LINCOLN, Neb. – Residents in all 50 states have been reporting the arrival of unsolicited and unidentified seed packages from China, but government researchers have identified at least some of them as harmless cooking ingredients.
Osama El-Lissy, deputy director of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says at least 14 plant species have been identified, including mustard, cabbage, morning glory, hibiscus, and rose as well as herbs such mint, sage, rosemary and lavender.
Despite the identification, El-Lissy says the USDA is still warning recipients not to plant the seeds because they could contain plant diseases that could severely damage U-S crops or introduce species from other parts of the world that could displace or destroy native plants and insects.
El-Lissy says people getting the seeds should instead send the unopened package to her agency for testing. Nebraska Extension says individuals in Nebraska should contact the APHIS office in Lincoln.
Officials think the seeds may be part of a “brushing scam” in which people receive goods they never ordered and the sender then posts a fake customer review in their name to boost sales, but admit the worst-case scenario is a deliberate attempt to introduce plant diseases or invasive species.