures of the packaging, “and any other relevant information” regarding the mystery seed packages.

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