Don’t plant mystery seeds, Pa. Dept. of Agriculture warns

Written by on August 4, 2020

Don’t plant mystery seeds, Pa. Dept. of Agriculture warns

By Megan Frank

August 4, 2020

Mystery seeds — do not plant them, if they show up in your mailbox.
Photo | Courtesy of/Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

If you get a package of seeds in the mail that you didn’t order, take a closer look. According to the state Department of Agriculture, this may be part of a scam known as brushing—and those seeds have the potential to hurt Pennsylvania’s ecosystem.

The mysterious seeds typically arrive in a package labeled “jewelry.” The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the packages may be marked from China Post, which operates the official postal service of China.

Earlier this week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated in a public press conference that the address labels were forged and asked the US Postal Service to send those packages to China for investigation.

The USDA says it suspects the packages are part of a “brushing” scam, although they have not confirmed that as the main motive. A brushing scam is when companies attempt to boost their online sales by purchasing their own products. Later, the company writes positive reviews about those products online, and the packages from those transactions are shipped to random addresses.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers warns that planting the mystery seeds could spread invasive weeds or cause plant diseases.

“People who ordered seeds early on in the pandemic, some to grow their pandemic victory garden, are opening the packages without looking at them carefully,” Powers told PBS39. “I talked to a gentleman the other day who had planted the seeds. Never plant anything if you don’t know what it is. Also, do not discard them. You could have birds get to them and essentially, do damage that way.”

Powers noted that seed laws in Pennsylvania require distributors of seeds to be licensed.

“You need to buy seeds that are properly labeled, so that you know that they’ve been rigorously tested, and to ensure they are what they say they are,” she said.

A number of state and federal agencies are investigating the packages, and officials in all 50 states have issued warnings to residents.

If you receive seeds that you didn’t order, state officials say you should keep the package in a sealed container or ziplock bag and report it to the USDA’S confidential Antismuggling Hotline, 800-877-3835, or email The USDA will provide further instructions.

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